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Duany returns to Scotland for Elsick masterplan

July 2 2010

 Duany returns to Scotland for Elsick masterplan
Fresh from a £200k whirlwind tour of trouble spot towns at the behest of the Scottish Government American urbanist Andres Duany has been appointed to masterplan a £1bn housing development in the north east.

Developer David Southesk has appointed Duany’s practice, Duany Plater-Zyberg to oversee the creation of 4,000 homes, an academy, three primary schools, health and leisure facilties at the Elsick estate near Newtonhill, Aberdeenshire.

Southesk chapped on Duany’s door having been impressed by the “sound principles” evidenced in Duany’s Poundbury scheme.  This will see the development “harking back” to nearby Stonehaven and Montrose with a high density core surrounded by more open development

Four local practices will work with the Miami based architect to detail individual homes following work by Barton Willmore in drawing up an indicative masterplan.

The scheme will be built on farmland which Duany advocates building on where necessary after previously telling Urban Realm: "I’ve flown all over, you’re full of green land and most of your fields aren’t even greenbelt. The only thing that is sustainable is if you can walk to things. Everyone’s moaning about Greenfield but not properly contesting if it’s walkable, it’s palpably ridiculous.”

A planning application is expected to be submitted in December.
Designs will "hark back" to nearby Montrose and Stonehaven
Designs will "hark back" to nearby Montrose and Stonehaven
The site encompasses arable land around Elsick House
The site encompasses arable land around Elsick House


#1 Posted by EC on 2 Jul 2010 at 10:22 AM
Heaven, help us!
#2 Posted by D.E.Spair on 2 Jul 2010 at 10:22 AM
What happened to a confident, modern Scotland? On the one hand there is the Highland Housing Expo, showcasing what is supposed to be best about 21st century housing, on the other here 'designs harking back' to the past. Will that include the schools and health facilities? Will they be built in a fake retro style also? Can't someone be brave and actually say that this is all bad?

Good farmland. What a waste, although of course cheaper and far easier for developers.
John Onyango
#3 Posted by John Onyango on 5 Jul 2010 at 12:58 PM
DE Spair, I am sorry to learn that you are dissapointed with Duanny's appointment. You are however judging a scheme that has not even been designed. Lets be fair, modernity requires fairness and diversity. What is so important about "modern architecture" in Scotland? Perhaps a bit of Architectural Theory lessons might just do you good.

Go Duanny....
#4 Posted by D.E.Spair on 5 Jul 2010 at 14:11 PM
The scheme may not have yet been fully designed, but there is some indicative building design work on the developer's website. Oddly, that's where the picture above left comes from. Your comment doesn't address that issue. Do you consider that all building should be repeats of the past? If so, can you suggest which century and decade Scottish housing design should be stuck in?

The Flâneur
#5 Posted by The Flâneur on 5 Jul 2010 at 18:49 PM
There seems to be a great deal of suspicion amongst Scottish architects about Andres Duany. It’s not hard to detect a refrain that all his firm are doing is promoting ersatz urbanism that is going to gobble up our green and pleasant land. So quotations such as ‘“harking back” to nearby Stonehaven and Montrose’ raise my eyebrows. As if that was something to be sneered at when both are settlements of great character which have incrementally evolved over time through interventions and moves over many generations. Surely Scotland managed to produce enough cookie cutter low density suburban housing of dubious value around our cities on our own of late without taking pot shots at others who are actually great critics of this?

Duany may be a polemicist. He may enjoy courting controversy. He may seem high handed. He may rub many up the wrong way. He may even come across as being on an evangelical crusade. But at least he’s trying to do something to address the problems of suburbia and in doing so attempting to create something of longer term cultural value that will have greater worth than much of the suburban development Scotland built during the course of the boom years.

For instance look at this DPZ masterplanned settlement near Denver called Prospect:

(the link gets you to the development layout and you have to click on the individual plots to get a view of the buildings)

It’s a compact cohesive settlement that looks pretty interesting (the layout is indebted to Frederick Law Olmstead Jnr’s work at Forest Hills Gardens, New York with a nod to Parker Unwin’s Hampstead Garden suburb) and seems to be able to balance both contemporary and traditional designs to each other’s benefit.

OK I accept that you have to drive to it so easy to criticise that but there is also much suburbia that you have no choice but to drive to around Scottish cities. Of course two wrongs don’t make a right but the key difference is in the individualised designs on each of the separate plots / feus. Can you imagine any of the typical UK housing companies producing something similar? Highly unlikely. Why? Because the whole approach at Prospect is geared to smaller scale developers, architects and contractors providing custom designed homes on small plots that target particular market niches in a clear density and use hierarchy across the site i.e. you get a lot more choice and the neighbourhood is that much more characterful, likely to become more of a real place, more likely to be loved long term therefore will endure, and hence be more sustainable than your typical Scottish post war suburb.

