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Platt: 'The George Square U-turn represents a catastrophic loss of nerve'

The head of the Mack Chris Platt lambasts the George Square competition process and calls for a city mayor with civic vision

‘The scrapping of the George Square contest represents a catastrophic loss of nerve and a failure in civic leadership. The decision is being spun by Glasgow City Council’s leader Gordon Matheson to emphasise that his is a ‘listening council’ and will take on board public preference. It needn’t have been this way.
 
The result raises important questions about the nature of public procurement and the best method and timing of involving both public consultation and creative, professional advice. Let’s be clear; this is a U-Turn.

The resulting designs were disappointing

There was a decent set of judges and a shortlist of strong practices. The resulting designs were, however, disappointing. Three teams developed similar strategies; a further two were mediocre and only one attempted to grapple with some of the many issues inherent in the project - namely entry four [by jmarchitects and Graeme Massie Architects - pictured below] which created a number of places of differing character whilst giving the Cenotaph dignity with a grove of trees - and thus avoiding it dominating the entire square.

jmarchitects and Graeme Massie Architects' running up scheme in the George Square contest (entry 4)

jmarchitects and Graeme Massie Architects’ running up scheme in the George Square contest (entry 4)

Although not fully developed, it was imaginative and represented  a fresh, considered strategy. The overall quality of the others was certainly not national, never mind international quality. Why? I am not sure. They should have been. Having to prepare the designs hastily over the Christmas holidays must have surely played a part. The process was ineptly organised and timetabled.
 
I sense that I and other architecture colleagues greet the news with a weary sense of deja vu. Glasgow doesn’t know how to do this sort of thing well yet we architects consult with our clients and users all the time. We’ve been here before sadly. There is usually a fanfare for an ‘international competition’, (meaning in essence a PQQ- Scotland doesn’t do proper, well-run open architectural competitions of the kind you find in Germany or Ireland), followed by a badly led, organised and advised process which results in, well a waste of money and a void. We should be celebrating right now a new vision for a public space which connects the past to the future, that would make the public proud and excited and that they feel some ownership for. Instead, we have nothing but a loss of confidence in architecture and what architects can do.

This is an embarrassment to Glasgow as a city and to its citizens

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. There has been no serious debate on this matter throughout. The press has printed much public opinion, but not much expert insight on the nature of urban design, public consultation and the complexities of how to redesign a flawed public space like George Square. Some press coverage would indicate a limited awareness of public consultation processes that can see no further than  X-Factor crowd-pleasers.  I am reminded of the various comments that were printed at the time of Enric Miralles’ appointment as architect for the Scottish Parliament - implying that you had to be Scottish to deliver a great building there.
 
Glasgow needs a mayor with civic vision who can commission talented architects (and there are many of all generations in and around this city) to deliver the very best for its citizens. Other towns and cities in Europe can do it. Why can’t we? That is the question that the public and the profession should be pursuing with energy and tenacity.’

Christopher Platt is director of studioKAP architects and head and professor of Architecture, Mackintosh School of Architecture, Glasgow

 

 

 

Readers' comments (1)

  • Surely the arched structure depicted in Entry 4 - apparently of considerable size and mass - would be far too prominent and over-scale in the setting of the square?
    But this is a minor point in the context of the sheer awfulness of the recent government of the city of Glasgow, and this bungled competition is just one aspect of the problem.

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