Self-guided tour

Welcome to Edinburgh Futures Institute. You are very welcome to our beautiful building - please enjoy this capsule tour to share some building features.

Edinburgh Futures Institute officially opened its doors to the public on Monday 3 June 2024 following an extensive seven-year, multi-million-pound restoration of the transformed and revitalised Old Royal Infirmary building, a much-loved city landmark.  

As at any time, but particularly in a newly opened building, you may find contractors and estates colleagues working at different points. Please follow their directions and take notice of any signage and safety notices. Students, staff and partners may also be working in different areas. You are welcome to sit in the seating areas in the informal meeting space.  

1. Starting Point – EFI Reception, North Entrance, Level 2 

This location was previously the main entrance of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh when the building was a hospital. We now welcome staff, students, partners and the public into the building through this entrance. You can exit here at the end of the tour, although we recommend you end your tour and exit through Canopy, the café and restaurant at the east side of the building.  

2. North Entrance and Historic Donor Boards

The North Entrance of the building was once the main entrance to the Old Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh which housed the city’s main hospital until 2003.  

Built in 1879, this was the third iteration of the infirmary. It opened in 1729 in Robertson’s Close and later moved to larger buildings on Infirmary Street.  

Above the door, there is a datestone inscribed 1729 and 1870. These dates refer to the founding of the hospital and the laying of the foundation stone at Lauriston Place in 1870. The bible quotes on either side are copied from the same inscribed on the previous Infirmary building.  

A Pelican – a symbol from the hospital’s coat of arms – is also inscribed. The Pelican symbolises charity, selflessness and rebirth and was the symbol of the ‘Pelican nurses’ who completed a fourth year of training.  

Now home to the University of Edinburgh’s Edinburgh Futures Institute, the Category A listed building brings together people finding innovative solutions to some of the world’s biggest problems.  

Many people remember this part of the building well, including the iconic black and white tiles which covered the beautiful flagstone floor you can see all along the corridor.  

The restored historic donor boards on either side of the door remind us that prior to the creation of the NHS in 1948, the Royal Infirmary relied largely on voluntary support.  When the University of Edinburgh bought the building in 2016, 74 historic donor boards were located around the building. Eight have been restored by conservation specialists.  

Unfortunately, most of the boards could not be saved due to their condition, but a full photographic record was taken and an accessible database of donor names and donations has been created. We hope this will become a rich resource for students, researchers and our local community to explore and uncover the history of our building.  

The two boards here have been beautifully conserved. You’ll see others as you walk around. Wealthy individuals and organisations donated sums large and small, including some famous names. Look for Sir James Young Simpson, the doctor who pioneered the use of chloroform as an anaesthetic. We are working to uncover and share many of the stories, including donors who had connections with colonialism and the transatlantic slave trade.  

3. East Dwell Space 2.10 and Edinburgh Seven Tapestry 

If you stand facing out towards the north entrance to Lauriston Place, turn to your right. From EFI Reception, walk east through the fire doors and into the East Dwell Space adjacent to the central corridor. Along this corridor, you can see how the building unites modern design with restored historic architecture.   

On the first screen on the right there is a showreel introducing the Edinburgh Seven Tapestry, a new artwork which will soon be installed in the building. The tapestry commemorates the first women in Britain to matriculate at the University of Edinburgh as medical students in 1869. They were not permitted to graduate and qualify as doctors, although later many qualified abroad and some returned to the UK to practice here.  

Further along in this area, you can see how the building’s signature wide and airy Nightingale Wards have been retained and are now reused as teaching and work spaces.  

From the carpeted area on the right, look up to where the new infill section meets the old outer wall of the building. These areas offer additional space, but also have a practical function, physically supporting the existing Victorian structure, particularly that of the main corridor. The original plaster and lath on the walls has been removed in corridor areas allowing us to see intriguing traces of later additions, windows and doorways.  

4. East Level 2 Corridor, Lecture Theatre 2.35, East Stairwell 

This new 20,000 sqm redevelopment makes our building one of the largest institutes for interdisciplinary learning, research and innovation in Europe.  

Collaborative spaces are also available for external organisations and partners, with incubation areas for start-up businesses and labs for innovation and prototyping. 

Edinburgh Futures Institute builds on the University’s expertise across disciplines ranging from artificial intelligence to philosophy to deliver educational programmes, collaborative research projects and partnerships.  

The Institute brings together students, researchers, partners and civic society to focus on the responsible use of data to address global challenges including ethics of artificial intelligence, social inequality and climate change. 