From the architectural professions point of view this approach also has a distinct benefit in providing a good outlet for the young, up and coming, architects who design these houses. Which is why at Seaside you have buildings by such high calibre and respected architects as Steven Holl and Machado and Silvetti, both built at relatively early stages in their careers.

So a small scale, arguably more democratic, approach to development that pays dividends for young architects by allowing them to build and therefore grow in confidence and stature at the outset of their careers. If only we had something similar in the UK. Sadly unlikely given how our construction and development industry works but is this still not something worth examining or emulating?

I am not arguing that New Urbanism is perfect but it does strike me that Prospect is broadly analogous with Dutch developments such as IJBurg and Borneo Island. However, whereas they are deemed fashionable Duany and Co are pariahs. But… on what evidence? Should we condemn them solely on the basis they have an open mind with regards to aesthetics? Bit baby out with bathwater when they are also promoting a form of development that could give young architects a foothold on the ladder that would lead to independent practice, raise their profile, and re-introduce architects into a broad market sector they have for many decades abandoned to the Barretts and Wimpeys of the world i.e. a killer app for architects?

Might I suggest that instead of focusing on narcissism of small differences criticism of Duany it would be more fruitful to have a more open minded debate and bring such issues to the fore?

Go on Urban Realm. Why don’t you organise it?
#6 Posted by D.E.Spair on 5 Jul 2010 at 19:29 PM
Might I suggest that before Mr Duany even arrives, certain aspects of this particular development appear to have been decided? There is the suspicion that Duany has been pulled in in order to give respectability to profitably developing a massive greenfield site. (Where he leads others may try to follow, in a watered down fashion.) It remains to be seen in decades to come how successful the developer's approach here will be, especially trying to provide employment for all within walking distance of home. Will those who wish to move there have to eschew current employment and sign a vow never to drive further afield to work? Unlikely. Will winter Scottish weather prove to be too much for some and 'walkability' prove not to be too popular? Will the facilities provided mean residents will not feel the need to seek leisure activities beyond the boundaries of the development? Probably not.

I did not, however, initially mention Duany; I commented on the indication that the buildings will 'hark back', and that was confirmed by the developer's own website. Can we also not move on? A close examination of most historic settements will reveal that they also moved with the times, architecturally.

I also did not state that there was anything wrong with seeking new and more successful ways of planning settlements, or that we should not learn from the mistakes of the planning mistakes of the relatively recent past.

How good it would be if we could marry lessons learned regarding how we should plan good places for people to live with good architecture of the 21st century. And why only give 'up and coming' architects the chance to design? Why not seek out the best of Scotland's established architects also? I suggest that they have not abandoned housing to the mass housebuilders, it is the mass housebuilders who, with a handful of notable exceptions, have not tried to raise the design bar greatly.

The Highland Housing Expo opens very soon; possibly the developer could pay a visit and see what is being built there, and even be brave enough to use a few of the architects?
#7 Posted by D.E.Spair on 5 Jul 2010 at 19:53 PM
And there's some pretty terrible 'traditional' (!) as well as 'contemporary' architecture at Prospect! What a mess of a place. Let's hope in Scotland it can be done better.
The Flâneur
#8 Posted by The Flâneur on 5 Jul 2010 at 20:44 PM
Well my comment was more a general one that being aimed at you D.E.Spair though you have kind of proved my point. And ok Prospect is not prefect, and I admit is a bit of an architectural zoo in places, but:

1. DPZ were masterplanner’s not architects and I know they get frustrated with architects' innate tendency to show off rather than harmonise
2. On balance it is still substantially better than your typical suburban product in the UK.

From what I have seen so far I suspect that whatever the nuances of the masterplan the Housing Expo will actually be rather similar in terms of content with some buildings being better or more prominent than others. Expo’s tend to be like that. But I’d still massively prefer that to many of the non-places we have been building though obviously there is still a lot to learn.

And did I say anything about the best established architects being excluded? Of course not! The point is the small scale of development allowing for this. This is exactly how the best suburbs of our cities were created with families commissioning original works by some of the best architectural talent of the times i.e. why you get Walter Blackie commissioning Mackintosh while his neighbour commissions Baillie Scott for the White House. But wouldn’t it be great if you had a ready outlet to encourage those just starting out in the profession rather than those already established?

