Glasgow council U-turn on George Square branded an ‘embarrassment’
The controversial decision to scrap the international competition to overhaul Glasgow’s George Square has been branded an ‘embarrassment’ and ‘a shameful waste of time’
After announcing John McAslan + Partners as the winner, jury chair and Glasgow City leader Gordon Matheson confirmed the council had binned the contest and would not be proceeding with the £15 million project.
Explaining the move Matheson said: ‘The people of Glasgow have made it clear in no uncertain terms that they do not want a radical redesign of the square. We will carry out this refurbishment work in time for the Commonwealth Games and only if there is public demand thereafter, will we consider a radical change.’
The ditching of the contest, which attracted global interest and featured a shortlist including James Corner Field Operations with Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Piet Oudolf, Gustafson Porter and Highline architect Heneghan Peng, was lambasted by architects in the city. Alan Dunlop of Alan Dunlop Architect said: ‘[The decision] is an embarrassment and a sad day for the city.’
Chris Platt, of studioKAP architects and head and professor of architecture, The Mack, Glasgow, said: ‘This is an embarrassment to Glasgow as a city and to its citizens; an embarrassment to the architectural profession and a blow for celebrating architectural innovation and expertise. Glasgow needs a mayor with civic vision who can commission talented architects to deliver the very best for its citizens. Other towns and cities in Europe can do it. Why can’t we?’
Alan Pert of Nord Architecture said the contest had led to the square being ‘covered in more political debris, which cannot be cleaned by resurfacing.’
Stephen Miles, a council member of the Glasgow Institute of Architects said: ‘This is another shameful waste of time and money for the architectural profession.
‘Lack of clear brief and detailed public consultation have resulted in a greatly missed opportunity to resurrect a key piece of Glasgow’s public realm.’
Stuart Gray, architect at Glasgow-based Holmes Miller, added: ‘After seeing what has happened in Aberdeen [Union Terrace Gardens Scrapped (AJ 22.08.2012)] and now Glasgow, I doubt the credibility of any council led competition. Why should we waste our time when we could be doing legitimate fee earning work?’
The George Square competition, the latest in a line of failed attempts to revamp the square, got off to a bad start in September when, at the last minute, Glasgow City Council changed its pre-qualification questionnaire requirements.
There were also protests from both the public and experts about the proposed relocation of 12 statues including the Sir Walter Scott column, currently in the city-centre square.
The City Council revealed it had spent £89,287 to date on the contest of which £19,500 had been paid to RIAS for technical advice.
Previous story (AJ 21.01.2012)
John McAslan & Partners will not get to overhaul Glasgow’s George Square - despite winning the highly controversial competition for the £15 million job this afternoon
Announcing the winner, Glasgow City leader Gordon Matheson said the council had binned the contest and would proceed no further with the contract.
Matheson said: ‘The people of Glasgow have made it clear in no uncertain terms that they do not want a radical redesign of the square.
‘They want the square to look better and be a place of which they can be proud - a place they can while away a sunny afternoon or get together and celebrate the big occasions in the life of the city.
‘They also want us to keep the statues where they are, and they like the grass. However, they clearly want rid of the red tarmac.
‘I am proud to say that I am listening to them.’
Matheson, who was recently reported to the procurator fiscal by police over an alleged indecency with another man, said: ‘We will carry out this refurbishment work in time for the Commonwealth Games and only if there is public demand thereafter, will we consider a radical change.
‘The companies which were asked to produce designs gave us stunning plans, any one of which would have looked fantastic, and I would like to thank the architectural firms involved for their time and hard work. I also want to thank the members of the jury.’
According to the council, the jury had to conclude its deliberations and choose a winner in line with procurement rules. Normally, the council would then have had to agree to award the contract. However the authority confirmed the recommendation would not be put before councillors.
Doubts were raised about whether the contest would be scrapped last week after the jury had been unable to come to a unanimous decision (see AJ 17.01.12). These rumours were vehemently denied on Friday by a council spokesman.
The competition, the latest in a line of failed attempts to revamp the square, got off to a bad start in September when, at the last minute, Glasgow City Council unexpectedly changed what it wanted from entrants.
There were also protests from both the public and experts about the proposed relocation of 12 statues and monuments, including one of Sir Walter Scott, currently in the city centre square.
Peter Wilson, director of the Wood Studio at Edinburgh’s Napier University said: ‘Given that this is not the first failed contest then council should look at reimbursing all of the shortlisted practices, if not all the entrants.
‘Architects, who entered in good faith, should not suffer because of political failures. This whole project was poorly thought out.’
In 2005 another high-profile international competition to design a cafe in the square was abandoned - even though the schemes by the six finalists had gone on public exhibition.
McAslan saw off James Corner Field Operations with Gillespies and Make Architects against landscape specialists Gustafson Porter; France’s Agence Ter with Hengehan Peng and Atmos; jmarchitects with Graeme Massie Architects; and Burns + Nice.
