The building was designed by Thomas S. Tait of Burnet, Tait and Lorne , architects, who won the architectural competition to gain the commission. Construction began in November 1935, and was completed in 1939, the building initially housed the Scottish Office, including the offices of the Secretary of State for Scotland. The requirement for the building arose as a result of a post World War I policy of limited transfer of devolved administrative (but not legislative) power to Scotland from London. An official opening ceremony timed to take place on 12 October 1939 was “cancelled due to War” (Britain’s first air raid of the war took place only four days later over the Forth Bridge). Instead, it was officially opened by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth on 26 February 1940.
Architecturally, the building is monolithic, symmetrical and restrained on the main north facade. To the south, facing the Waverley valley, it is much more irregular and romantic in expression. There are many Art Deco influences.
Tait’s design incorporates elements of Art Deco and Streamline Moderne and is noted for being a rare example of sensitively designed modern architecture in Edinburgh.
The building features a number of sculpted decorations, also in the Art Deco style, which are credited to several sculptors: Sir William Reid Dick designed symbolic figures; heraldic devices are the work of Alexander Carrick and Phyllis Bone; the large bronze doors were designed by Walter Gilbert and executed by H.H. Martyn; and the secondary doors and stairs are by Thomas Hadden.
St Andrew’s House is designated a Category A listed building by Historic Scotland.