O’DonnellBrown designs outdoor play shelter for Edinburgh arts centre

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The Calton Hill Play Shelter is a modular, removable structure designed by Scottish Practice O’Donnell Brown for the Collective Contemporary Art Center in Edinburgh, Scotland.


A 25-square-meter shelter on Calton Hill’s World Heritage Site is located in a cobblestone courtyard outside the art venue on a 19th-century observatory.

Calton Hill Play Shelter is located in the Collective Art Center in Edinburgh.

Designed by William Playfair in 1818 to remind us of the Greek Temple, the observatory was previously empty until it was transformed into an art center by the Collective Architecture in 2018.

Based in Glasgow, O’Donnell Brown has designed a play shelter to host a variety of activities in Collective learning programs, including loose parts play and creative family-friendly events.

Lumber pavilion for outdoor learning
The shelter was designed to support the center’s field learning program

The Calton Hill Playcentre is the latest in a series of studio shelters designed to facilitate field learning during a coronavirus pandemic. Others include the Rainbow Pavilion in Glasgow and community classrooms.

“The play shelter demonstrates the adaptability of the design principles adopted in the community class room project applied to highly sensitive areas,” said Sam Brown, co-founder of O’Donnell Brown.

Calton Hill Collective Pavilion
The design nods to the classic architecture of existing buildings on the premises

The core structural approach used in these previous outdoor learning projects was applied in the Calton Hill Play Shelter, which was designed to stay in place for at least three years.

“Clients are pleased to work together to knit it into a historical context and have created a harmonious and constructed addition that also follows the principles of the circular economy,” Brown added.

Modular lumber structure
Consists of a modular wood structure

From the classic Municipal Observatory on the other side, O’Donnell Brown determined the proportion of white-painted wood frames made up of easily dismantled bolted columns.

“The rhythm and proportions of the surrounding 19th-century classical architecture determined the spacing between the columns and the height of the roof,” the studio explained.

A polycarbonate roof covers the shelter and is slightly raised to create high window level gaps.

Wooden panels fill some of the gaps between the pillars, while other panels remain open to provide many routes to and from the space.

Wood pavilion with polycarbonate roof
Protected by a polycarbonate roof

To hide the steel foundation of Calton Hill Play Shelter, the paving stones in the courtyard were temporarily removed and returned to their original location to minimize the impact of the shelter.

The existing stone walls around the observatory not only hide the shelter from the outside, but also protect its open interior from the strong winds on the premises.

Lumber Pavilion
The steel scaffolding of the shelter is hidden

O’Donnell Brown is an architectural studio founded in Glasgow in 2013 by Jennifer O’Donnell and Brown.

The prototype of the outdoor classroom, first founded in Community Classroom, is now manufactured by furniture and design company Spaceoasis.

The photo is by Ross Campbell.

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