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Dutch courage fuels ambition as Scots gather in Aberdeen

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The rias convention went Dutch this year, with a delegation of architects from the Netherlands presenting ideas which could form the bedrock of a new policy on architecture from the Scottish Parliament.

The event took place last week in Aberdeen, and was split into showing what a devolved Scotland could learn in terms of policy, housing and infrastructure (from architects including Tess van Eyck Wickham, Mecanoo's Francine Houben, Peter Wilson and Ben van Berkel), and a second day focusing on how the 'Scottish Opportunity' could be communicated to the people through events like Glasgow 1999.

Sebastian Tombs, secretary of the incorporation, explained that elements of the Dutch way could inform the rias's views, to be put to government toward a new architecture policy, and this had been one of the reasons they were invited.

Geography, high population density and the Calvinist tradition have all contributed to making the Netherlands a country toward which British architects, and particularly the young, cast an envious eye. A country where planners actually produce ideas, where there is an automatic assumption that big projects should go to the newly qualified, and with a coherent housing policy and an inherently modernist agenda.

The Netherlands developed an architecture policy in the late 1980s to tackle poor public and client understanding of its importance and with the conscious aim of promoting quality. Government papers state: 'The policy on architecture is aimed at creating the conditions for the realisation of architectural quality,' and a government architect has a tenure of five years. Architectuur Lokaal was set up to create organisations which advise municipal authorities on architecture policy. These organisations have teeth. Peter Wilson, for example, of Munster-based Bolles + Wilson, who has worked extensively in the Kop van Zuid area of Rotterdam, said that the 'Q' (for quality) team there had no compunction in telling Sir Norman Foster it didn't think his initial designs for a 122m-high 32-storey office at the World Port Centre tower were good enough. 'They said do it again - and he did.'

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