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Views from the top

As we prepare for the Big Leap David Hume Tower abseil, alumni and staff share their memories of studying and working in one of the University’s tallest buildings.

View from DHT
Since the sixties, students have enjoyed views onto the Meadows and the Pentland Hills.

Look out of the windows of David Hume Tower (DHT) and you might gasp at the architectural and geological splendour before your eyes. Equally, you might be met with a blanket of white as fog consumes the city below.

Whatever the weather, the views from the imposing tower on the southeast corner of George Square make a strong impression.

Grade A

A key example of Scottish Modernist architecture, David Hume Tower was constructed in the 1960s as a home for the Arts Faculty, its erection preceding that of the nearby Appleton Tower and Main Library by only a few years. Designed by Sir Robert Matthew and named after the Scottish philosopher, DHT has held a grade A listing since 2006. Clad in polished slate, more traditionally used for roofing, and York sandstone, its very high standard of design and execution and the materials were noted by Historic Environment Scotland.

2014 saw the completion of the remodelling and refurbishment of the lower ground floor, named the DHT Hub, which now provides state of the art teaching and catered study space. Meanwhile, the School of Literatures Languages and Cultures, a long-time resident of DHT, moved into neighbouring 50 George Square (formerly the William Robertson Building).

We spoke to some of the School’s alumni and staff about their enduring memories of the tower.

Home from home

While the building’s design is far from universally loved, students have, through the years, made the space their own.

From annual self-directed foreign language plays, remembered by French and German graduate En-Chi as a maelstrom of  corrugated cardboard, paint, wire, wood and glue, to visiting student Anna's memories of the personal touches that were added to study spaces to make them more gemütlich (cosy and comfortable), the DHT that emerges is not an austere monolith, but a quirky cavass for collaboration and exploration.

What I remember is hiding a kettle and tea bags, cups and cookies behind the books in the forlorn 9th floor German Library so we could stay comfortably all day long and sometimes even into the night.

AnnaVisiting Student

Wuthering Heights

DHT
David Hume Tower on a summer’s day.

While some remember DHT through a prism of cosy nostalgia, to others the building is more immediate and more physical. 

You may think that with 13 flights of stairs separating you from your office, the lift might be a welcome relief for Scandinavian Studies staff. This isn't however the case, at least not initially, as the scenic views from the stairway make the journey eminently worthwhile.

Fiona Carmichael, Computing Support Officer, is another whose most notable memories of DHT relate to its views and vantage point. A moment that stands out for Fiona was watching Concorde's final flight from a perfect spot on the north side of the tower rooftop in 2003. Finally, Dr Sabine Rolle, Senior Lecturer in German, is equally affected by the height of the building but not just because of the panoramic views.

Not really [my favourite memory] but very interesting: the first time I felt a bit squeamish and wondered whether I had eaten something wrong. Only to realise that it was rather stormy outside and that it was the tower swaying (they say it's safer this way: if it didn't sway it might crack....)

Dr Sabine RolleSenior Lecturer in German

14 floors up, 141 ft straight down

Big leap

If you are passionate about a cause at the university and want to witness the spectacular views for yourself, sign up to abseil down David Hume Tower on 18 September as part of the Big Leap year of fundraising challenges. Will you be one of the 100+ daring staff, students, alumni and members of the public to take on the challenge?

Registration for places is open and more than half have already been filled. To find out more about the event, the causes you can support and to book a place, visit the Big Leap event page.

Find out more about the Big Leap DHT abseil

Your DHT memories

We would like to hear your anecdotes of studying, working or just visiting David Hume Tower. Please email alumni@ed.ac.uk and we will share a selection in a future edition of Enlightened.

Related links

The Big Leap DHT abseil

The School of Literatures Languages and Cultures

DHT entry on Historic Environment Scotland website