Archive for ‘Triple Kirks’

Mar 23, 2015

Master Planning in the Granite City


How Aberdeen’s ring road was once envisaged, intersecting with the beach boulevard.

In the foreground an assembly hall and theatre.

That was in 1949. Time now to consider the latest version of Aberdeen’s Master Plan so brace yourselves for an onslaught of fatuous bureaucrat-speak.

Key, transformation, vibrant, reawakening, deserves, accessible, enhanced, significant, enhanced, shaping, stakeholders, did I say? enhanced, revitalisation, dynamic, did I say enhance? ambitious, vision, opportunities, did I say enhance? = an exercise in verbiage.

Aberdeen City and Shire Economic Future’s Economic Manifesto, and Action Plan (yes, really) states that the City Centre must act as a key business location, retail centre, major tourist destination, historical and cultural centre, leisure and entertainment centre, key transport node, and a place where people live and feel safe.

It will not have escaped your notice the order of importance listed by Aberdeen City Council – historical and cultural and indeed a place where people live and feel safe as well as transport trail behind retail – as usual.

You cannot ever accuse Aberdeen City Council of understanding the real worth of the city and its own responsibilities.

Aberdeen City Council has never sought to complement and enhance Aberdeen’s unique identity. On the contrary it has sought and succeeded in burying anything unique about Aberdeen in its drive to prove Aberdeen can look like any other town with a bland urban landscape devoid of uniqueness and interest – a cultural desert.

In its Masterplan the Council uses the analogy of the human body to describe the city with Union Street as the spine. It is tempting to suggest that while the city may have a spine the council does not.

For all its high-faluting language we only have to look around at the flimflam chaos and lost opportunities to discover where reality lies. Instead of me setting out what might, but probably won’t, materialise I’m reviewing what has been dished up in the name of planning.

Take the fairly recently built bus station – could it be any more alienating to passengers? People struggle to get there with luggage, from taxis and cars. Families find it virtually impossible to see off family, rushing them out of cars with their luggage from no waiting streets such as Guild Street and Market Street. Why was seating not provided for waiting bus passengers? Why do buses have to perform hazardous reversing manoeuvres when leaving bus stances? Whoever designed the bus station and whoever sanctioned it should have been sacked for incompetency. As soon as it was built it was discovered the place was not fit for purpose, as the man from the council might say. You can be fairly certain those who designed it don’t use it.

Take the Green, or the Merchant Quarter as we are encouraged, unsuccessfully, to call it, where charges for cafes providing seating outside put obstacles in the way of creating a relaxed café atmosphere that the council made such a hoo-ha about wanting yet had no idea how to implement. And it is typical that these guys don’t appreciate the area’s name used and recognised by generations of Aberdonians, the Green. If they don’t get this they won’t get any of it.

Take the ugly, ugly mini retail park at the historic Bridge of Dee. Who but a group of madmen on speed would sanction that?

Take the traffic nightmare on Guild Street, all manufactured by the well-paid jobsworths of Aberdeen City Council.

Take the current state of the once majestic Bridge Street transformed into a state of tacky ugliness.


Take the beach Esplanade nice enough it runs along a magnificent beach front but don’t look landward at the horrendous erections city planners let companies away with. Why has this choice site never been reclaimed? Another sacking offence surely?

Take the demolition of old Torry. That sums up the short-sighted, blinkered, ignorance that marks out Aberdeen City planners over the years with no conception of the value of heritage.

Take the Castlegate. Once bustling and a traffic hub it was killed stone dead by planners who thought shutting out traffic would make it people-friendly. It didn’t it made it a no-go area.

Take the shoddy and shabby upper deck at the St Nicholas Centre that closed-off the historical St Nicholas Street and in its place created a dead space; unfriendly and creepy area after dark. Name and shame the architect responsible and the planners who ticked his box. st nich deck 2

Take the approval given to the bland, boring and out-of-keeping blocks that will surround Aberdeen’s only red brick spire at the Triple Kirks. Shameful.

I could go on because quite honestly it’s think of an area and chances are the cack-handed touch of Aberdeen Council has damaged it in some way.

Aberdeen bureaucrats speak a good game, as good as any in other parts no doubt. They don’t deliver on their prattle.  They deliver all that is vulgar, uninspiring and tasteless.

