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Aberdeen emerges as early Carbuncle favourite

October 20 2014

Aberdeen emerges as early Carbuncle favourite
Aberdeen, ‘where architecture goes to die’ has emerged as an early front-runner in the Carbuncle Awards as the silver city fades to grey amidst a steady drip and questionable planning decisions.

The oil capital has been accused of turning its back on its main artery, Union Street, by sanctioning the remorseless expansion of undercover malls and presiding over a hollowing out of commercial and residential activity in favour of expansion in places such as Chapelton of Elsick, the largest New Town in Scotland, despite significant decay and dereliction in the city - notably at Broadford Works.

This is exacerbated by the continued consent of out-of-town office pavilions such as those in the Westhill area of the city which fail to add anything to the city proper and questions surrounding the dominance of a small number of construction and design firms in the city.

Individual buildings which have come in for criticism in recent years include BDP’s Union Square, cited as contributing to the retail voids on Union Street and the Matthew Hay emergency care centre by Mackie Ramsay Taylor.

Urban Realm editor John Glenday said: “Aberdeen has a rich granite heritage and in the Victorian era the city was built to last, sadly the same can’t be said of the flimsy, ill-considered buildings going up across the city today.

“Serious questions need to be asked of planners who appear to be simply rubber-stamping the schemes that are put in front of them. There appears to be an attitude of ‘anything goes’ as long as it brings in immediate cash.

“Despite its riches Aberdeen has become the poor relation of the Scottish cities.”

Other contenders for the dubious prize include Maddiston in Falkirk and Leven in Fife. The winner will be announced early next year.


Fitz Hat
#1 Posted by Fitz Hat on 20 Oct 2014 at 12:44 PM
"This is exacerbated by the continued consent of out-of-town office pavilions such as those in the Westhill area of the city which fail to add anything to the city proper"

Westhill is in Aberdeenshire, so Aberdeen City Council cannot do anything about its remorseless and depressing expansion.
#2 Posted by wonky on 20 Oct 2014 at 12:56 PM
Aberdeen is a disgrace- for all its riches it is a city that utterly lacks creativity, sparkle or long term vision. I often think Aberdeen is like some bizarre Northern European version of Americana, akin to Floridian suburbia or a Houston commuter town: the ceaseless tide of car-centered private sprawl, out of town shopping outlets, fast food chains, the ubiquitous business park bad taste aesthetic- Aberdeen is cursed with swathes of huge amounts of private wealth but very little interest in sharing those riches for the public good...that for me is reflected in the utter paucity of design in built infrastructure & in the lack of quality in its urban realm.
Big Chantelle
#3 Posted by Big Chantelle on 20 Oct 2014 at 13:48 PM
Aberdeen = mecca of white render,zinc cladding and out of town business parks. The stuff of modernist dreamz.

But Aberdonians are reputed to be the happiest people in the UK though.

#4 Posted by David on 20 Oct 2014 at 14:16 PM
First Group depot in New Gorbals? Equally as grim
#5 Posted by J on 20 Oct 2014 at 15:39 PM
@Chantelle - I know you are just on here to leave inane comments (getting very tiring actually, why do you feel the need to do this) but "Modernism" with a capital M this is not. This kind of building has nothing to do with Modernist ideals, it is purely commercially driven and broken down to the bare essentials of making a building with some arbitrary embellishments thrown in. There is little to no attempt to make a pleasing piece of architecture because the kind of clients that are commissioning these buildings, along with the practices that are designing them, see no need to do so (I know, in the dark days of the recession when work was hard to come by, I perhaps worked on one of the Aberdeen monstrosities. I will have to live with my small part in this great evil for the rest of my life...)

Most design led architects, the kind you so seem to enjoy berating, are wholly against buildings like this and realise the damage that they do to our built environment.

Your architectural criticism, looking at previous comments as well, has next to no merit or reasoning, so either please come up with succinct arguments and informed opinions or kindly refrain from any more of your comments.
#6 Posted by Alf on 20 Oct 2014 at 16:17 PM
#4 David; agreed, the First Group building is particularly awful. Especially considering 1 minute down the road you have the Laurieston development.
Oor willie
#7 Posted by Oor willie on 20 Oct 2014 at 17:27 PM
Years of in fighting by the Lab/Tory coalition council whose only focus is to prevent the majority party who supports local business and investors ( like Ian Wood) from breathing fresh air into the centre of Aberdeen. Aberdeen is doomed to years of bleakness to come so long as these moronic amateur councillors stay in power. Grey granite, grey outlook........
#8 Posted by Colin on 21 Oct 2014 at 08:04 AM
I have lived and studied architecture in Aberdeen and practiced architecture in Aberdeen and London. I have also been a member of the Carbuncle judging panel.

