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Avalanche of criticism buries Ayr Renaissance centrepiece

May 10 2018

Avalanche of criticism buries Ayr Renaissance centrepiece
A chorus of criticism has convinced South Ayrshire Council to go back to the drawing board in its bid to build a flagship Keppie-designed headquarters on a sensitive waterfront site.

No less than 364 objections were registered for the contentious build, which would have seen a four storey office block rise on the banks of the River Ayr, centerpiece of a £30m masterplan for land bounded by High Street, medieval ‘Auld Brig’ and the Victorian ‘New Bridge’.

Amongst those to thwart the project were the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland which expressed the view that the proposed scheme did not meet the standards of ‘high quality architectural design’ and a ‘detrimental’ effect on the town’s skyline.

Such sentiments were born out of divergence from an earlier masterplan by Niall McLaughlin Architects which called for a double-gabled frontage to address the river and direct access from the High Street.

Architect Patrick Lorimer complained that ‘No effort has been made to relate the new elevations to the existing’, adding that local townscape characteristics have been ‘completely ignored’.

Based on past precedent set by its office space for its West Dunbartonshire Council offices in Dumbarton Keppie dropped smaller attic levels in favour of screened rooftop plant and offered only a secondary access pend to the east – although provision would have been made to open an additional High Street entrance at a later date.

Such sentiments led councilors to unanimously object to their own new home to allow a reappraisal of their approach.
A new front entrance would have been formed off the riverfront
A new front entrance would have been formed off the riverfront
Site clearance work has already been completed
Site clearance work has already been completed


I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of the architects but,
#1 Posted by I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of the architects but, on 11 May 2018 at 08:35 AM

I am beginning to think that the way society through architects approach the design of significant buildings and the subsequent post-rationalisation of design for the planning and consultation process (through a prescribed modified CABE design statement) may have had its day. This has to be such an example.

Having looked at the images of the Masterplan, read through the (7-part) design statement (there's a clue) and the ADS response, something is clearly adrift here, or just plain wrong. If this design is what can be produced through this system of faux analysis then I believe this 'method of working' is a dead end.

Part of the problem is language. No one uses this language of disassembling, undrawing and codifying other than architects. So who are architects communicating to other than themselves? (I suspect no one)

Having witnessed the role of the architect diminish significantly through industrialisation of the building process and specialisation, the increased aesthetic planning role and where everyone's an expert on all matters, I think this example shows the architect as clutching at straws in a way. Or drowning, not waving if you'd prefer.

Changing times, changing milieu, changing everything, but not the way architects turgidly explain their designs to the wider community. The sheer volume of objections (however well-orchestrated) makes this simple point. I would suggest that Architects have to scrutinise closely HOW they illustrate their proposals and HOW they design buildings in the public realm.

Self-evidently, this proposal in contextual townscape terms is clearly inappropriate. It reminds me of a medium-sized historic Italian town in Mussolini's 1940's getting a ideological modernist public building in the town centre with the accompanying piazza, from which to revere the power of the state.

Other European countries just wouldn't have this issue. Wait a minute, we're leaving ...
Francesca Edge
#2 Posted by Francesca Edge on 11 May 2018 at 09:13 AM
I bet it would have looked good
#3 Posted by Rod on 11 May 2018 at 09:45 AM
To be fair the Architect had to work to the financial constraints of the Scottish Governments Hub Costs matrix

Hands up who wants to pay more tax so we can have a better building on this site ?
#4 Posted by Jamie on 11 May 2018 at 10:38 AM
@ No. 1

Thank you for your lecture.
Simmer down
#5 Posted by Simmer down on 11 May 2018 at 11:53 AM
@ No. 1
Have a snickers...

On a more serious note, I agree in general that public buildings should have a presence and give more to the surrounding area than just house the council workers, however at the end of the day in our current climate budget is king and as Rod fairly comments people are not willing to pay more tax for a fancy council office.
I do laugh at Patrick Larimer's comments regarding relating new elevations to the existing. What neighbouring building of quality is he wishing they used as a reference? Yes there is room for development on the design shown, its not great but its not exactly a disaster. That part of Ayr is full of architectural horror stories! The area needs strong confident architecture in order to revitalise and encourage people into a town that is not fulfilling its potential.
If anyone wishes to discuss further I'll be in Billy Bridges!
Walt Disney
#6 Posted by Walt Disney on 14 May 2018 at 12:42 PM
Am I surprised that a council can take its own application all the way through to committee, with a recommendation for approval, then refuse it? Not really. It just demonstrates that 'here today and gone tomorrow' toon cooncillors shouldn't have any say on how we develop our towns and cities.

I think the only next step is for the council to appeal against its own decicion and then sue for costs.
#7 Posted by modernish on 15 May 2018 at 11:01 AM
A complete farce...but par for the course for South Ayrshire Council. Just look at Ayr town centre; is been decimated by a series of poorly considered 'development' decisions and now the piece de resistance of the council rejecting it's own application!
SAC have soiled their own bed; they should be left with the mess they have created.

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