Pedestrianisation is back on the agenda. Pedestrianism is a tricky trick to master. It can deprive areas of life – again those dead spaces, far from creating pedestrian friendly areas cut them off as useable.

Do not pedestrianise Union Street. Remove the pedestrianisation of the Castlegate and bring buses back there and reinstate a direct route to the beach.

I wholly agree with the intention to utilise upper floors of Union Street buildings. Where they cannot be turned into shops or offices I think upper floors that are not used should be taken over by the council and used for social housing. This would bring life back into the centre of the city.

Another ambition, they claim, is to encourage high quality architecture. That is precisely what has not been happening and will not be delivered in the disastrous Broad Street shopping centre nor those bland boxes at the Triple Kirks.

Making our towns and cities comfortable and safe and practical places for the people who inhabit them is too important to leave to the whims of dubiously qualified planners, developers and their cronies.

Following World War II the city plan shows how those then charged with responsibility for modernising Aberdeen considered thirty years the lifespan of a building and after that it was fair game for replacement having outlived its usefulness.

‘…it must not be overlooked, that sooner or later, buildings of all classes, no matter how well preserved structurally, become out-of-date from a functional point of view.’

It was this mindset that lost Aberdeen its interesting old wynds and courts and old Torry. The drive for modrenisation that involved ripping out and tearing down. We saw it during the years of Harold Wilson’s government when dead-eyed concrete towers sprang up in all our towns and cities as a harbinger of the new age which unfortunately turned out to be an age of instant slums and social alienation.

Back in 1949 there were good ideas mixed with bad in its Master Plan such as an entire ring road, not only Anderson Drive, that incorporated a bridge over the harbour mouth to permit industrial traffic from the eastern parts of the city and the fishing ports of Fraserburgh and Peterhead, the harbour, fish market and so on, easy access north and south.

The proposed assembly hall at the beach (see top picture) did not materialise and neither did the graceful bridge that would have offset the burden of traffic crawling through the city and away from the congested Bridge of Dee. Something of the kind could have be built now in place of the western peripheral route but the vision wasn’t there.

Notice, too, the elegant line of the banana pier that has been lost by the addition of an ugly light at its end and wire mesh to keep people off. It is another mark of how in this country people are stopped, blocked, prevented from getting close to the nooks and crannies and places familiar to previous generations by increased private restrictions and overarching public regulations.


You’ll see what I mean with this ’49 proposal for Market Street; a working area of the city. No high fences to keep people out but the integration of people and space. I struggle to understand how it is people elsewhere survive wandering around harbours when we are deemed incapable of walking past water without succumbing to the urge to fall in.

So much of urban life is about alienation. People are valued for how quickly they will part with their cash – hence the preference for shops over community spaces, as in a Marischal Square. It is as if our councillors work for private business and not citizens. Their concerns are purely economic. The well-being of the citizens of Aberdeen comes way down any list of priorities, if it makes that list at all. There is a shallowness that pervades Aberdeen Town House, a general incompetency and disregard for their roles as guardians of the past as well as the future.

st nich deck

It is interesting that the creation of space in the 1949 plans was regarded in keeping with the concept of functionality. Space now is at a premium and as we know from the Marischal Square debacle must give way to yet more retail – as far as the eye can see.

The spaces that would have been created in ’49 would have come from flattening what was there. Flattening there certainly was but those bold ideas remained on paper and never found expression into bricks and mortar.


The illustration of how the beach might be transformed at the end of the Second World War with a short pier and play pool areas to the north of the Broad Hill looks child friendly but were never built. But at the same time thank goodness those acres of flat-roof blocks, like some prison complex, did not see the light of day. But a pier would have been nice.

When future plans are written we can be sure they will contain key terms then current, variations on

key, transformation, vibrant, reawakening, deserves, accessible, enhanced, significant, enhanced, shaping, stakeholders, revitalisation, dynamic, ambitious, vision, opportunities

as an exercise in ticking boxes but our children and grandchildren will left to ponder when those terms lost all meaning, leaving their value only as word count to bulk up planning documents.

Meanwhile the little that remains of Aberdeen’s unique heritage is dependent on the whims and abilities of this and the next incumbents of the Town House. It is an absurd method of determining the future of the city that is guaranteed to plunder its past and waste opportunities in the pursuit of short-term ambitions of a few men and women of dubious capability. We have seen it before. We see it now. And we will see it in the future. One thing is certain, planning officials don’t change their spots.