Firstly it is sad to see my home city on the nominees list. Secondly, and importantly the nomination must be seen as an opportunity to raise the level of debate on what we can collectively do to realise a framework for a 'better' place to live.

This is not a linear path, and there is no panacea to fix all ills. Strong town planning policy must be backed with vision. Long gone are the days of a city architect, however the council and councillors need to understand how and what is working elsewhere. This is a process that needs forums to support and engage both lay and professional people.

All towns and cities evolve, this is granular and long term - it is not achieved by sweeping ideals. Aberdeen missed, to a large extent, the blight of mid century tower block and although we have lost the way over recent times it can recover. There are numerous global examples of this which can be learnt from (but not copied or pastiched).

The recent appointment of BDP and public consultations on the shaping of the city centre are the first positive steps toward the next policy chapter - but it needs combined support by all.

It will not get it right all the time, however it is important to realise and embrace this and keep learning.

The urban realm is a place where people need to feel supported in whatever they need to do, it is complex, rich and necessarily diverse. The spaces 'between' stitch us metaphorically and physically together.

We cannot loose sight of this fact.

Even if the Plook on the plinth arrives on the doorstep I believe that Aberdeen is, maybe belatedly, once again waking up to its possibilities and potential.
Fitz Hat
#9 Posted by Fitz Hat on 21 Oct 2014 at 08:07 AM
To play devil's advocate, commenters here often complain about a handful of practices picking up all the work in Aberdeen, and the quality of their work. However those practices have a presence in Aberdeen. You can hardly blame clients in Aberdeen for seeking to use an architect based near them and their project. Many architects in Scotland, and some of those that are frequently lauded on these pages, appear to focus exclusively on the central belt to the detriment of their own business.
#10 Posted by Bill on 21 Oct 2014 at 08:41 AM
I am not sure whether this "award" will change anything in the powers that be, but Aberdeen certainly deserves it. The ineptitude of the decision makers sometimes belies belief and there seems to an ingrained issue with a parochial small town attitude that has suddenly found itself with so much wealth that they do not know how to react apart from seemingly bending over to the money providers. The beach is a disgrace; monstrous and soulless sheds obliterate what could have been an amazing urban connection between city and sea. The short term benefits of the shopping malls that are slowly choking Union Street will run out soon enough but the depressing thought is that these are so popular that the Council will not look around this option. What was needed, regardless of the outcome of the recent UTG debacle, was a cohesive master-plan for the whole city centre that the Council actually adhered to, and that included Union Street as the main artery of importance. What we are seeing now is the result of a succession of poorly run councils, succinctly put by #7 above and I doubt whether that will change in the near future without a big kick up the jacksy.
#11 Posted by Jimbo on 21 Oct 2014 at 11:04 AM
Lovely to see Halliday Fraser Munro's years of hard work are finally being recognised with this well deserved award nomination.

Would like to point out that I MAY, stress, MAY have been the first one to coin the phrase "Aberdeen: Where architecture goes to die" in a comment on the Urban Realm story about the Moxy Marriot back in an Aberdonian Architect this gives me no pride whatsoever.
Wee Eck
#12 Posted by Wee Eck on 21 Oct 2014 at 12:58 PM
#8 Colin - BDP masterplan? Is that the same BDP that designed the Union Square/Bus Station/Train Station. First they break it then they fix it - great business model!
Big Chantelle
#13 Posted by Big Chantelle on 21 Oct 2014 at 21:41 PM
@J post #5
"Your architectural criticism, looking at previous comments as well, has next to no merit or reasoning, so either please come up with succinct arguments and informed opinions or kindly refrain from any more of your comments."

Oh, so if one's opinion does not match your opinion one is instructed not to comment. With all due respect, if I dislike a piece of architecture I can FREELY express that opinion. And considering the nature of the topic, namely that Aberdeen has been nominated for a carbuncle award due to its poor state of modern architecture primarily, it appears my opinion is shared by many.

