Without doubt the work at Marischal College has been a very major development in Aberdeen this year. Aberdeen City Council is to be commended in taking the decision to invest in our city by renovating this landmark building, and Aberdeen is the richer for it. It has brought back into use a unique and sometimes controversial building that can immediately be identified, from wherever you are in the world, as Aberdeen, Scotland. Although the work has involved extensive remodelling of the actual building, the façade to the street remains as imposing as ever.
What is even more pleasing is that as the HQ for Aberdeen City Council, people will actually use Marischal College to go about their everyday business. We would hope that the Quad will shortly be opened up and possibly the space used as a venue for many things.
As a project management exercise this must have been some challenge. When the façade to Marischal College was built originally no-one would have done a risk assessment to determine the best way to put up all those finials. Today we would never build anything that looks like this; we could never build it because regulations and cost just would not allow it to happen. However it is there and it has been made good again. Someone in the committee commented that the work which has been done has involved plenty of re’s – be it renovation, re-modelling, re-development, re-construction, repair, renewal and restoration.
Robert The Bruce Statue
It was obvious to us that the work did not stop at the building. Broad Street has a new focus and a new civic space has been created in front of the building. Not only has a space been created but it is already well used. The statue of Robert the Bruce mounted on horseback and both of them mounted on a granite plinth brings life into the space. It is fantastic to see how someone who is now long dead can still have the power to make a place come alive. When we were on our bus tour and visit in early September this place was humming. In the five minutes we spent looking at the statue there must have been two or three sets of tourists taking photographs of the statue with its impressive backdrop. To me, no more proof is needed than this about the value of monumental architecture to any place, and the statue of Robert the Bruce in front of the re-splendid Marischal College fits this bill perfectly.
Masonry on Marischall College
Work on the stonework is particularly impressive. As a building, Marischal College is probably most notable for the granite work. Granite is a beautiful but very hard material to work with and it is not easy to add decoration and ornament. However ornament and decoration is a big part of Marischal College. The work that has been done has restored the façade in such a way that it almost looks new again. This part of the restoration work, which is so important to the appearance of the whole, was carried out patiently by a team of very dedicated stonemasons – and their skill and attention to detail has definitely paid off. The work on the granite façade, the finials, the pointing and repair, the stone cleaning and the work around the all-important windows, have the mark of craftsmen and women at work.
Ardenville, 17 Queens Street, Woodside
Nestled off Clifton Road and terminating a vista down Queen Street is Ardenville. This is a private house; it is an unusual building with some fairly unique characteristics, not least the curved symmetrical and totally one-off window bays to the front. Work has been done by the owners, with the support of the Aberdeen Heritage Trust, to replace the windows in the front elevation and return the house to its former glory. The results of this work are impressive indeed, as you can see from this before and after image. A very suitable – and warranted – addition to the list of candidates for awards this year, and it shows off in a good way, the work of some very talented craftsmen and women.
The Green Townscaping
This is a project heralded with much publicity and supported with funding from The Green Townscape Heritage Initiative. The Green has long been an area that many people just pass through on their way between the Station and Union Street but has recently taken on a more important role located as it is between the Union Square shopping centre and the more established commercial areas of the centre of Aberdeen. The work at the Green has been carried out to improve the appearance of the streets. It is part of a more general effort to improve the Green, which is, after all, one of the oldest parts of the city.
The committee thought that work such as this is core to what our awards should relate to – work that is enhancing the civic amenity of the city. The committee also thought that the work has achieved this and the effort of those involved has to be applauded. The materials are good and generally sympathetic to that used in the surrounding buildings, and all of this helps to make a worthy contribution to the whole thing. Some of the work has made changes to the way that streets appear and this street is an example of how the work has changed the street’s character and reduced the priority of the car.
If we had any reservations they relate to some of the landscape design and the introduction of some of the planting. The trees seem to be a bit foreign in the streets and some of the details, for example the planters, could have been better.
Aberdeen College - Altens
Located in the middle of what can only be described as a fairly non-descript industrial estate this was a building that addressed the corner by saying “I AM HERE”. The colours, the way the building functioned and the access to the all-important street were all commented on favourably. Right on the corner of the building and appearing to perch on top of it rather like the bridge of a ship or perhaps even a spaceship (and we presume that this is where the management are located!) is a fairly robust addition from which the views must be stunning.
There must have been some creative thinking engaged to come up with this design, followed by some bravery and committed decision making to get it built. We were impressed with the building but we also acknowledge that something different is being tried here. The area is not screaming out for a development of this quality and it would have been all too easy to put up a building that was similar to those that surround it. What has now happened is that Aberdeen College has clearly raised the bar for development in Altens and that has to be applauded.
There were two further aspects of the development that were impressive. The first was the way that the car parking was tucked in round the back and virtually out of sight from the street, and the second was the way that, despite the main entrance being from the car park side, there were two additional, relatively strong and also well used entrances from the all-important street. All good design features.
Whinhill Medical Practice
This new building houses the Whinhill Medical Centre and a community Police Station. It sits in a very prominent location on the corner of Great Southern Road and Whinhill Road. As a building you notice it from a number of important viewpoints, particularly Great Southern Road, and as you travel in both directions along it. Compared to the dental school, which is a building that we suspect not many have actually seen, we expect most people will have noticed this building. It certainly makes a statement to anyone travelling into Aberdeen from the south.
As a corner site it is in a very important location, and it was felt that the building did justice to that. It is not grand nor particularly overpowering …. it is entirely suitable and pleasing to the eye. It also provides for two essential community services.