Jan 24, 2015

Less is More: the muse of Marischal Square

Many hundreds of Aberdonians turned out to show their disapproval of the hugely misconceived Muse development which has the enthusiastic backing of the Labour led Aberdeen City Council.

Anti-Muse demo

Views ranged from outright anger to suspicion over how we were so misled by them. At one stage all talk was of a civic square being created to act as a focus for the city which would be used for cultural events as well as a sanctuary for the people of the city – who it should be remembered own this site.

The square idea contracted and contracted until all that remained after officials, councillors and developers completed their negotiations was a street, and one that will be overshadowed by a bloody great series of soulless boxes.

Where else have we seen them?

Ah, yes over at the Triple Kirks going up right now.
Who, in their right mind, would agree to this dismal development?

Several of those demonstrating their opposition were pretty certain they knew the reason (reasons) that swayed support. Suffice to say it was nothing connected with the architectural integrity of the site.

Marischal College is one of the finest buildings in the whole of Scotland. A backdrop of this magnificent granite edifice to a civic square would place Aberdeen on the map in terms of civic pride and ambition.


What the Muse shopping centre will do is underline the bankruptcy of ambition and imagination of the current Labour led council.
Muse demo

I did not see Dame Anne Begg there – she was a prominent opponent, correctly, of the equally appalling Union Terrace Gardens design. So does this mean she, and her fellow Labour MP Frank Doran and the usually opinionated MSP, Lewis Macdonald have given their backing to this monstrosity? We can assume so until we hear otherwise.

On 9 October 2014 the local newspaper quoted Willie Young, Labour group secretary saying they did not operate a whip and that planning decisions were non-political.

I think we can all make up our own minds on that.

The 7000 signatories to the petition objecting to the Muse development are well aware of the shortcomings of those who have pushed and pushed this proposal.
We should be asking WHY this one?

WHY is this design that overwhelms the site?

The architecture is ugly. The scale is ridiculous. The loss of a world-class amenity ought to be a actionable.

It is time to hold the people who flex their power to impose such an abomination on the city to account for their cultural vandalism.

“Councillor Marie Boulton, Aberdeen City Council deputy leader, added: “We are seeing the start of what will be a vibrant and exciting development on the old St. Nicholas House site.”

“Planning committee convener Ramsay Milne insisted, however, that the council acted “entirely properly” in its handling of the case.

Mr Milne moved to approve the plans, praising officers and insisting elected members had a “civic duty” to back the redevelopment.”

“Council leader Jenny Laing said Marischal Square could provide a “beating heart” for the centre of Aberdeen.”


“Labour’s Willie Young faced a backlash after his comments in the Press and Journal that it was “already determined” that the £107million Marischal Square project would go ahead. 18 July 2014.”

It was great that so many gathered to demonstrate their disapproval but having turned out in their high hundreds the organisers should have had something to focus the event to increase its impact: speakers on mic, holding hands around the condemned site, demanding an appearance from the man the crowd held most responsible for this debacle, Willie Young, who it was reported was in the Town House at the time.


Muse demo

There was a time city officials were prepared to face their critics and respond to their objections to their decisions but no more, our present-day incumbents hide in their Town House ivory tower.

Such is 21st century democracy in Aberdeen.

Oct 31, 2011

History is More of Less Bunk: Henry Ford and Aberdeen Council: the sad case of the weaver’s shed on the Denburn

Guest Blog by Textor

Our current Aberdeen City Council is very good at extolling the virtues of wealthy men said to be coming to the economic, cultural and aesthetic rescue of the city. It has shown itself willing to put millions into a crass project at which even Ozymandias might have blushed.

And yet, at the same time as the Council trumpets its commitment to staying true to Aberdeen’s history and sense of place, it allows unique moments of its past to fall into rack and ruin. One glaring example of this is the small stone built shed-house on the south side of the Denburn near Mackie Place. Humble as this building is it is one of the last structures which points to what was once a key industry of the city, handloom-weaving. While there is no definitive evidence that it was a weaver’s shed-house its shape, location and period (c1800) leads to the conclusion that this is what it was. Regardless of proving absolutely that a handloom weaver worked there it was certainly part of the historic Denburn- Gilcomston community.

