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RIAS jibe likens ‘grand’ Urban Realm office to ‘ivory tower’

October 11 2012

RIAS jibe likens ‘grand’ Urban Realm office to ‘ivory tower’
The RIAS, the body representing architects in Scotland, has launched an outspoken attack on the Carbuncle Awards and poked fun at Urban Realm’s offices, via a stint on BBC Radio Scotland.

Invited to participate on the John Beattie programme, to debate the launch of this year’s awards, the organisations secretary Neil Baxter dismissed the initiative as a “crass PR stunt” - with no hint of irony.

The Carbuncles were originally launched as a joint venture with the RIAS back when Prospect (Urban Realm’s predecessor) acted as an official mouthpiece for the body, whose communications director then acted as editor. Since the magazine was taken independent however the RIAS has sought to distance itself from the process, raising accusations of hypocrisy.

Baxter had travelled from his well-appointed Regency townhouse in Edinburgh’s New Town to disparage Urban Realm’s ‘grand office’, which sits above a furniture store on Glasgow’s Gallowgate, falsely accusing Urban Realm of “flying in and then heading back to their proverbial ivory tower, but in this case back to their pleasant office in Glasgow.”

The unfounded allegation doesn’t reflect the Carbuncles process however, which entails significant site visits to the towns with a professional team – often with community buy-in, notably in Denny where an architectural competition was held and Glenrothes which hosted Urban Realm’s ‘Down Towns’ conference.

Baxter, who now publishes another rival magazine (RIAS Quarterly), admitted to being unaware of this however - after claiming to chuck his copies of Urban Realm straight into the dustbin. He said: “I don’t follow Urban Realm magazine, Urban Realm follows everyone else. So as far as Urban Realm is concerned, it’s useful for the litter bin and nothing else.”

Urban Realm editor John Glenday said: “I think many would suggest that the RIAS is failing to raise awareness of these issues and debate them in public - so it’s left to other organisations to do their job for them. It is disappointing that Baxter should choose to air his ignorance so publically but the comments are sadly indicative of a bloated, ineffective and aloof organisation which is well past its use-by-date.

“Instead of sniping from the sidelines and accelerating the RIAS slide into irrelevance Baxter would find his time more productively spent working with us and the communities we are helping to improve.”

RIAS slum it in this Regency townhouse in Edinburgh’s New Town, an impoverished backwater of the capital
RIAS slum it in this Regency townhouse in Edinburgh’s New Town, an impoverished backwater of the capital
Urban Realm’s plush Gallowgate office sits in the heart of Glasgow’s sought after east end.
Urban Realm’s plush Gallowgate office sits in the heart of Glasgow’s sought after east end.


Partick Bateman
#1 Posted by Partick Bateman on 11 Oct 2012 at 13:53 PM
Oooh its a proper bunfight now!
Rem Koolbag
#2 Posted by Rem Koolbag on 11 Oct 2012 at 13:58 PM
The Carbuncles are an embarassment.

This piece is an embarassment.

Publishing more pictures of respective parties offices in this article than appear in most of the news stories is an embarassment.

Airing what is little more than sniping in public on the website is an embarassment.

And claiming that the Carbubcles help to improve communities is utter rubbish. And embarassing.
#3 Posted by Egbert on 11 Oct 2012 at 14:11 PM
Oh grow up, you lot. Especially Neil Baxter.
Neil C
#4 Posted by Neil C on 11 Oct 2012 at 16:02 PM
I love the two photo captions - they're absolute genius...
#5 Posted by Bill on 11 Oct 2012 at 17:58 PM
Sounds like you can dish it out Urban Realm but you can't take it. It's ok for you chuck out the carbuncles at towns but, when challenged, the toys go flying out of the pram, or rather, the fingers hit the keyboard. As has been said above, the carbuncles are a complete embarrassment, and I don't mean to the towns you so smugly patronise. Try positive criticism instead and take the public with you.
#6 Posted by Jobson on 11 Oct 2012 at 20:30 PM
On the basis of this article Urban Realm must be run by a bunch of immature Strathy Architecture students. He is quite correct to criticise the embaressment that is the Carbuncles. Do something constructive.
#7 Posted by Sven on 11 Oct 2012 at 21:15 PM
As a member of the public with a keen interest in architecture, I like the Carbuncles. They do highlight the pish poor taste of many in this country, especially of our Councillors. I disagree with #2, I do think that they improve communities. A spotlight is thrown on poorly designed and maintained communities and that establishes debate. RIAS is an ivory tower and should take the debate about quality design and architecture that Urban Realm does well as a compliment.

BTW Urban Realm, RIAS is on Rutland Square, which is West End and not New Town, so less expensive rent and certainly a less prestigious address than the New Town.
Gordon Young
#8 Posted by Gordon Young on 12 Oct 2012 at 09:30 AM
I was the person who set up The Carbuncles.

