Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Marischal Square, Aberdeen


With the multi-storey St Nicholas House (Council HQ, 1968-2011) demolished, the City Council want to develop Marischal Square on Broad Street, Aberdeen. Marischal Square is the misleading name for a retail, office and Marriot Hotel complex to be built on the St Nicholas site. The Council's new HQ is in Marischal College, opposite where the development is planned.

Marischal College is the second biggest granite building in the world. It is certainly the most impressive, especially when the stonework sparkles in the sunlight. For the record, the College is 130M long and 25M high: the El Escorial Palace in Madrid is the world's largest granite building.

The old postcard above shows Marischal College with open green space around Provost Skene's House (left-hand foreground) before the construction of St Nicholas House in the 1960s. Provost Skene's House on Guestrow was built in 1545. One of only a few remaining examples of early burgh architecture in the city, it opened as a public museum in 1953.

The towering glass-fronted box design and 'civic space' of the Marischal Square development has provoked strong reactions. Critics protest, saying the consultation was flawed and that plans will create 'a modernist, narrow Broad Street' corridor, which will remain a wind tunnel. Pedestrianisation - which planners have recommended should no longer be considered as part of the planning application - will cause traffic chaos, citizens claim. The city’s Civic Society say that it has “grave concerns about the scale and bulk of the proposed design”. It describes the scheme as “overpowering”. A comment on Urban Realm in January 2015 suggested that the Marriot Hotel segment of Marischal Square had been designed by an offshore welder. Cases of folk needing treatment at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary after crashing into panes of glass in the city centre have doubled in number during the past decade.

On February 2nd 2015 it was announced that Aberdeen has won the unwa(rra)nted title of the most dismal town in Scotland in Urban Realm's infamous annual Plook on the Plinth Carbuncle awards. The city has been unfairly described as 'the place where architecture goes to die'. It is certainly fair to comment that the public sector is now subject to increasingly pernicious marketisation.

The Council’s financial plans hinge on a deal to lease the Marischal Square complex from their preferred bidder, urban regeneration specialist Muse Developments and their backer, insurance giant Aviva. The Council stands to receive £30million upfront and the site will revert to Council ownership when the 35 year lease from Muse ends. The Council will pay £5million a year in rent to Muse. Then the Council will sublet the retail, hotel and office space. The deal could net the Council £107 million over the lease period. Conversely, a smaller scale development, future rental voids and income changes make the scheme less sure-fire. Like buying a property on a credit card, it could prove expensive and potentially go pear-shaped, which at least would be an improvement on the present angular design. By 23-18 votes, the full Council approved the development of Marischal Square on October 8th 2014.

Suggestions mooted for the regeneration of Aberdeen city centre include creating other pedestrian zones, introducing a light rail network and hydrogen-powered buses, moving the train station entrance, reinstating the Wallace Tower, removing the Indoor Market, replacing the Trinity shopping centre, oil company relocations to the Castlegate and re-opening it to through traffic, improved links to the Harbour area, and museums at Woolmanhill Hospital. Manchester have turned their Victorian bogs into a bar, and revamping the toilets on Aberdeen's Union Terrace has been suggested. A pear-shaped public urinal in the centre of a new civic square would be a good idea.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HQF3tl7Th44
Clochemerle. 1934 French satirical novel by Gabriel Chevallier: YouTube. Now I'm taking the pissoir.

On February 14th 2015 a thousand people protested outside Marischal College, wanting a re-vote on the Muse development. On March 5th a SNP motion to block or reduce the design was defeated 22-21 in the Council chambers. In a bizarre twist, finance convener Cllr Willie Young sent confidential financial details by mistake to protest petition organiser Fraser Garrow instead of to Conservative Cllr Fraser Forsyth, and he has reported himself to the Standards Commisioner. With the Council's organisational ability and their record on transparency and subterfuge, former ginger-topped Aberdeen FC centre-half Willie Young can expect some strange correspondence in the post soon.

Full article:-

Piazza Maggiore, Bologna, Italy - an example of a civic square in a European city

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