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In pictures: Union Terrace Gardens contest shortlisted schemes revealed

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[First look] These are the six proposals battling for the contentious commission to overhaul Union Terrace Gardens in Aberdeen

Unveiled at a public exhibition in the city today (18 October), the schemes have been designed by the finalists on an all-star shortlist which includes Norman Foster and Snøhetta.

However the designs will remain anonymous at this stage.

The design teams are Diller Scofidio and Renfro with Keppie; Foster and Partners with Vladimir Djurovic Landscape Architecture; Gareth Hoskins Architects with Snøhetta; Gustafson Porter with Niall McLaughlin Architects; Mecanoo Architecten with Cooper Cromar and West 8 urban with Archial.

The long-running plans to overhaul the city centre park have been no stranger to controversy with the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) labelling the latest competition ‘silly’ and questioning the project’s feasibility when the shortlist was revealed in July.

Competition organiser Malcolm Reading said: ‘The designs are exceptional – all of them memorable in their own way and visually rich and inspired combinations of landscape, urban design and architecture.

‘They all demonstrate how level access, place-making and new green spaces could completely transform this area, making a new landmark for Aberdeen.’

The public has been invited to indicate a preferred design for £140 million project which is backed by a private donation from local oil tycoon Ian Wood and Aberdeen City Council.

A winner will be announced in mid November.

The full shortlist:

  • Diller Scofidio and Renfro (New York) / Keppie Design (Glasgow) working in association with landscape architect Olin Studio.
  • Foster & Partners (London) / Vladimir Djurovic Landscape Architecture (Beirut) working in association with cost and construction consultant Gardiner & Theobald
  • Snøhetta (Oslo) / Gareth Hoskins Architects (Edinburgh) working in association with engineering and multi-discipline company AECOM
  • Gustafson Porter (London) / Niall McLaughlin Architects (London) working with urban analyst Space Syntax, engineer Arup and cost adviser Jackson Coles
  • Mecanoo Architecten (Delft, Netherlands) / Cooper Cromar (Glasgow) working in association with landscape architect Ian White, engineer Buro Happold and cost adviser Davis Langdon (AECOM). 
  • West 8 urban design & landscape architecture (Rotterdam, Netherlands) / Archial Group (Aberdeen) working in association with engineer Arup and cost and construction consultant Turner & Townsend


Paul Stallan, head of Paul Stallan Studio at RMJM
‘Our Victorian forefathers would have no qualms about levelling Union Terrace Gardens to create an ambitious new public space. But the six teams have their work cut out convincing the public to remove historic landscape in favour of a modern overlay, especially when there is little precedent that this approach has worked elsewhere in the UK.
‘For me there is a clear winner and it’s the most “unsculptural” solution. Terrace Gardens is a City Centre site. Fill it with concrete.’

Robin Webster, co-founder of Cameron Webster and professor emeritus at Scott Sutherland School at The Robert Gordon University
‘The six shortlisted schemes show various approaches for filling the void: some including buildings that rise above the level of Union Terrace itself, one with 20m-high Scots Pines above the railway, another simply filling it in with cars and other unspecified uses, while making patterns in the lawn above. Another proposes a beguiling spidersweb of walkways, with auditoriums and lawns  below. All are dramatically presented, with montaged models unsuitably dressed for the Aberdeen climate, or envisaging a Brueghel inspired winter scene.
‘My students sometimes managed to address issues that these proposals ignore. The steeply sloping eastern side of the gardens is rather dramatic, with the narrow backs of the buildings in Belmont Street addressing the gardens. The Union Street Bridge is a listed structure, but most schemes simply bury it, and the pedestrian connection between the railway station and the city is extremely poor, yet this point of arrival is ignored. I am not convinced that any of these heavy-handed proposals will improve the gardens and help the city. A more minimalist approach would be welcomed.’

John Curry of John Curry Architects
‘Union Terrace Gardens and Union Street are two key areas which need thoughtful but commercially viable developments. However the new Union Square development will only contributedto the deterioration of Union Street. The only way to develop a positive solution for both Union Street and Union Terrace Gardens, is to pull together architects, agents, investors, businesses, the local authority and other key stakeholders to develop a holistic and long-term successful solution. No plan will work if it is developed by a select few, and all this will take time. We, as architects, need to take a stand and advise our clients of the negative impact that shopping malls and out of town retail parks have on the city centre, which is only worsening in the current financial climate. Incentives for city centre development need to be considered and implemented by government, local authorities and pension funds etc to ensure that city centres can begin to thrive again, restoring jobs, community and businesses to what is the most sustainable, economically viable and efficient form of habitation, the city. Although the climate doesn’t always help, there is a need for well-thought out external spaces in Aberdeen. [Quality] soft and hard landscaping is desperately needed in the city centre, if only to soften the granite, but to also provide some respite from the traffic, retail and business activities of the area.’










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