We did launch it in association with the RIAS, but in some ways they were accidental partners; they really did appreciate just how much heat the awards would generate. But of all the things I have been involved in this is the one I believe has made the most difference:

* It has raised awareness of planning - even the tabloids are now debating an issue that was once deemed too dusty for even the main sections of the quality press.
* It has forced Councils to seek ways of fixing their town centres - even Glenrothes admitted on the radio one positive of winning the Carbuncle Awards was that it motivated them to urgently address some of the issues people were complaining about.
* It has given normal people a way of being heard; very often concerns which were once ignored are taken far more seriously under the glare of national press scrutiny.
* It provides a platform for serious debate. Admittedly in its early days the Carbuncles lacked serious follow-through - we gave our trophy to a town and then left. But no more.

As part of the process it organises events and opportunities for leading planners, architects and advisors to meet local people and discuss how problems might be resolved. It has developed into an ongoing process within the pages of Urban Realm which really seeks to understand why some towns are failing and others are succeeding. This is very worthwhile work.

I would certainly argue that the Carbuncles has done more for the reputation of the profession in a few years than the RIAS has done in decades. Rather than pretending architects never make mistakes it is far better to acknowledge that the professionals can sometimes get it wrong: however when they do they are more than able to learn to ensure these mistakes are not repeated.

Neil Baxters stance that it is always wrong to acknowledge failure, is a bit like the aviation industry refusing to investigate any crashes. It is exactly this type of dismal thinking that has left so many Scottish towns looking dismal.
Ruairidh Moir
#9 Posted by Ruairidh Moir on 12 Oct 2012 at 09:51 AM

You say "do something constructive" yet claim that Urban Realm must be run by "immature Strathy Architecture Students". Don't you see the irony in that? You are completely and utterly assuming a similar role as Urban Realm which you criticize.

I need not raise the flag for the Strathclyde School of Architecture Students - the facts of their proactive and positive contributions to the profession and to communities around the world speak for themselves.

As for this particular article on Urban Realm - it seems to pick up on little more than the proverbial ivory tower line which, having listened to the radio broadcast, does not seem to have been a specific reference to Urban Realm. Indeed - Neil Baxter actually said about comfortable offices in 'Edinburgh or Glasgow or wherever they are...' as a generic indicator of those who are in comfortable positions who come out once in a while and point at run down areas and say "isnt that awful" and then go back to their offices again.

I would claim, that if this article was published on substance it might have countered the very salient points that Neil Baxter put to Urban Realm - namely how the Carbuncle awards kick communities when they are down and then leave again. I am not satisfied that Urban Realm demonstrated that this is not the case either on air, or in this article which appears to be venting a spleen for the Urban Realm and little more.

I really hope this Urban Realm post (of sizing up the organisations respective offices) isn't being used as a mechanism to obscure the real issue which should be discussed here. That really would be unfortunate and very low quality journalism indeed.
#10 Posted by Neil on 12 Oct 2012 at 10:04 AM
Unfortunatley, the Carbuncles detract from the content of the magazine. I received my copy yesterday and was impressed by the depth of investigation, range of topics and quality of writing.
It's good pr for urban realm no doubt and there is interest but there is a price to pay for the magazine. I think there is little to be gained in following out with the RIAS.
#11 Posted by Kieran on 12 Oct 2012 at 10:59 AM
Interesting story and always enjoyable to see a proper bun fight.

I appreciate Gordon Young's well reasoned comments.

I think there is some confusion between the BD's Carbuncle award and this one but in general I think there should be public criticism of poor planning and poor architecture, that's a way to raise standards. Its not "slagging something off" to criticise!

Colin C
#12 Posted by Colin C on 12 Oct 2012 at 12:06 PM
"Neil" I agree very good stuff. Particulary End of Days, Dunlop's writing on China
( drawing too) and Paul Stallan's Viral Spiral. Great read!
#13 Posted by Egbert on 12 Oct 2012 at 13:46 PM
Gordon Young: hear hear! A rather more eloquent and meaningful retort to Baxter's dismissive comments than the poorly-written article above - perhaps you should write a formal rebuttal for UR...
#14 Posted by Stacey on 12 Oct 2012 at 15:10 PM
I agree with most of what Gordon Young says, however, in light of the fact that the motivation behind the 'award' has evolved sensibly, I'd quite like to see both Carbuncle Awards/Cup (UR & BD) scrapped and replaced with a name (and a premise) that doesn't have its ideological roots in the Prince of Wales reactionary and style-obsessed rhetoric...
Lloyd Wright
#15 Posted by Lloyd Wright on 15 Oct 2012 at 13:41 PM
Rem Koolbag - I totally agree.

This (amongst other things), has totally put me off this site.

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