A Tangled Granite Web Weaves around Union Terrace Gardens

Oh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive!

                                     (Sir Walter Scott)

Another kick in the teeth to the people of Aberdeen by the totally undemocratic clique empowered to decide on the preferred option for the development of Union Terrace Gardens.

This clique, presumably selected by ACSEF ( a PPP and undemocratically elected body which is key to current and future developments in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire) is made up of various people who have no obvious talents to be judge and jury over such significant changes to the city’s architecture and changes which will utterly destroy an important and treasured aspect of its heritage (excluding the council and ACSEF from that subjective comment).

Heritage is a moveable feast. Mostly moveable in the case of Aberdeen which has no noble history in recognising what is worthy of preserving and what is not. Very little of Aberdeen’s once distinguished old city is extant. Those public figures who have been instrumental in the eradication of the old and distinctive areas and buildings in the city have created a homogenised urban landscape which leaves no lasting impression on the imagination. It is not stimulating place to be in. It is not a relaxing place to be in. It is the same as so many places up and down the country.

No doubt something along these lines brought Ian Wood, a local multi-millionaire businessman, to conclude that economic expansion would only come (back) to Aberdeen if the city had a square at its heart. I would not disagree had he chosen the area in front of Marischal College. He didn’t.

Aberdeen did have a park in its centre. It does have a park; Victorian gardens. And it is reasonable to see why someone with disposable income measured in millions might want to influence improvements to the centre of his home town (although that in itself calls into question the morality of influencing policy just because you have more money than most) but the motives behind the proposal have shifted since it was first envisaged. I have written about this before and am not going over old ground. Suffice to say that by creating a piazza ( and that was the term in use at the beginning of this whole UTG episode) the city would attract business is specious. I don’t for a moment imagine that Mr Wood ever moved his business into anywhere because of the look of the place, whether or not it had a piazza, but because of the economic returns his company hoped to bank.

People in and around Aberdeen have long recognised Union Terrace Gardens needed revitalising. The fact that the once popular park has been left to degenerate to the extent it has is down to a dereliction of duty by Aberdeen City Council. The touches which could bring this wee gem of an oasis back into popular use are clear and would work out far, far cheaper than the extortionate scheme in hand. It looks like what swung the council in favour of this latest wheeze to bulldoze a unique city landscape is flattery. People (some people) are flattered by men with money.

So two architectural designs were shortlisted and the clique within a clique was given the task of selecting a winner

The undemocratic body knew the public’s favourite. One which preserved aspects of the old gardens and extended them.

The undemocratic body did not select the public favourite but went for a radical design instead.

And who makes up this appointed clique which represents the people of Aberdeen?

Duncan Rice – A former Principal of Aberdeen University
Ian Wood –the millionaire businessman who promised around 1/3 of the cost of the project
John Stewart – a libdem councillor
Tom Smith – who runs a telecommunications company
Charles Landry –bought in as an expert on urban innovation
Lavina Massie – no idea who she is
Malcolm Reading – bought in as a consultant on capital projects

Of the competition winner, this is what I said in an earlier blog on the subject.

The Granite Web
This is incredible. It’s like someone’s idea of a joke. For starters we have raised walkways, streamlined with figures wandering around. Now call me picky but can you see health and safety allowing people to walk at these heights without tall fences along the walkways? And quite right too, I could take a dizzy and topple onto the folk eating below, or if I was less polite I might… well.

Cutting through the turgid descriptions of nature and culture fused into a ‘vital network’ – what ? – ‘an elastic web’ – ‘stretching across the historic river site – ’ which river would that be then? No rivers there. The Denburn. Far fetched calling that a river, ‘multi-tiered archaeology’ has anyone checked what this guy’s been drinking? ‘quiet hang outs to meadows’, ‘the city’s emergent future’.

Cutting though the crap. This design is a mess, misleading in its visualisation and frankly, an eyesore in the making.

And it seems I’m not alone. The Los Angeles Times had a piece on 15th September 2011 about the winning company, Diller, Scofidio and Renfro entitled Culture Monster.

‘The real question is whether this project will prove to be the one where DS+R shows a clear ability to turn smart conceptual ideas into really affecting built space. Too many of its projects — the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston and Brown University’s Granoff Center are two examples — have lost something crucial in moving from schematic to completed form; they are often thick with ideas but rather thin emotionally.
This may be because DS+R, which has been hugely prominent in theoretical debates over architecture’s future but has relatively few finished projects to its credit, is still perfecting the slippery art of building well. Or it may simply be because the firm’s strength lies in strategic thinking rather than in the act of making architecture powerfully moving in three dimensions. I think the jury is still out.’

Well the jury of architects may well be still out. Unfortunately the screw has been turned on the removal of Aberdeen’s city centre gardens for this vulgar acreage of concrete, Astroturf and a few potted plants.

People of Aberdeen it is up to you. Are you prepared to let a group of the great unelected stick two fingers up to you – just because they can?

How Wood accumulated so much cash

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7 Comments to “A Tangled Granite Web Weaves around Union Terrace Gardens”

  1. Thanks for the latest comments. Sorry for delay in putting them up.

    Oh, I totally agree with you MedalSlut

    I suspect they’ll go on ‘consulting’ until they get the answer they’re looking for…or else ignore the public which is pretty well business as usual around here.

    The web will have to have high barriers to prevent people dropping off which will mean it’ll end up looking like a series of bridges and not the streamlined image in the glossy promo.

    • Don’t forget wheeled cages for your children/the elderly that are chained to a railing to provide the ultimate in modern safety standards.

      In fact, why bother! Just spend millions on a virtual reality chamber that lets you imagine you’re actually in UTG, and turn the real gardens into a multistory car park. Entirely reasonable!

      Plus the car park will provide Aberdeen with jobs! Car valet services, security guards…. What’s not to love?

  2. So they fork out for one public vote to see if the thing should go ahead in the first place. Public says ‘no’. Public are ignored.
    Then they fork out MORE money to ‘allow’ the public to vote for their favourite design (glossy, colour printed voting card?!?! School’s can barely afford lined paper!). The public vote for the least hideous. The public are ignored.
    I totally agree that this design will be totally unusable after H+S have a once over.
    Totally freaking ridiculous.
    (I’m way over-using the word ‘totally’)

  3. Lovely looking design. Nice and modern.

  4. I welcome all comments like that. 🙂

  5. Brilliant and well written!

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