Comment: Alan Dunlop of Glasgow-based Alan Dunlop Architects
‘I’m truly disappointed for McAslan, he clearly understood the city and the history. In my view, his proposal was easily the best and would improve the quality of the square as a civic and public space considerably.
It’s an embarrassment and a sad day for the city
‘It’s clear that all the design teams involved had spent a considerable amount of time over Christmas and the New Year preparing the submissions. They took it seriously. The competition was dogged by ill fortune from the start: starting with the announcement on TV by the council leader that there would be the complete removal of the bronzes - which got everyone’s back up and consolidated the opposition; to the confusion over EU procurement causing a delay in the process which had already been announced; to the unprecedented failure to agree a unanimous winner among the judges; and then the ditching.
‘Now the project is finally scrapped, it is an embarrassment and a sad day for the city, I say that as a Glaswegian and architect.’
Previous story (AJ 09.01.12)
Revealed: the six finalists in George Square contest
The AJ can reveal the designs by the six teams shortlisted in the competition to overhaul Glasgow’s George Square
High Line-mastermind and post-Games Olympic Park designers James Corner Field Operations with Gillespies and Make Architects is vying for the £15 million project against landscape specialists Gustafson Porter; France’s Agence Ter with Hengehan Peng and Atmos; jmarchitects with Graeme Massie Architects; John McAslan & Partners; and Burns + Nice, the public realm design team behind the recent revamp of London’s Leicester Square.
Despite council plans to remove 12 statues and monuments from the square which led to objections from experts and the public some of the submitted schemes have retained and repositioned them.
The judging panel includes David Mackay, partner at MBM Architects Barcelona, Andy McMillan, former head of Mackintosh School of Architecture.The panel’s technical advisor is Neil Baxter, secretary and treasurer, RIAS
All the designs by will go on anonymous display at The Lighthouse in Glasgow next week. A winner is expected to be announced on 18 January 2013.
Gordon Matheson, leader of Glasgow City Council, said: ‘The calibre of the six designs is very high and I’m sure whichever design team is chosen, Glaswegians will have a George Square to be proud of again.
‘It is absolutely essential we choose the right team to create a new George Square – a George Square fit for the 21st Century. I look forward to working closely with the winning design team to develop their design and give the people and businesses of Glasgow the George Square they deserve.’
The redevelopment of the square will be carried out in two phases and Glasgow City Council hope the first stage will be complete before the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.
Comment: Alan Dunlop of Glasgow-based Alan Dunlop Architects
Glasgow’s history is defined by three distinctive ages; the Medieval, the Georgian and the Victorian. Although little remains of the medieval city, the Victorian city still flourishes and much of the Georgian grid remains intact.
The square was named after George III and was set out in 1781, on the periphery of Georgian Glasgow. Since then, it has grown in status; from a field where horses were slaughtered for Glasgow’s tanning industry to the most important civic space in the city and a front to the City Chambers.
At the centre of the square, on top of an 80ft Doric column stands Sir Walter Scott, Scotland’s most revered writer from her Age of Enlightenment. Glasgow has always been socially and politically radical and George Square has been at the centre of it all. The original statue of George III was torn down after the American War of Independence and in 1919; Churchill sent troops and tanks into the square to quell the Red Clydesiders.
Currently, the square is peppered with bronzes of important Georgians and Victorians, including Robert Burns and James Watt and although the majority of Glaswegians could not tell you who the rest were, or their significance, since the announcement of the competition for the redevelopment of the square their potential removal has become a highly contentious issue.
It is within this brief context that the competition for the £15 million redevelopment of the square will be judged. Of the 39 expressions of interest, six international teams were invited to create a ‘world class’ new square.
With just two whacky exceptions that incorporate, what looks like a stone umbrella canopy and a glass ramp that corals the bronzes, the submissions and images are restrained with an emphasis on the quality of surface material and hard landscaping befitting such an important space. It’s clear also that some of the competitors have listened or read many of the comments from those Glaswegians who longed for better seating, trees and greenery.
The majority of bronzes seem also to have been kept although some have been relocated to make the central space bigger and better able to hold larger gatherings, remembering the importance of the square in the social and political history of the city. Although submissions are secret, you can judge those entrants who perhaps know little about the city. They have placed their canopies and covered spaces on the south side of the square, where they will get little sunlight, if any and be in shadow. The north side is where these structures should be.
The bolder proposals include water features of some size where children and adults seem to be frolicking. One thinks of the Crown Fountain in Chicago and although undoubtedly attractive some may question its suitability in the west of Scotland. The presentations are slick with perhaps too much emphasis on cgi, on first view they seem nonetheless to be well considered and respectful of the square’s significance to the civic and public life of the city and should encourage much debate. I hope so.