The 1851 Edinburgh building was in the Gothic style and designed by architect William Henry Playfair, inspired by Elizabethan manor houses.
Queen Victoria is said to have been jealous of the landmark building, apparently stating that it outclassed some of her palaces.
Donaldson’s was founded in Edinburgh in 1851 as Donaldson’s Hospital by James Donaldson (1751–1830), who, for a time, was publisher of the Edinburgh Advertiser. The original benefaction allowed for special bursaries for poor children. Not all were deaf, although applications on behalf of deaf children were encouraged. From 1938, pupils were exclusively deaf. This benefaction was similar in style to the benefaction of George Watson, who founded and supported other schools in Edinburgh.
During a German air raid in 1916, much glass was destroyed by a zeppelin.
After more than 150 years based in the Playfair building, Donaldson’s finally concluded that the building was no longer fit for purpose. Many of the rooms were no longer in use, classrooms were unable to utilise the latest educational technology and the Trust could no longer afford to maintain the building. Therefore in 2003 the school’s building was put up for sale and was purchased by Scottish property developer Cala Homes.