A Square Deal for Developers: Marischal goes phut


Marischal Square

I went along to see the model of the proposed Marischal Square when it was in Aberdeen Art Gallery recently. I haven’t written about it until now because, well because – what can you say?

Surprised I was.  Surprised at the insignificance of it – the display boards and – er, model – wanting as it was.  

Rather than being revealing, the model was oddly lacking. For a start it lacked anything at all in the area under review. Okay there was a dodgy piece of card filling the void. Is this what the council proposes? Aberdeen city centre from Marischal College down to the back of M& S, and including Provost Skene’s House covered by a bit of cardboard? Original certainly. Not great when it rains but we can’t have everything.  Hard as I looked I couldn’t see Provost Skene’s House at all on the model. That was scary.

Aberdeen City Council Copyright

Can I ask, actually I didn’t at the time – what was the point of the ill-fitting card about? It might have been representative of a blank canvas and that would be good because it would mean the city was  ready to listen to the public’s view about how their hard-earned cash should be spent on in this public space.  I suspect this is not the case. My suspicion is that the 2-D nature of the card gave an illusion of greater space than 3-D building models. Put them in and the small amount of space available once built up would have become apparent.

I was under the impression that the public were to be given an opportunity to give their views on what should be built in the space created by the demolition of St Nicholas House.  Not so.

Eagerly I looked to the display boards to get a sense of the Great Plan. There were the usual buzzwords:  ‘network of spaces’, ‘opportunities’, ‘livelier’ ‘more comfortable’, ‘international quality’ – ambition is good but from what I’ve seen the reality of this is hardly worthy of a column in the local rag far less being fanfared as of international significance,  the dreaded ‘indoor space’,   ‘greener’, ‘cycling’ – no proposal would be complete without them.

There was mention of improving the Broad Street corridor. Now that, at least, had a ring of truth about it – corridor that is – not improvement. The space remaining post new-build will be nothing more than a corridor towered over by hotels and offices and shops:  the people of Aberdeen will get what’s left over.

The public was not invited along to the Gallery to share their views about the best way to create a real heart for Aberdeen but to suggest how the Broad Street corridor might be used as a thoroughfare in the future.  No change – i.e. an open street with access for cars, buses and cycles; limited access to buses, taxis (why taxis?),  cyclists, pedestrians; pedestrianised?

I am not that keen on full pedestrianisation as that tends to close off areas during evenings and nights and make them into no-go areas for any but druggies and dodgy characters most of us want to stay clear of. Look what happened to the Castlegate when buses were removed from there – it’s a dead area for most Aberdonians now. The council are responsible for that.

Disappointed that it was only really the transport/pedestrian aspect of Broad Street/Square – what happened to the square? despite boards with references to Public Space I nevertheless filled in a card with my views about what could become a wonderful civic space.  Well you wouldn’t expect me not to.


I didn’t question what was meant by ‘focussed civic space’.  Focussed – unfocussed – suspect as with so many of these terms it will mean anything you want it to.

There were oblique references to historic routes/the Guestrow /Flourmill Lane– tossed in like a handful of heritage crumbs to placate those of us critical of city developments which root out the past to create their own ground zeros that the developers are aware such places exist – for now.

And there were mentions of sculpture and art – as if sculpture wasn’t art. We have experience of public sculpture in Aberdeen – it’s all small-scale and frankly rubbish – apart from the dominating figure of Wallace outside HMT. The commissioning of something big, bold and very very distinctive would be worth blowing all the available cash on – dream on Lena.

I will take this opportunity to promote my long held dream of a tall viewing tower in the centre of Aberdeen, perhaps a salute to the granite industry- where we can climb up to look across the city, to the mountains, to the sea and take our pictures.  I’d pay for that.

What really depressed me was the board ‘What Next’ – don’t remember if it had a question mark or not – possibly not as this has all been decided, hasn’t it?

What Next – in the order these guys who spend our money see it –

  1. Investment
  2. Office space
  3. Hotel
  4. Shops, cafes, restaurants
  5. Skene’s House and Marishcal College
  6. Outdoor space
  7. Safer walking and cycling

You don’t need me to point out the subtleties of their thinking. What comes in the top 4? Nothing to do with public amenities or the creation of any ‘international quality’ development only the same old offices, shops and hotels you can find anywhere and everywhere.  Nil points for courage or imagination.  I reckon outdoor space coming in 6th is a positive disgrace.

Here we have a major opportunity to create something in the centre of Aberdeen which really could attract in tourists as well as fulfil a strong desire by Aberdonians for a heart in their city and it is not even being considered.  There will be office and shops and they will occupy most of this space so what will become a public space will be no more than there is now – ie a street. Do you want your street with or without traffic?  Frankly I hardly care.

3 Responses to “A Square Deal for Developers: Marischal goes phut”

  1. I heartely aggree with the above sentiment. The development is driven by the need to make money. Therefore public amenity and aesthetics take second place. Its a disgrace.

  2. Why can they get their head our from the place the sun doesn’e shine and start to think big. They want to encourage more exercise then look at what the Chinese do and make it an open space where tai chi type classes or adult exercises can take place and with education you will encourage people to start to look after themselves. You could encourage people by offering a free coffee/tea for every ten visits. You need to make this a civic area for the people of Aberdeen. The council needs to think about all the mistakes they have made and give something back to the community.


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