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Scottish architects unconvinced by SNP’s new architecture policy

Architects have raised doubts over the potential impact of Scotland’s new architecture policy, despite its promise to embed design quality in the planning and procurement systems

Launched this week, the Creating Places document, the first SNP Government-backed architecture policy, sets out an action plan for ‘positive change’ giving architecture a central role in boosting quality of life, stimulating economic activity and preventing health and social problems in Scotland.

The policy puts placemaking at the ‘heart of the [planning] decision making process’ and promotes a long-term approach to asset management, which will also prioritise design.

Heralding the latest document, which replaces guidance from 2007, Scottish culture secretary Fiona Hyslop said: ‘Good buildings and places can enrich our lives. In a challenging economic climate, we should not question whether we can afford to deliver good design. Instead, we should ask: can we afford not to?’

But, with the much-anticipated Scottish Procurement Review yet to be published, opinion among architects about the policy’s effect on the built environment and workloads remains divided.

Charlie Sutherland, of Stirling Prize-shortlisted Sutherland Hussey Architects, predicted the new policy would do little to transform Scotland’s ‘appallingly bad’ procurement set-up.

He said: ‘I’m afraid it sounds like locking the stable door after the horse has bolted, because all the schools and public works have been parcelled off to contractors through Hub contracts.’

And while Kieran Gaffney, of Konishi Gaffney, praised the Scottish government’s ambition, he warned: ‘Current procurement policy means small practices are de facto excluded from working on public buildings [and] I’m not expecting any miracles from this policy in this respect.’

RIAS practices services adviser Gordon Gibb, of Glasgow-based Gordon Gibb Architects, agreed. He said: ‘Most of the document is telling us about what is there already. Unless the Scottish government puts its hand in its pocket and pays for good design, it’s just people saying nice things.’

Peter Drummond, of Peter Drummond Architects, said: ‘To be successful we need more than fine words and laudable objectives. What we need is action on the ground, practical steps to ensure that delivery is right down from policy level to determination of individual applications. Alan Dickson, of Isle of Skye-based Rural Design, added: ‘We’ve had three architecture policies now. They are all very well-meaning but I’ve given up on [public procurement]. I’ll believe [improvement] when I see it.’

But Alasdair Stephen, director of Glasgow and Skye-based Dualchas Architects and a former Nationalist candidate for Westminster, was more hopeful. He said: ‘There has been a feeling in the profession that, despite the good words of previous policies, in reality design quality was not seen as important in judging and procurement.

‘The Scottish government has now demonstrated it is really serious and this is not a policy which is going to be put back in the drawer. The real impact will be when you see the new procurement policy.’

RIAS secretary and treasurer Neil Baxter added: ‘The Scottish Procurement review is going to conclude very soon. Hopefully we will get a better compromise outcome that will do more to serve the interests of architects and the whole construction industry. You’ve got sound rhetoric from the Scottish government and if they follow through with >> the mood music you will see some real improvements.’

The ambitious programme – which sets out new material considerations for all Scottish planning applications and appeals – has been published just weeks after Terry Farrell opened a consultation on the possibility of a UK-wide architecture policy.

Key proposals in the Scottish document includes embedding placemaking in Scotland’s updated planning policy, set to be published later this year, and creating a new ‘place standard’ assessment tool for housing.

A masterplanning toolkit will also be developed while new ‘tailored’ training will help councillors and public sector officers understand the value of well-designed buildings.

New ‘place-based’ guidance for public bodies and other clients on effective briefing – focusing on economic, social, health and environmental outcomes – has also been announced in a bid to promote a ‘simple, clear and effective client-designer relationship’.

Further initiatives include working with Architecture and Design Scotland to publish an annual review of emerging Scottish design practices and a consultation on the possibility of Scotland regulating architects.

Former CABE chief executive Richard Simmons was impressed by the thoroughness of the document and said the policy ‘demonstrated the weakness of Westminster’s cultural credentials on the economic and environmental value of place and architecture.

‘I doubt if Ed Vaizey and Terry Farrell could get anything so comprehensive past the Cabinet Office and the Treasury, but I will be right behind them if they try.’

 

Key policies: Creating Places

1
Architecture and places are the most important outcomes the planning process exists to support, and their quality should be a priority

2
Investment decisions should prioritise long term benefits. The public sector should set an example by ensuring high design standards are adhered to in public procurement

3
All areas of policy should utilise and promote design as a tool to deliver value. Scotland’s design talent should be celebrated and the next generation promoted

4

Low carbon design and planning should be a priority. A ‘re-use not replace’ approach should be considered first when dealing with existing built environment

5

Culture-led regeneration should be encouraged as an effective approach to delivering sustainable, high quality environments

6

Design should harness communities’ knowledge and encourage active participation. Engagement must be meaningful, early and proportionate

 

Further comment

Malcolm Fraser, director Malcolm Fraser Architects
This represents a significant endorsement from Government.  I hope their evident care and understanding feeds into the parallel, ongoing Procurement Review, whose results will mean so much for young, and crafts-based, architectural practices.  