Some time in the 1980s the sadly neglected, but largely intact building, was made wind and water tight, including new pan tiling to the roof. The idea was floated that the shed might become a small museum marking the city’s important past as an area of textile production. Of course this came to nothing. Funding was never found for it.

It was then suggested it could become a centre for local crafts people to bring it back into use and preserve an important local landmark. It was a great idea but once again it came to nothing.

And so the shed has been left to decay. The stabilisation of it, making it wind and water tight, money spent for nothing. It stands in this most picturesque part of Aberdeen semi-derelict with a great hole in the roof and no obvious prospect of finding a useful life.

The Council has seen fit to restore Marischal College and it must be said that it has given us a sense what the building must have looked like in the Edwardian era. Apart from the rather anaemic mannie on a cuddy in front of the building we now have sight of a magnificent glistening piece of work. But it seems, that despite our civic leaders claims to be concerned with what is today called the heritage of the city they are not willing to maintain, let alone develop, one of the last remaining fragments from the early years of the industrial revolution.   

Of course, unlike garden projects and Marischal College the shed lacks grandeur; it is not a thing of classical beauty nor is it a shrine to wealth. It is simply a record of a central aspect of Aberdeen’s industrial past; a community’s way of life which deserves to be remembered for the vital part it played as the social and industrial backbone of the city.

Until the introduction of the power loom, handloom weavers were amongst the elite of craftsmen. Highly skilled, much in demand, especially after the invention of power spinning which vastly increased the availability of yarn without a corresponding increase in productivity in weaving: the output from the weaver was tied directly to the dexterity and the inclination of the craftsman rather than to the speed of factory machines.

In sheds such as the one at Mackie Place, the weaver would be supplied with yarn by a businessman who would late sell on the finished cloth. Weavers were often assisted by their families, including children who would ensure the bobbins were always at hand when needed. When there was no alternative to handloom production the weaver wielded power. It was never an easy job for it was arduous with long hours spent in cramped conditions which led to health problems. But these men were more than mere machine hands. They were highly skilled and could, at times, command relatively good prices for their output. Indeed, for a time a weaver was a person of some social standing. They had a reputation for being literate and politically active; many of them attached to movements calling for parliamentary reform such as the Chartists. But with the introduction of power looms, the handloom weaver’s income and social position fell away. The productivity from power looms was far greater than the handloom and it was cheaper for employers of factory hands working in the Green in Aberdeen or at Grandholm to pay unskilled rates.

By the 1840s handloom weavers and their families were becoming destitute. The Aberdeen weaver William Thom gave them a voice. In his Rhymes and Recollections in which he described the weaver’s reduction from what he called, “the daisy portion” of the trade to becoming a mere factory hand with no control over his working day:

…weaving, as it year after year declined, became at length an evendown waste of life – a mere permission to breathe…

The gradual changes at the Denburn and Gilcomston mirrored the weaver’s decline and the area became a byword for filth and disease. It wasn’t always so.

In the 1780s Francis Douglas described Gilcomston as a “fine village” and later Dr Kidd of the Chapel of Ease wrote that the area comprised “mostly weavers and shoemakers”. It was a distinct community but with Aberdeen expanding in population and geographically Gilcomston was gradually absorbed into the larger city. In 1818 Kennedy wrote that “the village may now be regarded as part of the suburbs of Aberdeen”. Later this process of assimilation became particularly evident for those handloom weavers forced to look for work in factories in, the Green or further afield, in other words, men were no longer labouring where they lived but were forced to travel to and from work like other factory hands.   With Gilcomston’s absorption into the city there was an increase in its population and an expansion of small industries working the area, particularly drawing upon the waters of the Denburn itself. Tanning, brewing, dyeing all found use for the burn’s once fine water. By the 1860s what had once been described as “clear and unpolluted as a mountain stream” was said to be an “offensive puddle” full of “horse leeches”.

The weaver’s shed is witness to this history. Its decay might be passed off as an inconsequential loss but this is to miss the point. Yes, weavers, and many other workers too, succumbed to the demands of an expansive industrial capitalism but before this they had carved a distinct culture marked by raising families, by attending church, by extolling the virtues of political reform and by practising their trade. There is little enough that remains as material witness to their lives.
Bedazzled by gold on offer from philistine benefactors, Aberdeen City Council turns a blind eye to a more worthy cause. Shame on the Council.