The development and restoration of Panmure House – Adam Smith's home in Edinburgh – has been the subject of long drawn out discussions between the Edinburgh Business School (its new owners), Historic Scotland, and the Edinburgh City Council planners.
Everyone is keen that this historic house should be accessible to the public as a venue for public meetings, concerts, seminars and other events. But it is obvious that the building's footprint is not large enough to accommodate both the meeting rooms and the services (staircase, toilets, lifts, kitchens) that a modern venue requires. Edinburgh Business School's architect solved this problem by creating a glass atrium housing an external staircase. It is a brilliant solution. It provides the necessary access in a stylish way that does not violate the house, nor require some ghastly solid extension, and indeed which keeps the main elevation visible and allows it to be attractively lit.
Historic Scotland have objected to pretty much all proposals for an external stair. It would be a shame if Edinburgh's planning committee, which meets next week, takes its cue from them and rejects the proposal. Panmure House will survive only if it has a viable function. Without that, it becomes a useless hulk that nobody will care for, and which will decay. I am sure that Historic Scotland does not want that. And given the sorry state that past public-sector owners have left it in – the only remaining original feature is one fireplace in the attic – the Edinburgh Business School's sympathetic restoration plans are definitely a welcome improvement. Let's not allow Adam Smith's home to decay and be forgotten as it has been over the last half century.