On the left, you can see how the new infill spaces on the north of the building are used for lecture theatres. 

5. Donor board in East Stairwell, The Spirit Case 

Go through the fire doors into the East Stairwell. At this point you can see another of the restored historic donor boards. There was dedicated and creative fundraising by others, including the Women of Edinburgh and the Domestic servants of Edinburgh. Did the teachers of Edinburgh donate more than their pupils? 

Continue upstairs to Level 3, then go through the fire doors and walk west along the corridor to the clocktower. Stop at the Spirit Case which is in the clocktower landing.

Welcome to the Spirit Case.  

The Spirit Case was created through the Recycling a Hospital project. The project sought to act as a meaningful engagement with the community during the time of transition from hospital to the Edinburgh Futures Institute, and to create an object which is intended as a touchstone for memories and future dreaming.   

The name ‘Spirit Case’ references our desire to provide a home in the new Futures Institute for what we understand as the ‘spirit of publicness’ which animated the building when it was a hospital, and our hope that we who occupy the building now can live up to this legacy.  

The Spirit Case has been created from building materials that were once part of the building and bear a rich history and symbolic connection to the former hospital – supporting and sheltering those who worked and were treated there. We are giving them new life as an artwork – another aspect of transformation.    

Scottish slates from the roof and Baltic Pine from the original floor joists, as well as timber from an elm tree that once stood in the hospital grounds. A piece of the hospital’s sandstone and original nails also form part of the object.  For more information see the interpretation panel on the wall to the right and visit the website 

The set of donor boards on the landing to the south of the Spirit Case includes families who lost loved ones and made donations in their memory. 

Image of the spirit case

6. West Level 3 corridor, Uncommon room and West Stairwell 

If facing the Spirit Case turn to your left and continue west through the fire doors and along the West Dwell Space. On the right, look into the large informal area we call the Uncommon Room. Enjoy the view over Lauriston Place towards the city.  

Continue walking west past the modern feature staircase, through the fire doors into the West stairwell and walk down two levels. 

On Level 2 you can stop to view another historic donor board which contains yet more hidden stories of groups and individuals who raised funds to support the hospital. There are brewers, railway workers, high constables, hotel keepers and a donation by Edinburgh Business Women in 1879.  

Continue down to Level 1, through the fire doors and along the corridor to the clocktower. 

7. Past to Futures Exhibition and display space – Clocktower Room 1.00 

At the midpoint of the Level 1 corridor turn right into the clocktower display area.   

An exhibition celebrating the history, present and future of the Edinburgh Futures Institute from its beginnings as the former Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh through its renovation and into its present identity as a Futures Institute; a place of learning and collaboration with the mission to challenge, create and make change happen. 

This area is a flexible exhibition space where you can see a new display showcasing artefacts from the building’s history as well as new objects related to the Edinburgh Futures Institute including some recent work by Edinburgh Futures Institute students.   

On the screens there are slides and animations showing the development of The Spirit Case, the building project transformation, oral histories of the hospital from the Lothian Health Services Archive and a link to an app which gives an idea of what the donations on the historic donor boards would be worth now. We will continue to develop the displays in this area.  

Across from the display area, work continues to prepare our new Large Event space for events this week. If the doors are unlocked today, take a quick look over the mezzanine balcony to see this amazing new space, which was carved out underneath the new public square created on Lauriston Place.  

Please comply with directions from those working in this area to keep you safe. 

In future, this space will also host our Events Seasons and a range of events and opportunities for members of the public and University of Edinburgh community, including the Edinburgh International Book Festival. 

8. Final stop – Canopy Kitchen & Courtyard 

Continue walking east along the Level 1 corridor. At the east side of the building, you come to the Canopy Kitchen & Courtyard, the café and restaurant at Edinburgh Futures Institute.  Treat yourself to coffee and cake or a delicious meal at the end of your visit or return to enjoy breakfast, lunch, dinner or a refreshing drink in the Courtyard. Details of opening times are:

Monday – Sunday
Grab&Go (Take Away)08:00 – 17:00
Bar Area17:00 – 22:00
Restaurant08:00 – 22:00

Please note that while landscaping work continues on this side of the building, the accessible East exit to Middle Meadow Walk is not yet available.  

After visiting the café, you can exit through the café and up to Lauriston Place or come back to the main corridor, take the lift to Level 2 and exit via the North Entrance at the Clocktower. 

We hope you enjoyed this tour and we look forward to you visiting again!  

Join us to challenge, create, and make change happen.