Also once you get to that small scale of development people have different tastes. To me that’s ok. Life would be very dull if we all agreed. If some people chose to have a house in a traditional style it doesn’t make them inferior in their taste they just might be more conservative or have a more traditional concept of beauty. I may personally prefer say Frank Israel’s houses in California or AHMM's Adelaide Wharf but if it is a good essay executed with flair and imagination in a traditional style who am I to say they are wrong?
#9 Posted by D.E.Spair on 5 Jul 2010 at 21:26 PM
Duany is presumably here not the architect either, although no doubt he will have some influence on what is built within the plan.

'Traditional style' means so many things. Of course buildings can be designed and constructed in contemporary manner while sensitively incorporating and re-interpreting ideas of the past if required; however, if we are building a new settlement, why not buildings which are of today and using ideas of today, and as things develop over time, move on?

Traditional buildings (and there are so many variants) are about more than surface style, and it's impossible to replicate them in modern times. Why try? Why not buy a genuine 'traditional' building in the first place?

Also, is this a vital scheme, so vital it needs to swallow up fields? Is Duany being flown in to give 'credibility' with planners and councillors to what is a private development, built not out of altruism but to make a fat profit?
#10 Posted by biter on 5 Jul 2010 at 21:51 PM
Nice to see more international big hitters coming to little old scotland. Along side the shortlist for Dundee Waterfront (5 overseas and one Edinburgh) etc. etc.

Who needs jobs for locally educated graduates starting out in this game? They are much better off working in McD*nalds.

No doubt its a level playing field and plenty of scottish architects are getting contracts in the USA, Japan etc.
#11 Posted by EC on 6 Jul 2010 at 10:51 AM
I think it's the percieved ubiqutous use of DPZ that's problematic. Their planning is above the low bar that currently exists but the fear (real?) is a New Urbanist hegemony. Cadell2 manage to convey "Scottishness" without corbie steps or astragals at Bellfield Dyke and New Hopeman and even indulge in a bit of perimeter blocking at Greendykes but somehow they don't blow their trumpet as well as DPZ. But I agree with Flaneur that there's room for architecture that 'harks back' and for the explorative if the former is exceptionally well detailed. The failure in trying to recreate the past is we often take short cuts that end up looking shoddy.
#12 Posted by D.E.Spair on 6 Jul 2010 at 12:05 PM
Page 14 Emma Rigg on Design Codes in action

#13 Posted by D.E.Spair on 6 Jul 2010 at 12:24 PM
Comments under the results of the Duany Lochgelly charrette are interesting also
The Flâneur
#14 Posted by The Flâneur on 6 Jul 2010 at 14:00 PM
Thank you for posting those links D.E.Spair. I’d love to speak to Emma Rigg about this, and I may be being unfair as reducing down a post graduate dissertation to a couple of hundred words can’t have been easy but

1. the article is wrong when it states an assumption that for New Urbanism to be effective a code must enforce a traditional aesthetic. Of course it doesn’t have to and a modicum of research would have revealed that i.e. look at Prospect (and there are others)

2. on the strength of that article Emma Rigg can’t have gone very far into the Tornagrain design code.

Condemning it as pre-determined on the basis of a skew detail seems harsh. And the code does define the spatial characteristics of streets and spaces. The diagrams are all in the tables on Page 32 onwards of the document!

The contrast with the code for Greendykes North is interesting. Again I would disagree with her that the Greendykes code provides little visual information about the final product. In fact the code is well populated with images, sketch axonometrics and perspectives that give a good idea of what Caddell2 are aiming for.

The thing that did interest me about the Greendykes code was the exclusion of features such as crow stepped gables, Period bay windows, and ‘Period’ decorative features (note the quotations are in the code document).

Anyway with codes the proof is in the pudding and it would be interesting to see how both codes actually work visually and spatially at the end of the day. From reading it the Tornagrain code settings are quite prescriptive but I suggest that the reason for that might well be the same reason that Caddell2 went for exclusions at Greendykes namely fear of kitsch. And who can blame either masterplanner for that?
#15 Posted by D.E.Spair on 6 Jul 2010 at 14:29 PM
It's 2010. Have you seen the pictures of Tornagrain? It's kitsch. No other word for it. Stuck in a past which never existed. It's as if the 20th century and the modern movement etc never happened. It's what Duany and his accolytes tend nowadays to do.

It could all be so much better, but Prospect isn't better either.

