Prime 4 Kingswells Phase 1

We have noticed that there are very few new developments that don’t fit into existing road layouts.  Well this is one that bucks that trend – this is a project that has had to create a new road or street structure as an integral part of the project.

People living in Aberdeen will have noticed that there has been a fair bit of building going on at the Prime 4 commercial development at Kingswells.  Some of the work has attracted some strong comment about the additional traffic that has been generated at the morning and evening rush hour peaks.

The council is trying really hard to get us all out of our cars.  One thing they do is to restrict car parking when they grant planning approval for a commercial development.  I am not convinced that the council’s efforts will succeed – and no doubt time will tell.  This topic is something that I am quite willing to discuss later over a beer.

So much has happened at Prime 4 that we were not really sure what we were supposed to be considering.  In the end we agreed that we should view the first three buildings (Apache, Nexen and Transocean) as phase one and consider all of these buildings and the space around them as a group.

The committee were unanimous in that the qualities of the building design, the desire to create a place, the landscape setting and the quality of the materials were very impressive.  All of it sets the bar very high indeed for commercial development on commercial land.  Wouldn’t it be great if this standard could be adopted more widely?  The development worked well in its landscape setting.  Thought had been given to how to make the buildings fit in, and this had been completed very successfully.

Prime 4 was the source of much discussion as we considered all of the developments in our final list.  We all recognise that the Drum Property Group is trying to do something different, bringing a new and refreshing ethos into otherwise boring commercial development.  Apache, Transocean and Nexen as the occupiers of these first buildings on phase 1 have all bought into this approach and we understand that there are others signed up also.  We look forward to seeing the high quality set by this initial phase to continue in subsequent ones.  We also look forward to the general approach being adopted on other commercial sites.  Well done, it is not always easy to break the mould.

This project receives and AWARD.  Owner - Drum Property Group;  Architect - Halliday Fraser Munro;  Contractor - Sir Robert McAlpine

Aberdeen Sports Village Aquatics Centre

The new Aberdeen Aquatics Centre (which is on the site of the old Linksfield Academy in King Street) is a fabulous new sporting addition to Aberdeen.

There are two pools – a diving pool and the other a huge 50m international sized pool which can be split into two for everyday use.  It has a range of features including moveable floors in the pools and security to restrict access to the diving boards.  There are very comfortable and very large seating areas for spectators.  Only one member of our committee admitted to having swum in the pool – and had obviously been relieved to see that the barrier was up and the pool was not quite as big as it could have been.  Viewing it from the spectator area as we did on our visit made many of us appreciate how tiring it must be to be an international swimmer.

The aquatics centre can be accessed either by itself or through the existing sports village.  If there was any criticism it would relate to the car park, which is visible and to the front of the building.

We were impressed by this new facility for Aberdeen.  The materials used in the building itself are a combination of metal petals, glass and panelling with a strong vertical emphasis – and they work well together.

The linkage to the sports village and how the two designs work together was liked.  The inside is light and airy and the whole thing does not have that characteristic stuffy, smelly and humid feel so often associated with a swimming pool.  It is very good indeed.

This project receives an AWARD.  Owner - Aberdeen Sports Village;  Architect - Faulkner Browns Architects;  Contractor - Graham Construction

Award for Craftsmanship

44a Rubislaw Den South - Windows

44a Rubislaw Den South has had its sash and case windows repaired – about 30 of them.  I can hear you asking what is so unusual about that in Aberdeen!  The first thing I would like to say is that they are timber, and what a relief it is to see that the owner wanted to see repairs rather than replacement with new PVC.

Some of the windows in this property are very unusual sash and case installed when the property was built over 100 years ago.  They are installed to the first floor and are best described as an antique and original version of a sash and case tilt and turn window (although that is my own rather simplistic description).

They are a patented design called NAP standing for National Accident Prevention and they allow the window to turn for cleaning.  It is thought that the windows are unique in Aberdeen and probably in Scotland.  When originally installed they must have been horrendously expensive.

Over the years they have been repaired and the last time this was done it was fairly inappropriate.  Filler had been used to patch up rotten bits of the window and then painted over.  Needless to say this repair did not last.

The joiner who had been called in to repair this time contacted Aberdeen Heritage Trust.  Working with the Trust, a repair was organised that involved removing rotten parts and poorly repaired parts and splicing in new.  This has all been done to a very high standard.  If you went to the house today, you would not notice much of the work, the windows just look like traditional Aberdeen sash and case windows that are well maintained.

But some of these windows are special, they now look as good as they would have when new – and getting to this point has involved some very good care and first class carpentry and joinery work, which we are delighted were brought to the attention of the awards committee.

This project receives our special AWARD FOR CRAFTSMANSHIP.  Owner - Mr and Mrs M Hume;  Craftsman - Mr Derek Thomson of Ho Ho Design


This new building for GDF Suez is the latest addition to the developments in this area.  Formerly an area full of small business predominantly involved in fishing the area has been undergoing a transformation recently and this is the latest addition.

It is a strong frontage to an important and active road leading to the city centre.  The building overlooks the River Dee.  As a general comment on this area, there is no doubt that it has the ability to contribute strongly to the future development of commercial space in Aberdeen.  It does have one thing that is very much in its favour.  The area benefits from having an existing closely knitted and interconnected street pattern.  It includes cobbled streets, buildings that sit at the back of the footpaths, rear lanes and a fair amount of commercial activity that actually occurs on the street.  The streets here have always been shared – not only by cars and lorries but also by pedestrians, workers, forklifts, produce and piles of ice.  I do appreciate that some of this activity is now difficult to do safely and anyway, Aberdeen’s fishing activity is not what it once was.  But what this means is that the area has a heritage and culture of its own.  A developer coming in is able to take advantage of these attributes, and take cues from and build upon the street layouts, character and materials that have existed for years.

