Prestonpans Civic Square is the principal public space in the small town of Prestonpans on the East Lothian coast of Scotland. The regeneration of the split level square was driven by Prestonpans Community Council in partnership with East Lothian Council. The square had changed little since an earlier redevelopment in the 1950’s, becoming tired and a magnet for anti-social behaviour. During recent years it had become a place local people avoided rather than enjoyed and it did not provide an appropriate civic setting for the Category B Listed war memorial designed by William Birnie Rhind (RSA) in 1922.

Research by local historian had revealed that several names had been missed from the original memorial, often, but not exclusively those of women and this prompted the requirement to find a space within the square for those additional names to be added to the square.

The design brief therefore required: the removal of a 1950’s elevated viewing platform that was located on the west side of the square, which had become unsafe, and was inaccessible to many, it was no longer considered ‘fit for purpose’; the continued protection and conservation of the war memorial; the creation of additional space within the square (but not on the existing memorial) for the addition of missing or new memorial names; the creation of a flexible public realm for community events and gatherings including Remembrance Day; introduction of accessible views to the Firth of Forth from the High Street and the upper square; to encourage users of the John Muir Way (the long distance path that passes through the square at the lower level) to stop in Prestonpans; and to provide interpretation of the built, natural and cultural assets of the town and coastal landscape.

The removal of the viewing platform returned the war memorial to the centre of the square, becoming the main civic focus once again.

A series of subtle design approaches were introduced to address the requirement of the brief:
• developing an upper ‘enclosed’ memorial square with a complementary lower ‘coastal’ square open to the Firth of Forth;
• improving the memorial setting by incorporating the expansive views of the Firth of Forth and Fife beyond via an accessible ‘Juliet Balcony’ and a ‘picture window’ cut into the rear wall of the upper square, making these views accessible to all, and a part of the composition of the civic square for the first time;
• providing space for additional memorial names hand carved on a new pink sandstone tablet to match the stone of the original memorial and aligned with the ‘picture window’ slot;
• a new natural stone surface articulated through unit size and pattern to frame the memorial space and link to the Juliet balcony via an in-ground hand carved interpretative route;
• restoration and repair of the 1950’s boundary wall;
• introduction of planting to the space for the first time with native Scots Pines as a counterpoint to the memorial in the upper and as punctuation in the lower square;
• introduction of vertical slots to the enclosing east and west walls of the upper square that open up views to the memorial from the John Muir Way;
• addition of simple, accessible seating to invite occupancy of the space and;
• the introduction of an accessible ramp on the lower square to aid access along the coast.

Location: Prestonpans Civic Square, Prestonpans, East Lothian, Scotland, UK, EH32 9AX

Design year: 2020

Year Completed: Phase 1 2022, Phase 2 2024


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