The Flâneur
#16 Posted by The Flâneur on 6 Jul 2010 at 14:45 PM
You are pre-judging something based on marketing images prepared in haste by an architectural illustrator at a charette to give a flavour prior to any code being written. The proof is in the built work. Anyway you are right we do live in 2010 and in a pluralist society so why deny people choice? And kitsch is hardly confined to neo traditionalism. There is plenty of modernist kitsch. The issue is how to effectively tackle illiteracy of language and style in architecture. You won’t combat kitsch, in whatever style, without doing so.
#17 Posted by D.E.Spair on 6 Jul 2010 at 15:16 PM
Oh splendid. So it won't look like that in the end, like a film set for a period comedy, but it will actually look like it's in the 21st century? The illustrator was wasting everyone's time at the charrette?

And there will be choice, will there? Scotland under Duany will incorporate new design?

Let's hope so.

The sad part is that what will come of his meddling will be poor quality replicsas built on greenfield sites, as Duany says it's OK, by mass housebuilders. Dangerous territory.
The Flâneur
#18 Posted by The Flâneur on 6 Jul 2010 at 19:07 PM
No, the illustrator was just doing his job. He’s there to help people visualize what this settlement might look like. That’s just part and parcel of the charette process. And yes perhaps that could be criticized but at some point you have to climb off the fence and give people a more tangible idea of what your intentions are.

As for Duany I think you will find that he is motivated by a passion for good quality urbanism and has rather broad tastes. He was a founder member of Arquitectonica so does come out of the modernist tradition. I also recall that he recently described Herzog & de Meuron’s rather cool 1111 Lincoln Road as the best new building in Miami. Which doesn’t exactly chime with someone who isn’t interested in contemporary design.

And with respect (and at the risk of sounding completely patronizing), in the nicest possible way I think you could do with reading Geoffrey Scott's seminal book, The Architecture of Humanism: A Study in the History of Taste. Nearly a century old now but still a worthwhile read.
#19 Posted by D.E.Spair on 6 Jul 2010 at 19:19 PM
Oh that is patronising. Extremely so. You have no idea what my library consists of! Or indeed the depth and breadth of my knowledge of Duany, urbanism, New Urbanism, architectural taste, history, or a great deal else.

Let us hope that no-where ends up looking like the visualisation of Tornagrain, Elsick, or even Poundbury.

I am far from convinced that Duany is the answer to everything, however. We will have to wait and see.

The Flâneur
#20 Posted by The Flâneur on 7 Jul 2010 at 08:18 AM
I apologise. Patronising people is not my style and I could probably have phrased that better. But it is difficult to have a productive, constructive, and open minded debate when someone is taking a polarised position.
#21 Posted by D.E.Spair on 7 Jul 2010 at 09:16 AM
Or, actually, taking a position in which they are putting forward their own views? That Scotland is in danger of regressing to some half-digested architectural vision of the past, in the name of progress and 'urbanism'?

I forgot to mention Knockaroon.

The Flâneur
#22 Posted by The Flâneur on 8 Jul 2010 at 08:21 AM
Well I don’t doubt your sincerity but that's a bit melodramatic and you’re overegging it.

Scotland’s architectural culture is stronger, more vital, robust and diverse than you are giving it credit for.

PS You didn’t mention An Camas Mòr.
#23 Posted by D.E.Spair on 8 Jul 2010 at 11:31 AM
And that's your opinion and you're overdoing it.

John Glenday
#24 Posted by John Glenday on 8 Jul 2010 at 21:20 PM
Scratch away the style and there doesn't seem much to separate new urbanists and modernists in terms of the substance... and both have largely failed to win over developers/public.

If the product isn't selling maybe it's time to change the product?

I'm sure Duany would be up for a debate, I'll try to get something organised.
#25 Posted by D.E.Spair on 8 Jul 2010 at 22:13 PM
Will anyone bother to go? Will it change a' thing?
Probably not.
The Flâneur
#26 Posted by The Flâneur on 9 Jul 2010 at 08:36 AM
Thank you John. I think a proper open debate would be healthy and, given commentary in the professional press, there would be a sizeable audience for it. If the likes of Rem Koolhaas can debate these issues with Andres Duany at Harvard then why can’t a similar debate occur here?
#27 Posted by D.E.Spair on 9 Jul 2010 at 10:00 AM
Because it's Scotland?
Will it alter anything? Unlikely. However, no doubt Mr Duany will be 'up for it', all more oxygen of publicity, and column inches filled in the architectural press with selected infllammatory soundbites.
#28 Posted by D.E.Spair on 9 Jul 2010 at 10:13 AM
Or possibly Mr McEwan could be invited to put his views in person?

