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Union Terrace Gardens competition ‘silly’, says RIAS

The Aberdeen City Garden Project has come under fire from the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS), who has questioned the feasibility of the high-profile international design competition, amid local opposition to the scheme

The competition, which aims to create a £140 million ‘new urban park and civic amenity’ on the city’s one-hectare Union Terrace Gardens (pictured), announced its prestigious international shortlist last week, which includes Gareth Hoskins with Snøhetta, Diller Scofidio and Renfro, West 8, Mecanoo Architecten, Foster + Partners, and Gustafson Porter with Niall McLaughlin Architects.

RIAS secretary and treasurer Neil Baxter said the contest was ‘silly’ and lacked sufficient funds for its completion. Backed by a £50 million donation from local oil baron Ian Wood, the design brief calls for 56,000m² of development with 11,000m² of gardens for the site. He added: ‘While other cities are striving to create new city centre parks, Aberdeen must be unique in trying to lose one.’

The decision by Aberdeen City Council one year ago to pursue the design contest effectively stopped Brisac Gonzalez’s £10 million Peacock Visual
Arts Centre project
, which had previously won planning permission for the site and was supported by RIAS. The practice declined to comment.

Alan Dunlop of Alan Dunlop Architects said: ‘Aberdonian architects are up in arms about [the contest], and very few of them entered the competition. No Scottish architects stood a chance as a stand-alone practice – they were looking for an international name. This is more about cachet than a viable scheme.’

Peter Wilson, director of the Wood Studio at Edinburgh Napier University, added: ‘Once again, the international architectural community has been called upon to legitimise a project of questionable worth and unlikely realisation.’

Aberdeen City Council Labour Group leader Barney Crockett predicted a ‘political crisis’ on the issue, claiming cross-party opposition to the scheme going ahead. He challenged ‘both the democratic and practicability aspects’ of the project.

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