I'll continue to express my opinions J.
Can't Let It Go
#14 Posted by Can't Let It Go on 22 Oct 2014 at 12:51 PM

Here's what you could have won Aberdeen.

#15 Posted by J on 22 Oct 2014 at 14:10 PM

You've clearly missed my point re your commenting. I have no issue with you expressing your opinions and would welcome discourse; what I do take issue with is your misrepresentation of the subject you are berating, namely Modernism. Your comment on here admittedly is comparatively innocuous to others you have left but follow a historical pattern nonetheless.

Lumping modern architecture in general , of whatever commercial or philosophical background, with Modernism, which was a distinct movement, and then presenting it as the problem rather than the myriad of reasons modern architecture like the examples shown in Aberdeen totally undermines your own arguments and demonstrates ignorance of the issues. As I said, please come up with succinct arguments and informed opinions. Presenting "modern architecture" as "Modernism" or any other -ism's for that matter does nothing to address the misconstruction's that people may have about contemporary design.

As a general comment, its not insignificant that many of these buildings highlighted in the Carbuncle nomination are commercial buildings ie. factories, offices and the like. It is also sad to see this, as many of the great iconic buildings over the decades and various architectural movements have been precisely for these sorts of uses. Think of the great Victorian mills, factories and office buildings of the engineering revolution, the Art Deco office skyscrapers of New York and Chicago, Behrens AEG Turbine hall in Berlin, or the Modernist office blocks by the likes of Mies. These buildings are all commissioned by commercial clients and genuinely moved modern architecture in to new ways of thinking. Sad to see that much of the architectural legacy of today commercial clients are increasingly polarised to either the sort of mundane crap seen in Aberdeen, and countless other towns and cities, which relegate to role of the architect to a glorified draughtsperson or the predicability of the Starchitects who very often are commissioned for name only rather than any real deeper architectural progression.

Big Chantelle
#16 Posted by Big Chantelle on 22 Oct 2014 at 21:10 PM
@J #15

"I have no issue with you expressing your opinions and would welcome discourse"

Well, that's very kind of you Sir. But just a few things:

1.I don't need your approval to opine.
2.This is a comments section for people to opine independent of you.
3.I comment from my own perspective, that is, to voice MY views.
4.I detest most modern architecture: past 'modernism', pastiche modernism today, contemporary buildings of the zinc and white render variety. That's MY opinion for me to hold. Not you.You own your views. I own mine.

"As I said, please come up with succinct arguments and informed opinions. Presenting "modern architecture" as "Modernism" or any other -ism's for that matter does nothing to address the misconstruction's that people may have about contemporary design."

With all due respect, your arrogance is astonishing. You have no right to demand how anyone construct their posts/comments. You are merely 1 individual here and have dedicated several posts to lecturing me on my 'incorrect' views. You'll just have to accept my views. Deal with them. Or better still, focus on expressing your own.

P.S. I'm not here to challenege people's supposed incorrect perceptions of modern architecture. I'm on a comments section of a website.

jimmy brain
#17 Posted by jimmy brain on 26 Oct 2014 at 02:31 AM
The problem is that the city council is run by a bunch of hopeless phillistine amateurs. They approve anything as long as is proposed by the highest bidder, that is, if you are a big developer you can build anything you like and cream off a fat profit, whilst leaving another ugly mark on the city. The sad thing is that the same thing has been going on for years. It is nothing to do with the political party make up of the council. Those in power simply ignore any criticism and are oblivious to the desecration of the city over which they preside.
Robbie Shepherd
#18 Posted by Robbie Shepherd on 27 Oct 2014 at 15:18 PM
Aberdeen, city and shire, is as confident of its place in the world now as it ever has been at any time in history. While I do not particularly disagree with the mediocre quality of the commercial architecture in the city, any carbuncle award will be laughed off. It's not the way of the indigenous north-easterner to take too much notice of central-belt-fuelled criticism, he looks and laughs at a' that.
#19 Posted by Jack on 27 Oct 2014 at 21:23 PM
#12 Wee Eck - Who says BDP are going to fix it?
Laurie tinto
#20 Posted by Laurie tinto on 28 Oct 2014 at 14:18 PM
Well said robbie, every town and city in the UK has its disasters, Aberdeen is no exception. Defiantly needs foresight and inspiration to take it forward, this I believe has been sadly missing at times over the last 50 years. Am going back to the building of the then Co op on George Street now John Lewis. Heard all this then hearing it all again.

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