Alan Dunlop, visiting professor at the Scott Sutherland School of Architecture at Robert Gordon University
A government policy for architecture is the mark of a mature and culturally aware society. As a Scot, I’m proud that one has been in place now for over ten years and has provoked a marked improvement in the general  quality of building design. Architecture is obviously a subject worthy of debate in Scotland. The review of public procurement is a much needed and bold step and the intent to incorporate design as a material consideration is also positive. After the debacle surrounding the competition for George Square, so too is the emphasis on place-making.”

Brian Waters, principal at BWCP 
Until the coalition government came along my office always looked to Scotland for the direction of our planning policy, though England was never as brave! (The Scots consulted on abolishing Green Belt, for example.) I suggest the ACA write to the [architecture minister] urging the adoption of the Scottish architecture policy as a model for England. 

Babak Sasan, director at Glasgow-based Sasan Bell
Like everything though the proof is in eating and I welcome the encouragement of good design and more active engagement with architects. This however can be influenced up to a point by the government on public sector projects but a lot more difficult to do for the private sector.

The recession has side-lined a lot of Architects and use of good design for less high profile projects and the low and work for nothing fees has devalued our profession. Unfortunately we are our own worst enemy and the race to land a project has allowed our skills and experience to count for nothing.

We used to have scale of fees that at least tried at some level address a reward for our efforts, if our professional bodies can’t do more, I welcome the governments initiatives.

Ben Addy, director at Moxon Architects
The Creating Places document is the sort of thing the government should be doing – it’s non-prescriptive, reads like the work of many hands and appears informed by reality rather than shoehorned into ideology. From a personal standpoint the text is a little bit vanilla but I guess it needs to be and the gist of it is perfectly sound.  The full meaning of it will only really be apparent when the actual SPP is published later this year, however as with Fiona Hyslop’s strongly stated contra position to Maria Miller’s philistinism earlier this month (where she refuted the idea that cultural production must have an immediately discernable monetary value for it to be worth supporting) there are very positive noises here.  One might wish that she was the UK’s culture secretary.

Thea McMillan, design director at Chambers McMillan Architects
In order to make ‘successful places’, physical accessibility and inclusion needs to be considered at every point in the process. Not only is this fair and necessary, but thinking differently, designing places where barriers are removed opens up opportunities of moving through spaces differently. Design that starts from a base of inclusivity and accessibility offers a much richer environment for everyone. You only need to experience some of the public spaces in Copenhagen (eg. SEB Bank and Pension, otherwise know as the skaters park, or Snohetta’s Opera House in Oslo)

Accessibility is only really mentioned right at the end of the document, in passing, whereas it should both permeate everything that is written, and have its own section (just like sustainability, cultural connections, and engagement), particularly important with Scotland’s changing demographic.  This lack doesn’t surprise me really given that RIAS refuse to let our practice state accessible design as one of our specialisms, but if Scottish Government are going to bring together people to discuss accessibility and inclusion, and if they are going to continually invite people from Denmark as keynote speakers, because they admire their approach to place making, then they need to think about how accessibility effects both positively and negatively every space that we design and use. The front page mentions how architecture should “enrich our lives as individuals and as a society” and this would have been a perfect opportunity to introduce inclusive design as a constructive and forward looking idea.

Gareth Hoskins, Gareth Hoskins Architects

Much of the intent outlined [in the policy] will be very much subject to the recurring issue of whether or not the procurement processes and mechanisms support these ambitions. Scottish Government are currently in the midst of a procurement review which includes architectural services (Crawford Review) to which we/GHA contributed a paper outlining a series of key recommendations based on both out experience in the UK and further afield, particularly of similar OJEU process our Berlin studio has experienced that are handled in an entirely different way to the processes in the UK/Scotland. It may have been a consideration to hold the issue until this procurement review was complete to enable it’s findings and recommendations to inform the Architecture Policy and vice versa - we would certainly question whether the current SFT and Hub processes through which many of Scotland’s public buildings are being procured support the ambitions on valuing design quality and paying appropriately for these services, which is a view shared by many across the profession in Scotland. Looking at it positively I hope that the ambitions outlined demonstrate a recognition of the importance of design in relation to our quality of environment and that this will result in a corresponding change to support and encourage this through Scotland’s approach to procurement….

 

 

 

 

 

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