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Design contest launched for controversial Aberdeen city square


A controversial decision to launch an international design competition for the Ian Woods-backed £140 million city square scheme in Aberdeen has spelt the end for Brisac Gonzalez’s Peacock Visual Arts Centre

Last week Aberdeen Council agreed to press on with the contest for Union Terrace Gardens, despite widespread opposition for the move which effectively kills off the already approved Brisac Gonzalez plans for the same site.

The AJ can reveal project lead Elly Rothnie was laid off following the decision and that Peacock Visual Arts turned down an offer to take part in Woods’ scheme for Union Terrace Gardens.

Architect Edgar Gonzalez of Brisac Gonzalez confirmed he would ‘absolutely not’ be taking part in the design competition.

He said: ‘They have essentially gazumped a very viable project – the Peacock scheme, they ran a fairly lopsided public consultation in that the Peacock Visual Arts Project was not mentioned, and they then ignored the results of the consultation in which the Civic Square project was resoundingly rejected by the people of Aberdeen.’

The RIAS earlier this month described the decision to vote on the proposal as a ‘farce’.

Hundreds gathered on Saturday in the park to show their opposition to last week’s vote.

A further protest at the gardens is scheduled for 12 June.


Previous story (14.05.10)

RIAS slams ‘farce’ Woods-Aberdeen scheme

The RIAS has condemned Aberdeen Council’s plans to launch an international design competition for the divisive Union Terrace Gardens site

RIAS secretary Neil Baxter described Aberdeen council’s plans, which would prolong negotiations over the future of the site, as ‘inappropriate in the extreme.’

Developer ACSEF contacted the RIAS on 29 April (see letters attached) and expressed its intention to solicit designs from international practices for an alternative development at the city centre site.

Baxter said: ‘The proposal is a farce. There is a severe problem with public agencies who say they want an international winner.

‘This is inappropriate in the extreme for any Scottish government agency’.

The RIAS supports Brisac Gonzalez’ arts centre scheme for Peacock Visual Arts, granted planning permission in 2007.  

Baxter is confident Aberdeen Council will reject plans for the contest at a vote scheduled for next Wednesday (19 May).

He said: ‘The proposal is a farce. It’s a mad idea underpinned by the offer of big money which is an illusion.

‘Im pretty confident in their vote next week they will kick it into touch.

‘By condoning the process of proceeding we would be demolishing a proposal which is more considered, the Peacock Visual Arts centre.

There are competitions all over the EU creating parks and this is about destroying the park and replacing it with a nebulous concept of a square.

‘You have to ask why you would replace a park with a square.’

The council was unavailable for comment.

Previous story (AJ 14.04.10)

Aberdeen’s public opposes Terrace Garden plans

The public has voted against the controversial Halliday Fraser Munro’s Union Terrace Gardens development in Aberdeen, backed by entrepreneur Ian Woods.

Following a much-criticised public consultation process, 55 per cent of those polled rejected the proposals, while 44 per cent welcomed them and two per cent were unsure.

Most survey participants said they wanted green space, a formal garden and an arts centre – potentially along the lines of a scheme drawn up previously by Brisac Gonzalez (pictured above).

The biggest public concern was cost, the £170 million project has secured £50 million from the entrepreneur Ian Wood, but needs a further £70 million from the Scottish Government and £20 million from Aberdeen Council.

The Halliday Fraser Munro scheme will raise the valley floor of the gardens by building a square on elevated decking with development underneath.

Edgar Gonzalez, director of Brisac Gonzalez warned in January that the public consultation could be one sided.

His practice won planning permission to build a new Peacock Visual Arts Centre on the site, prior to the current proposals.

He said: ‘If someone won an election by 55 to 44 it would not be described as a split decision.

‘If they were not able to get a majority in a not-even-handed consultation, it’s clear the project might not be the one people want.’

Tom Smith, chairman of project leaders Aberdeen City and Shire Economic Future (ACSEF) responded: ‘The findings reveal that opinion is divided over the City Square project, ACSEF is very aware of and respects the concerns and issues raised by the public.

‘Given these issues and the fact this is not a commercial development, but a civic project on land owned by the council, ACSEF is now seeking leadership and support from Aberdeen City Council to progress the project to the next stage.

‘Rejection of this £140 million investment will damage Aberdeen City’s reputation. We will be known as the city which turned down a £50 million private sector donation towards an ambitious and much-needed public infrastructure development at a time when other cities throughout the UK would have grasped it with open arms.’

Meanwhile a spokesperson for ACSEF did not rule out incorporating Brisac Gonzalez’ arts centre in to the scheme. They said: ‘[We] very much want to see an iconic design for a civic centre within the City Square project.’


Readers' comments (3)

  • It's not needed and not wanted, and will require a huge input of public cash, but we will plough on regardless?

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  • raising up the gardens is a ridiculous idea. haliday fraser munro arent the most conceptually aware architects are they?!

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  • A case of public officials being blinded by the cash offered from wealthy individuals.

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