The GDF Suez building does this very well.  It is high, but not overly so.  It is good and simple design with a clean execution.

Some on the committee thought that the ground floor, with the car park access, had failed a bit in that it was the weakest part of the building, allowing the strong design to “leak”  – but at least the cars were out of the way and round the back.

The whole development is pleasing, and will hopefully act as another catalyst for more strong buildings that will ensure that this important approach to the city has significant presence.

This project receives a COMMENDATION.  Owner – Tritax;  Architect - Halliday Fraser Munro;  Contractor - Balfour Beattie Regional Construction

GDF Suez buildings

The Chester Hotel

The Chester Hotel - formerly Simpson’s - on Queens Road has had a new lease of life.  Work has taken place both outside and in – new seating areas are added outside at the front, and inside there are private areas for seating and dining as well as more public spaces.  New buildings have been added at the back and landscaping has been improved.

There were varying views about what has happened at the front with the granite seating areas – some of us liked it and some were not too sure.  The inside lent itself well to holding private conversations and offered private dining as well as the more public areas, and there were similar mixed views amongst committee members.

However, we were fairly unanimous in our appreciation of the work that has been done to the rear, particularly outside.  Gone are the rather bright colours that used to be a trademark of Simpson’s.  Access to the rear seemed better and many of the existing trees and much of the old garden walling remains.

The outside space and landscaping work was good, and changing from what it was has seemed to tone it all down and in the process made the space feel larger.  On our visit we all lingered in this area – and I would take this as an indication that it was an area that was welcoming.  This formed a key part in our decision making.

This project receives a COMMENDATION.  Owner - Mr and Mrs G Wood;  Architect - Graham Mitchell Architects;  Contractor - Bancon Construction


403 Kings Street - Student Flats

The word “interesting” is often used to describe something that people are not completely sure about.  Well it is fair to say that this block of student accommodation in King Street had us all over-using the word interesting.

In Aberdeen we are used to granite.  White brick, timber and glass are not a common combination in the Granite City.  However, in a funny way it seems to have worked.  The building has a presence on the corner of King Street and Merkland Road– probably more presence than the granite building that was there beforehand.  Mature trees on the boundary with King Street have been retained as have some of the granite boundary walls.

The whole thing is large and quite imposing – it is certainly noticeable.  This is not a bad thing at all.  The scale is fairly bold – but probably about right.  The public street elevations are clear of all services such as pipes, vents and grills.

The windows have a vertical emphasis and this verticality is reinforced by the timber boarding, which we are glad to see is real wood rather than plastic.

The brick?  Well – whether you like it or not it is different – and dare I say it - interesting.

After we had stopped saying interesting, we had to acknowledge that we were all quite impressed and thought that a good attempt had been made to do something different.

This project receives a MENTION.  Owner – Ardmuir;  Architect - Cumming and Co (Aberdeen);  Contractor- Ogilivie Construction

The Health Village

The new health village is built on a site between East North Street and Frederick Street.  The site has been vacant for many years and was used for a time as a car park.  The building addresses both East North Street and Frederick Street.

It appeared to us that the new building is right for its location – not too big and not too small.  The way that it relates to the granite warehouse that is next to it is good.

The stronger elevation is definitely the one to Frederick Street, and this is what you would call the front of the building, it is where the front door is.  The East-North Street elevation is less inspiring – in fact it is not really that interesting.   On East North Street the whole building is set at a level just below the street and a rather unfortunate wooden fence has been built probably to shield it from the noise of passing traffic.   The elevation is stepped in and out along East North Street, which hopefully will not be a maintenance headache.

Internally and just beyond the reception area there are a series of glass corridors which join the various parts of the building.  These are effective and introduce great light, but the intervening courtyards remain a little unfinished.  We would hope that this is something that will be corrected.

We thought this development has made a big improvement to the streets in this area.  It is a good addition that respects its setting and makes a strong, but not over powering, statement on Frederick Street.

This project receives a MENTION.  Owner - NHS Grampian;  Architect - J M Architects;  Contractor - Galliford Try

Beechgrove Church

Beechgrove Church has been converted into flats.  In the process the building has had a spruce up and been given a good clean.

Cleaning by itself is not something that we like to celebrate as it is more of a maintenance activity, and even then it is an activity that is not always approved of due to the damage that can be caused to the stonework.  In this case some re-pointing has also been done.

The conversion from church to housing is good.  It is extremely difficult to find alternative uses for all of our old churches and they need to be done well to look right.  Someone on our committee made the comment that this was a relatively easy building to convert, but I am actually not so sure that any church is what you would call an easy conversion.  Here the developers have taken care to keep within the constraints of the site, sensibly excavating underneath the building to form a car park and remove clutter from the street.  The local area appears little changed to what it was before.

We liked the way that some of the details had been done – not only the car park but also for how thought had gone into the sensitive siting of the refuse bins and window treatments.

Well done with this conversion.  A development has been achieved that had some people on the awards committee saying that they don’t see why we should be considering it because to the street it is nothing more than stone cleaning.  But it is obviously so much more than that, and it has been done in an effective way that makes so little change to the area around and about.

This project receives a MENTION.  Owner – Denmack; Architect - TCD Architects;  Contractor - Graeme W Cheyne (Builders)