On his death in 1830, local newspaper editor James Donaldson bequeathed all his property, heritable and personal to build a Hospital for Boys and Girls, to be called "Donaldson's Hospital". In 1833 17 acres of the Lands of Coates was purchased, and in 1838, following an invited architectural competition, the eminent Edinburgh Architect William Henry Playfair was appointed to design the new building.
Over the next few years he produced several schemes for the building. His original design was an H plan cloistered scheme with two storeys and a dormered attic level, but it is his sixth design, influenced by 16th century prodigy houses such as Burghley in Lincolnshire, that was approved on 7th December 1841. It is planned around a central quadrangle, with single width ranges surrounding it, and is of two storeys with attic rather than the originally proposed three. At ground floor, projecting from the North, is the chapel. As with all previous designs, girls and boys were segregated, with boys inhabiting the West of the building, and girls the East. Whilst the exterior of the building is palatial in style, the interior was designed in a much more austere way. Playfair undertook specific interior schemes only for the key public areas such as the entrance hall, dining room and council room.
Playfair not only designed the building, but he planned the surrounding landscape and boundaries of the site. He located the building on a plinth to the North of the site, in a manner similar to Heriot’s Hospital on which he had also worked. His original proposal was to approach the building from a central avenue from the south. However the trustees rejected this and the present arrangement of East and West entrances, with associated gatehouses, was adopted. To this day Donaldson’s is one of the most significant and iconic buildings in the city, especially when approaching the city centre from the West. From the building itself Edinburgh Castle and the Pentland Hills are easily visible. In 1965 Donaldson’s Hospital, gate houses and boundary walls and gate piers were category A listed by Historic Scotland. The site is also on the western boundary of the Edinburgh World Heritage Site, and is part of the Coltbridge and Wester Coates Conservation Area.
The building underwent little change until the mid 1950’s. Prior to that the only significant event was the extensive damage caused by a Zeppelin in 1916 to the stained glass in the chapel. In 1956 new buildings in the ground were constructed and extensive internal upgrading of the existing building was undertaken to improve facilities. However by the end of the 20th century ongoing maintenance costs, the outdated teaching environment in the Playfair Building and a change in funding arrangements relating to the education of the children led the governors of Donaldson’s School to make the decision to move out of the site and relocate to a new purpose built school in Linlithgow.
In 2002, following consultations with the City of Edinburgh Council and Historic Scotland on the principals of development of the site, the Governors put the site up for sale. In December of that year CALA Homes was selected as the preferred bidder.
In 2004 CALA submitted a planning application for residential redevelopment within the Playfair Building and to the North of the site, which was approved in July 2007. It was updated in 2008 and remains live today.
2008 saw an economic downturn, which affected the progress of many developments throughout the country. The long period of economic uncertainty that ensued impacted on the viability of the development, and prevented its progression, resulting in the buildings being vacant since the relocation of the school in 2008.
In October 2014 CALA and City & Country joined in partnership to swiftly bring the project to fruition.