History of Informatics Forum

Opened in September 2008 by the then First Minister, Alex Salmond, the Informatics Forum is a fit for purpose building, providing a Forum for Interaction that fosters synergies among the 500 researchers in Informatics.

Division of Informatics, 1998

In 1997 external reviewers, appointed by the University to report on Informatics at Edinburgh, wrote in their paper:

Even a casual look at the world around us makes clear that we are living in the information age. As scientists come to understand informational phenomena (language, thought, computation, inference, communication and the like), they will enable ever more powerful technological advances. Equally, the technology of computing and communication prompts scientific understanding. Thus the natural science and the building of systems feed each other.

Plywood model of Informatics Forum
Plywood model of Informatics Forum

The case for consolidating different activities around science of information was made and in 1998 a new Division (later changed to School) was formed. The School of Informatics was created from the former Department of Artificial Intelligence, the Centre for Cognitive Science and the Department of Computer Science.

In 1998 the School was housed across various sites, including 80 South Bridge, as well as James Clerk Maxwell Building in KB and teaching spaces in Appleton Tower.

Cowgate Fire, 2002

Firefighters at the scene of the Cowgate fire
Firefighters at the scene of the Cowgate fire, School archives

Upon establishing a new unit, a case was made for bringing all the activities under one roof. In 2002 this case became imminent.

On one Saturday night, in December, Prof Mike Fourman, Head of School at a time received a phone call from the superintendent in Informatics to say there was a fire a couple of buildings down from 80 South Bridge but nothing to worry about. He was wrong.

The Edinburgh Cowgate Fire of December 2002 destroyed a number of buildings, including 80 South Bridge, which housed around one-third of the school and its renowned AI library. Many researchers also lost personal archives, although more recent research data was largely stored electronically.

Prof Fourman recalls that he e-mailed everyone in the department (first such emergency use of e-mail at the University) and managed to reschedule all but two tutorials for Monday.

Staff and students were temporarily relocated to Appleton Tower.

Crichton street car park in 2003
Crichton street car park in 2003, aerial view

Informatics Forum, 2008

Rumour has it that it was Prof Johanna Moore (former Head of School) who suggested the new Informatics building should be built on the open, windswept car park on Crichton Street, across from the Appleton Tower, which was empty since the plans for the Fundamental Science Buildings had been abandoned in the 1960s.

Less than 2 years after the Cowgate fire, in June 2004, the framework for the re-development of Potterow, which new Informatics building was going to be part of was endorsed by the City of Edinburgh Council Planning Committee.

With a brief to provide a “forum for interaction”, the building was designed by architect Bennetts Associates and Reiach & Hall and engineering firm Buro Happold.

Spiral staircase inside Informatics Forum

The building was officially opened by the then First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond on 3rd September 2008.

Unknown to many Edinburgh residents, the Informatics Forum has a garden roof terrace with a wonderful view of the surrounding area, including Arthur’s Seat. In 2019 Doors Open Day visitors were welcome to the terrace and were taken through the terrace link for an opportunity to visit our neighbour, the Bayes Centre.

The building was also featured in one of the episodes of BBC's TV series Case Histories playing... a hospital.

Informatics Forum Artworks

The Informatics Forum is not just labs and offices – there’s also a number of artworks in and around the building. A number of Paolozzi pieces and artefacts are located in the Forum: Turing prints in the Turing Room on level 5,  and a number of chrome and bronze sculptures, one of which is located in the café area on the ground floor of the Forum. William Darrell’s Rhino Head is on the Charles Street Lane side of the building and Davy Forsyth’s Byte on the Haynes Nano Stage next to the main entrance. 

Prizes and awards

The Forum has won the following prizes:

  • Scottish Design Award, Chairman's Award for Architecture
  • Scottish Design Award, Public Building Award
  • Royal Institute of British Architects Regional Award
  • Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), Scotland Sustainability Award
  • RICS Scotland Project of the Year Award
  • Edinburgh Architectural Association Building of the Year, Commended
  • British Council for Offices Regional Award for Best Corporate Office Building
  • Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, Andrew Doolan Prize ‘Best Building in Scotland’
  • Carbon Trust Commendation for Sustainability
HRH The Princess Royal at the launch of the Bayes Centre
HRH The Princess Royal at the launch of the Bayes Centre

Potterrow Development completed, 2018

As part of the original Potterow Development project, a 7-story adjacent building (Dugald Stewart Building) was built next to the Forum. It is currently home to the university's Philosophy, Psychology and Language Science department, with a link to the Forum used by those of our researchers whose research interests encapsulate both schools.

The final phase of the Potterrow Development was completed in summer 2018 when tenants started moving to the Bayes Centre. The Bayes Centre is a hub for data-driven innovation and houses a mixture of internal users and external groups that include start-up companies and research groups amongst many others.

Related links

History of the School of Informatics

Informatics Forum Artworks

Informatics Forum in Wikipedia

History Makers: Informatics

A Short History of the Antecedents of the School of Informatics by Chris Williams, 2023

Cowgate fire destroys AI library (BBC)