Doolan Award 2014 - The Birks Cinema

The Birks Cinema, Aberfeldy

The winners of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) Awards 2014 were announced on 18 June. The award-winning projects represent some of the very best of current Scottish architecture and each will go forward to the shortlist for the RIAS Andrew Doolan Best Building in Scotland Award, which will be presented on 5 November 2014 at the National Museum of Scotland. The RIAS Doolan Award is supported by the Doolan family and the Scottish Government. Over the coming weeks we will be highlighting each of these projects in our “featured project” section. The sixth of these is: The Birks Cinema, Aberfeldy by Robin Baker Architects.


This Art Deco cinema, long derelict, provides a new 100-seater auditorium and a café/bar, generating life, engagement and a cultural focus within a reinvigorated townscape.  Located in a corner of the town square, the renovation of the Birks has dramatically improved and brought new life into the town centre as well as attracting new economic investment.  Aberfeldy is, increasingly, becoming a centre for outdoor pursuits and adventure holidays and the Birks Cinema now complements that draw with the high quality venue and facilities that it offers.


The renovation works retained the Art Deco facade and the substantial, rendered brick walls to the original 450 seat cinema hall.  The hall was reroofed and subdivided to provide a 100 seat auditorium with a double-height cafe bar lit by new glazing in the Chapel Street elevation. Some windows in the Art Deco facade were slightly enlarged to open up views in and out to the square. The architects created large openings in the west side that let in light and sunshine and open up views out to the town square, harmonizing with the style of the original windows.


The Birks Cinema in Aberfeldy opened in 1939, just before the start of WW2, and closed in the mid 1980's. After a period as an amusement arcade, it closed and remained disused for almost a decade. Situated on a prominent corner of the town square, for many years the boarded-up cinema along with a few empty shops impacted negatively on the character of the town. The building, which was on the Buildings at Risk Register, is not listed but was identified as significant in the Aberfeldy Conservation Area Appraisal.

A charity, The Friends of the Birks Cinema, was established by local people in 2007 and by obtaining grants, first from the Lottery and Perth & Kinross Council and, later, the Town Centre Regeneration Fund, the Friends attracted a grant to acquire the building and appoint a design team to progress the detailed design up to tender stage. The grant also provided funding for work to strip out the building, removing asbestos and lead paint and making the building watertight. Thereafter, a fundraising and publicity campaign was launched with numerous volunteers who contributed many hours of their time and professional experience.

Photographs  © Genie Dee

Compilation of 6 external and internal images of The Birks