A look at the City Square Short leet

Back in June we noted that the City Square Design Competition to raze Union Terrace Gardens had failed to generate the anticipated level of interest and subsequently we were delighted to see the headline “Union Terrace Gardens Competition ‘silly’ say RIAS” in Architects Journal on 28th July 2011, from which we take the following quote – ‘Once again, the international architectural community has been called upon to legitimise a project of questionable worth and unlikely realisation.’

On reading the City Square PR Article “Designers in line to draw new future for gardens” in the Evening Express of 15th August 2011, we felt moved to comment about some of the things that the EE isn’t telling readers.  We will let others discuss the timetable slippage revealed in the piece and will instead focus on the competition teams and some of what the EE terms their “triumphs“.  We will use the team names sensu EE here (rather than the full team names) and discuss them from the top and then from the right as they appear in the printed article.

So here are some observations on the dreary half-dozen …


The West 8 proposal is given pride of place, yet it is strange to see this presented as a solo effort especially as Archial is involved and have a completed local reference project in the shape of the Aberdeen Harbour Marine Operations Centre.  Perhaps it’s not the done thing to draw attention to any local projects given that the competition jury were scheduled to visit completed projects in August and why visit Fittie when you can be away somewhere else – all expenses paid?


Mecanoo are perhaps best known for the Birmingham City Library.  The following quotes from the Birmingham Mail of 19th Dec 2009 make interesting reading :

Birmingham’s new city library could cost hard-pressed council tax payers a staggering £590 million, it emerged today. The figure is three times the £193 million that the city council has been quoting for two years.

The figures were discussed secretly by the cabinet this week, with officials claiming details were commercially sensitive and should remain confidential.

“The council will borrow £135 million, with interest repayments at £7.5 million a year for 40 years – making a total of £300 million.

But on top of that has to be added £15 million for repaying additional loans taken out by the council plus the £15 million cost of the library project team. The estimates assume that the final cost can be cut by raising £34 million in sponsorship and public subscriptions, although none of this has yet been identified. Failure to raise all of the sponsorship money would bring the final library bill to £412 million.

The council will set aside £3 million a year for maintaining the new building over 60 years, a total of £180 million – making a final sum of £592 million”.

Definitely worth keeping an eye on that one.


Dillier Scofidio and Renfro. While the expected stuff about the High Line in New York comes up, the EE conveniently omits to mention that the High Line owes its existence to the Friends of The High Line, a community based grass roots group that got involved with the disused railway line long before the architects. Keppie gets a wee mention here – you’ll remember them from the Oakbank Business Park development perhaps?


Where do we start with this team? Ironic that the image shown is from their failed entry in the V&A Design Competition in London – we sort of expected that this might be re-hashed for City Square, but trust this is the last we see of designs that have been rejected elsewhere resurfacing in Aberdeen.

Snøhetta were famously involved in the Turner Contemporary project in Kent, and the following quotes are from Museum Insider :

“The original design, which was commissioned in 2001, was to be situated in the sea next to Margate pier. But the project was cancelled in 2006 amid serious technical difficulties and the cost spiralling from £30 million to £50 million. Building Design revealed in 2006 that Kent County Council spent £6 million on the original proposal, including £2.5 million in design fees, before scrapping the plans. The local authority then decided to sue the Snøhetta-led design team.

The case is now resolved, with Norwegian architect Snøhetta and collaborators Ramboll UK and Davis Langdon agreeing to pay Kent County Council £6 million in an out-of-court settlement over the abandoned design


Amongst their “Triumphs“, the EE list “Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain”.

The memorial’s U.S. creator, Kathryn Gustafson, said the design had aimed to reflect aspects of Diana’s personality. Her design was picked for the project ahead of 57 other entries.”

Daily Mail, 23rd July 2004 : “Diana Fountain shut after visitors injured in falls

The Financial Times of 21st March 2006 reports that MPs on the Commons Public Accounts Committee considered this fountain “ill-conceived and ill-executed” …

The Commons Public Accounts Committee said on Tuesday it was unfair that the Royal Parks had been “saddled” with paying an estimated £250,000 a year for the upkeep of the memorial, which has had to be closed several times since it was opened in July 2004. The cost of the 210m circular fountain rose from the original budget of £3m to £5.2m.

“This so-called water feature will literally be a drain on the resources of the Royal Parks agency for years to come,” said Edward Leigh, the Committee’s Conservative chairman.

“This is a typical example of the great and good airily embarking on a prestige project which will take away money badly needed for the upkeep of national recreational facilities enjoyed by millions.”


Again, as with Gustafson Porter, one “Triumph” stands out. Wembley Stadium. Wembley Stadium Costs Soar Towards £1 Billion. Massively overbudget, finished late.

So there you have it, a wee look at some of the folks on the short-list and there’s lots, lots more where this came from.

This entry was posted in Aberdeen, Aberdeen, Aberdeen City Council, ACSEF, Architecture, city gardens project, city square project, planning, Scotland, Union Terrace Gardens. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to A look at the City Square Short leet

  1. Pingback: Old Susannah No. 48 - Never A Dull Moment In The ‘Deen - Aberdeen Voice

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s