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Analysis: Union Terrace Gardens

January 17 2012

Analysis: Union Terrace Gardens
A design jury’s unanimous backing for Diller Scofidio & Renfro and Keppie Design’s ‘Granite Web’ in Aberdeen has stirred a great deal of controversy.

Here Urban Realm editor John Glenday gives his analysis, published in today's Scotsman.

“Diller Scofidio & Renfro’s ‘granite web’ of interconnected walkways has been sold as a vision of the future for Aberdeen.  However the seductive sixties sci-fi vision presented may be out of date before the journey from concept to reality has even begun.
“In their submission the architects have spun a tale of making Aberdeen “throb” again but the history of elevated walkways and underpasses, as anyone who has ever traversed any concrete New Town will attest, is often dystopian.

“Health and Safety officials are also likely to have a field day with the walkways and platforms as presented, inevitably leading to a compromised design with fencing, signage and other clutter once the demands of building regulations are met.

“That said the scheme isn’t without merit, the series of ‘tendons’ which weave their  way into the existing streetscape should improve footfall  the layered approach adds drama to the existing site topography, drawing light and views down to the cavernous Denburn valley interior.

“Spanning this space with column free pathways poses a considerable structural challenge in and of itself, a difficulty exacerbated by the need to keep an active road and rail link running throughout the construction period.  This won’t come cheap. Indeed, if similar big budget projects are anything to go by, the stated £140m cost could turn out to be the most ambitious element of this scheme.

“Hopefully these issues can be resolved in any full planning application, assuming the scheme make it that far. Ahead of the planned referendum the assumption must be that the only webs Union Terrace Gardens will acquire in the coming years are cobwebs.”


#1 Posted by Stuart on 17 Jan 2012 at 11:11 AM
Interesting also to know how they will create these fluid and flexible structures with granite; the least fluid and flexible of all building materials known to man. I take it the judges asked that question, so maybe they can in Aberdeen?
#2 Posted by Andy on 17 Jan 2012 at 11:52 AM
Very interesting take on the Structures elements John, maybe you should come and speak to us as we,that is Buro Happold are providing the Engineering services.
#3 Posted by Stuart on 17 Jan 2012 at 11:57 AM
and don't forget John there's Keppie too, problem solved.
John Glenday
#4 Posted by John Glenday on 17 Jan 2012 at 12:28 PM
Andy - Absolutely, I'll be in Aberdeen on Friday for a wee city update. I'll drop you a note.
Andrew Brown
#5 Posted by Andrew Brown on 17 Jan 2012 at 14:07 PM
The advantage about this option getting chosen is that it is more likely for the people to say no, because they love their UTG. The Foster option had a greater chance of getting support from the people. Lets hope Wood's listen to the vote and accepts its outcome!
Auld Cynic
#6 Posted by Auld Cynic on 17 Jan 2012 at 15:29 PM
The honorarium award for this competition was £7500 plus £5000 expenses…Hundreds of professionals have worked thousands of hours putting together these submissions.

On March 1, the likelihood is that the people of Aberdeen will vote to retain the Gardens as they are…

If this scheme progresses at all it will have to address the very prosaic realities of dealing with national rail, highways, conservation (even the trees are all TPO’d), and yes – despite the fact that people in Amsterdam manage to get around with out falling in canals I would be most surprised if those walkways and vertiginous slopes survive.

Brisac Gonzalez clever and modest little building for the Peacock Arts Centre was maybe the right scheme after all? But hey ho, it’s Scotland? Why do something (anything at all?), when you can just as easily do nothing?
Jaco Justice
#7 Posted by Jaco Justice on 17 Jan 2012 at 16:11 PM
Regarding the Foster option; it opened up the possibility (and was spotted by many) that it could have been a development in tandem with the originally offered PVA/Brisac Gonzalez scheme. Examples: retainment of the arches; topography at HMT end; 'worm' structure being concentrating above train line/Belmont St side.

Sir Ian's 'vision', as he has stated on many occasion, holds no compromise - it's all or nothing - and so while it was rather nice for his campaign's headlines to have one of architecture's overlords, Foster, on the shortlist in all reality it would never have won because of the potential for the above argument to gain momentum and thus contradict with the rhetoric about only 'absolute transformation' at UTG (thus exposing their true motives).
Furry Boots
#8 Posted by Furry Boots on 18 Jan 2012 at 11:29 AM
7. Jaco Justice - Spot on. The Foster scheme was a much better prospect for Aberdeen but didn't win because it didn't accord with Ian Wood's (wholly misguided) vision for some kind of Californian "plaza". But by putting vanity before the common good it will very likely result in defeat at the referendum.
Hall Harper
#9 Posted by Hall Harper on 22 Jan 2012 at 16:52 PM
According to information being published in the media it's now going to cost £115m instead of the originally "budgeted" £140m. That'll be interesting!
Neale Smith
#10 Posted by Neale Smith on 25 Jan 2012 at 00:28 AM
I shot the images for Malcolm Reading, I was there for the whole day, it was interesting to get the public opinion, a real 50/50 split, very little indifference. It'll be interesting to see how this works, one thing is for sure, the gardens need improving, it's just to what extent?
jackie bibby
#11 Posted by jackie bibby on 1 Feb 2012 at 22:40 PM
there are visions for the future and then this telly tubby land!!! , i liked norman foster's design personally
jackie bibby
#12 Posted by jackie bibby on 1 Feb 2012 at 22:40 PM
there are visions for the future and then this telly tubby land!!! , i liked norman foster's design personally
Rosa Redd
#13 Posted by Rosa Redd on 7 Feb 2012 at 00:37 AM
You should maybe see some of the comments on this site.. See also th links on the left-hand column..

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