One or two of the architectural experts on the committee felt that the architecture was not as strong as other contenders in this year’s list and there were some comments about it being difficult to see where the main entrance door was located. There were also different opinions about the value of the landscaping areas. However, the general feeling was that this was a good replacement for the building that was there before and was strong located as it is on an important corner site on a major route both in and out of Aberdeen.
Dental School, Foresterhill
Our experience of the ARI campus at Foresterhill is that it is difficult to find your way about. This building is no exception in that it is not easy to locate.
However, when you do eventually find the building you will see that it has much to commend it. A modern building with clean lines, black and white and interesting corners that contain windows and glass. Inside the space is well laid out and it is exceptionally light and airy, probably making it a delight to work in. Some members of the committee thought that the whiteness of the building made you think immediately of teeth, and we suspect that this may have been one of the designer’s original aims. There were questions about the location of the building and how much it added to the amenity of the city in view of it being totally inside the Hospital site and not very easy to find.
Despite any negative thoughts, it was considered that the quality of the building made up for some of the problems created by the site. The new dental school is a good addition to the ARI site and it was well received.
The International School of Aberdeen
The Awards Committee was escorted around the new International School on the North Deeside Road by the head who definitely knew everything about his school. It is difficult to fail to be impressed by the school. Much of the building is new, but at the same time the old Pitfodels House and castellated mini-tower has been carefully integrated into the design. It works from both the inside and outside, not only does it look good but the spaces work as a busy school.
We were shown the school’s High Street, complete with library, theatre, café and climbing wall, all of which look out on the area that is called the Village Green. This was impressive enough but we were then shown the swimming pool, games halls, gyms and music and dance spaces. Only after we had seen all the fun stuff did we finally get to the class rooms where all the work is supposed to take place in the school. The administration areas are in the old building, and these have been carefully attached to the new buildings. Care has been taken to retain the definition of all the internal rooms and key features that give the older parts their character. The design was very good and extremely functional – it is obviously fit for purpose and well-liked by those that use it. Importantly the school is not just a school for select pupils, but it also offers its very impressive facilities to local groups from the Aberdeen Community for them to use when timetabling permits – for example Aberdeen Amateur Swimming Club use the magnificent pool.
The International School is very impressive. We understand that it is also cost effective.
Consideration of the new International School caused much debate in the awards committee. Many thought it was almost perfect, the scale of the building, which is very big, being cleverly concealed by design.
The one failing it has is something that is not easy to correct because it relates to its setting and location. The committee thought that it was difficult to say that the school adds to civic space, the buildings being set back a considerable distance from the North Deeside Road and in the trees, this means that it is largely hidden from public view. The only time you would see it is if you needed to go there. So the message is – if you ever have the opportunity to go there, then you should take it because it is well worth seeing.
Shiprow, East Side
This was project that split the committee. Some thought that it made a contribution by re-creating the original line of the Shiprow opposite the maritime museum, giving the street back the shape that it had a while ago. Others thought that the building was far too big and not very interesting, and it blotted out views of the harbour. It was also felt that the IBIS hotel, which occupies a major part of the site, bears little resemblance to Aberdeen and could be anywhere. The materials used in the construction are nothing special.
It is worth mentioning that we really only considered the building for what it did to Shiprow, as the elevation of the building from the south (ie from the harbour side) are not terribly impressive.
It is a shame that the retail units are still unoccupied, but this may stem from the commercial problems that the team developing this big city centre site have experienced during the period of development. We would hope that these do become occupied fairly soon to add further to the vitality of the street. Further down Shiprow, and as you begin to catch glimpses of the harbour, you can see how the designers have tried to reinforce the messages of the harbour. The design of this area makes the building look like the bows of a ship, and is, we understand, expected in due time to become a café.
Aberdeen Harbour Board has made an investment at Footdee Harbour solely for the purpose of improving the public realm. The addition of seating, bollards, imaginative bike racks, decorative pavings and supported by many notices and bits of information covering many years means that, when visiting this area you can spend time reading about the history of Aberdeen Harbour.
I personally found the area a delight and was the last back on the bus. I was captivated by reading the bits and pieces of information. It helped that, on the day we visited, the sun was out, but I am sure that even on a poor day the improvements to this area will provide interest for many as they consider the comings and goings of harbour traffic.
The work done here was a definite improvement, particularly since it has been undertaken with no means of direct commercial return. A good addition to an interesting place in Aberdeen.
R O X Hotel, Market Street - Interior
We doubt that many people will have seen this, because what we are talking about is the inside of the hotel building and it is a hotel that many of us were not even aware of until it was added to our list for consideration this year. The Rox Hotel is located on Market Street, and is easily visible as you travel, on foot we hope, from The Green to Market Street. We have to say that visiting it is worth the effort.
The entrance to the hotel is from Market Street, and the frontage to the street at ground floor level is somewhat restricted. However, fairly soon after going in you realise that the work that has been done has created a very light and welcoming environment. Things get even better when you realise that the hotel residents can enjoys sitting outside in areas that have been sensitively created in what are very tight spaces indeed.
However, the gem here is the ballroom. A magnificent room that has elegant proportions. This building used to be the mechanics institute, and this important room contains enormous windows looking out onto Market Street. The ceiling of it is so high that it makes you feel very small indeed. The work that was done uncovered the splendour of this room, removing not one but two false ceilings that had been built in over the years. There are two huge chandeliers that add to the restoration of a ballroom that must now rank as one of Aberdeen’s finest.
If there were any concerns, they related to the entrance from the street and the fact that it is not really very public. However, the committee thought that the work done here made a significant contribution to this part of Aberdeen, making available to people a real asset that had been hidden for years. We encourage you to go and see it.