"When pressed if he was recommending deregulation across the board McEwan responded: “Well I am actually, why can’t we have an open competition where as a second stage you have to team up with an architect?

“They probably want Andres Duany in it, especially with Jim McKinnon their (sic) must be some brown envelopes involved. That’s a scandal in itself, £200k for the man’s practice for three design charettes. All he did was head back to Florida pull out a few drawings and say ‘here, we’ve got it all done for you’.

The Scottish Government were asked to comment but did not respond. "

From the Urban Realm report 'Scottish Government’s ‘new vernacular’ competition labeled ‘anti-competitive’ '

Exactly how to define 'new vernacular' is another issue entirely of course.
#29 Posted by Trueman on 13 Jul 2010 at 14:12 PM
New Urbanism is a real estate venture packaged as a social vision.

D. Trumpton
#30 Posted by D. Trumpton on 30 Jul 2010 at 13:16 PM
Spot on Trueman Show. Never mind the window dressing, there are other issues here.

I'm sure that , irrespective of the precise building style, building 4000 houses, random other sprawl / facilities on a greenfield site and a "high density core" will hugely improve the setting of the historic mansion at the core of the site and arrest the flight from the city tendancy (not). Rather more likely may it simply line the pockets of the landowner?

On the plus side, at least they haven't desribed the devlopment as a golf course.
Ross McEwan
#31 Posted by Ross McEwan on 2 Aug 2010 at 12:21 PM
I would be quite happy to debate the issues that are being raised about Duany and New Urbanism anywhere it is to be organised. What would be good is if Jim McKinnon were to attend to as he is certainly pushing Duany down our throats.
I am sure there are many "architects" out there who wish they were given 1% of the squandered money on Duany and New Urbanism.
Wake up Scotland to what is happening here more americanism of our society as if its not been bad enough over the past 15 years with all the policy decisions of the Blair and Brown government being led by American policy.
Where is the debate to be?
John Glenday
#32 Posted by John Glenday on 3 Aug 2010 at 16:05 PM
Venue to be confirmed but it will be in Glasgow, sometime after October 8.
#33 Posted by Truman on 8 Sep 2010 at 18:10 PM
Any news on a debate John? I think I could find a venue in Edinburgh if that would help.
#34 Posted by Truman on 8 Sep 2010 at 18:17 PM
D.E.Spair - my real name is Stacey, if you check this message board again I'd like to buy you coffee and pick your brains about:
1. NU
2. Your extensive bibliography

You can contact me via this email if you can spare the time for a wee chat.

James M
#35 Posted by James M on 30 Oct 2010 at 10:40 AM
What happened to the proposed Urban Realm debate with Andres Duany? He's busy helping to make a rich man even more rich (with the blessing of the Scottish Government's Chief Planner it would seem) and enabling the concreting over of a huge piece of undeveloped land outside Edinburgh. Pages of bullshitting greenwash to support it of course, but there's really nothing very eco-friendly about 'Edinburgh's Garden District' when there's brownfield land which should be used if development is needed. Greenfield sites are so much easier to develop of course.

He's making a presentation on Wednesday November 3rd at Edinburgh College of Art, although whether or not any public debate can take place or if he's not allowing questions (he doesn't like dissent) remains to be seen.
John Glenday
#36 Posted by John Glenday on 1 Nov 2010 at 12:17 PM
Unfortunately Andres could not find time in his schedule this November but I am assured he remains commited to the debate and will make room when next in Scotland. Watch this space.
James M
#37 Posted by James M on 1 Nov 2010 at 13:41 PM
Thanks. Odd then he could manage to fit in the charettes and presentation of his 'findings' although perhaps concreting over greenbelt and calling it a Garden City with the help of the Chief Planner gets a better financial return? When it's all been given permission with his help no doubt he will be happy to debate his reasons.
Cathy Stafford
#38 Posted by Cathy Stafford on 3 Feb 2011 at 16:14 PM
Is there any news on the proposed debate?
Alec Craig
#39 Posted by Alec Craig on 1 Apr 2011 at 11:33 AM
I don't have any news on the debate, but the headline project mentioned here progresses a pace. The proposals, which are destined for a planning application this summer, can be viewed here -
Alec Craig
#40 Posted by Alec Craig on 14 Apr 2011 at 16:04 PM
It's surprising that a one billion pound housing project is provoking so little debate, organised or not. Masterplanned in Miami and designed in London, is that what is meant by 'seeing ourselves as others see us'!

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