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Aberdeen vote backs Diller Scofidio + Renfro's Union Terrace Gardens plan

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Aberdeen’s residents have voted in favour of contentious plans by US practice Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R) to transform the city’s historic Union Terrace Gardens

The city-wide referendum asked people if they wanted to keep the historic gardens as they are, or back the £140million, competition-winning redevelopment project, designed in collaboration with Keppie Design and landscape specialists OLIN (see below).

Our focus now is to work with everyone in the City, no matter which side of the argument they have been on

According to the BBC, there were 45,301 votes in favour of the proposed overhaul and 41,175 against.

The design team’s so-called Granite Web scheme will create additional usable garden space, a cultural and arts centre, as well as revealing the arches, vaults and bridge on Union Street. The existing balustrades and statues will be retained.

David Ross of Keppie Design said: ‘Our team have lived and breathed this project for a long time now and it’s satisfying that there has been a positive response.

‘Our focus now is to work with everyone in the city, no matter which side of the argument they have been on, to deliver a project which helps the gardens to reach their potential. Good design can change lives. This is a unique project for so many reasons and we look forward to bringing it to life.’

The scheme by DS+R team is innovative, magical and considerate

Famed for its work on the New York High Line, DS+R practice has also worked on the Lincoln Center redevelopment in New York, the temporary Blur Building for the Swiss Expo and the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.

Malcolm Reading who organised the international competition last year said: ‘This is a great outcome for Aberdeen. The scheme by DS+R team is innovative, magical and considerate.

‘The competition has raised the quality of the debate about how the city should work in the future and has shown the value of securing a designer through a competitive process. We are immensely proud of having helped to bring this to such a successful conclusion.’

Previous story (AJ 28.02.2012)

Massive turnout in vote for Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s Aberdeen plans

Half of Aberdeen’s population have so far voted in the referendum on controversial  plans by US practice Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R) to transform the city’s historic Union Terrace Gardens

According to the BBC, press independent counting officers said 50 per cent of residents had turned out to decide whether the £140 million development, backed by millionaire Ian Wood, should go ahead or whether the park should be left as it is.

A victory at the polls could see the firm, which won the high-profile competition with Scottish architects Keppie Design, build its first permanent building in Europe.

The ballot boxes close on Thursday with a result due on Friday (2 March).

Previous story (AJ 16.01.2012)

Diller Scofidio + Renfro beats Foster to win contentious Aberdeen contest

A team-led by US practice Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R) has beaten Foster + Partners to win the controversial contest to transform Union Terrace Gardens in Aberdeen

The victory could see the firm, which entered the high-profile competition with Scottish architects Keppie Design and landscape specialists OLIN, build its first permanent building in Europe.

However, the winning design concept will now be subject to a referendum to find out if the public supports the regeneration project - backed by businessman Ian Wood to the tune of £50 million - or want the existing gardens kept. Last week, the Friends of Union Terrace Gardens launched a campaign to save the Victorian gardens ‘from destruction and prevent the land being passed to a private company for development’.

The referendum ballot closes on 1 March.

Only if the city’s residents back the DS+R’s ‘Granite Web’ scheme will detailed designs be produced for the £140 million overhaul.

The DS+R proposals were hailed as ‘ingenious and inspiring’ by City Garden Project competition organiser Malcolm Reading of Malcolm Reading Consultants.

Duncan Rice, former principal of Aberdeen University and chair of the jury added: ‘The Diller Scofidio team had thought long and hard about Aberdeen’s special history and unique needs. Answer by answer, they overwhelmed the jury with their vision and their sensitivity to the whole downtown context. They are flexible and responsive, and the thrilling concept they have offered will continue to adapt and evolve as discussion proceeds. I’m proud that our city has been able to attract a team that combines distinction, creativity and urban experience.’

The designs by DS+R will ‘reinterpret the topography of the Denburn Valley and the dramatic cascade of the existing Union Terrace Gardens while creating graceful new spaces and structures’.

The scheme includes creating additional usable garden space, a cultural and arts centre, and will reveal the arches, vaults and bridge on Union Street while retaining the balustrades and statues.

DS+R’s design scored higher than the rival bid by Foster + Partners with Vladimir Djurovic Landscape Architecture in ‘all key areas’ of the brief including: creation of more new space; cost and viability in construction and on-going maintenance; environmental sustainability; and energy efficiency.

The architect’s view - Charles Renfro

‘The steep competition drove us that much harder to do more research, to understand the site more thoroughly, to dig deeper into our creative reserve and our technical expertise to find a daring, thoughtful and beautiful solution.
‘While the City Garden is at the heart of Aberdeen, the heart has little pulse…we feel that we can make that heart throb and bring life and energy into the centre of town. By making the park greener, more accommodating to passive and active uses, more engaged at its edges, the gardens can become a magnet for this otherwise youthful and energetic city. We feel particularly well suited to this challenge - the project reflects an integration of landscape design, museum design and design for the performing arts, the primary focuses of our practice.’

Previous story (AJ 24.11.11)

Two ‘winners’ to work up Union Terrace proposals

Teams understood to be led by US practice Diller Scofidio and Renfro and Foster + Partners have been chosen to work up their designs for the Union Terrace Gardens in Aberdeen

An outright winner in the contest to design the contentious £140 million overhaul of the city centre site had been expected to be chosen this month (November) from a six-strong shortlist (see AJ 19.10.11).

However, the jury of the City Garden Project design competition announced it wanted ‘to explore two designs’ in more detail before selecting a victor. The shortlisted designs had been submitted anonymously.

Malcolm Reading of contest organiser Malcolm Reading Consultants said: ‘The brief is complex and the site has challenging features so it was especially impressive to see the extent of development of concept design, each very different, in the final submissions.

‘All of the design teams were interviewed. Their presentations, technical submissions and the subsequent independent analysis of those as well as the public’s preferences were taken into account.

This is not an unusual situation for such a complex design challenge

He added: ‘The jury’s unanimous decision at this stage is that further clarification work should be done by two design teams. This clarification is in the spirit of the competitive process and will allow the jury to crystallise their thoughts on each team’s respective key features and provide a clearer basis for a final decision on an outright winner.

‘This is not an unusual situation for such a complex design challenge. The jury is trying to fully understand all aspects of the two schemes and, in particular, to test the durability of the respective concepts.’

Reading would not confirm which of the six shortlisted, architect-led teams were behind the two ‘finalist’ schemes.

John Stewart, chairman of the City Garden Project management board, added: ‘The complexity of the project and the importance of the development to the people of Aberdeen deserve further consideration. We are confident that either scheme can provide a world-class solution and further exploration of these two designs will enable us to select the right design for Aberdeen.

‘It is anticipated that the design teams involved will come back to us in December with those clarifications and that we will make a final decision on the winner in January. The winning design along with the TIF business case will then be submitted to Aberdeen City Council.’


The City Garden Project proposes a transformation of the existing gardens, railway line and adjacent dual carriageway to create an iconic garden space that would act as a focal point for the city centre for a range of activities for all to enjoy. The overall aim is revitalise the city centre, making it more attractive, safer and better connected.

A public exhibition of all six finalists’ designs attracted about 15,000 visitors.

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