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Judges unable to pick winner in George Square contest

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The jury has failed to find a winner in the high-profile competition to overhaul Glasgow’s George Square

The judging panel, which included MBM Architects’ partner David Mackay, Andy McMillan and RIAS secretary Neil Baxter, had been expected to name a victor this week with an official announcement due tomorrow (Friday, 18 January).

However a spokesman for contest-organiser Glasgow City Council said the judges had been ‘unable to come to a decision’ and that they were ‘not all available to reconvene until next week’.

Competition chair and current leader of the city council Gordon Matheson said: ‘It’s disappointing, but it’s important that we get this right. We will make a decision next week.’

The news will come as a disappointment to the six finalists vying for the £15 million project. They are:

• Agence Ter (France) with Hengehan Peng and Atmos
• Burns + Nice (UK)
• Gustafson Porter (UK)
• James Corner Field Operations with Gillespies and Make Architects (USA)
• jmarchitects with Graeme Massie Architects (UK)
• John McAslan & Partners (UK)

A ceremony for the winner, which had been planned for tomorrow at The Lighthouse, has been cancelled.

The jury’s failure to find a victorious scheme is not the first set back for the contentious competition launched last August. In September Glasgow City Council was accused of causing confusion after it decided to ‘amend’ its procurement process for the overhaul of George Square just hours before the pre-qualification questionnaire was due to be submitted (AJ 26.09.2012).

The judging panel in full: David Mackay, partner, MBM Architects Barcelona; Professor Andy McMillan, former head of Mackintosh School of Architecture, Glasgow School of Art; David Harding, former head of Environmental Art, Glasgow School of Art; Geoff Ellis, director of DF Concerts; and councillor Gordon Matheson, leader of Glasgow City Council. The panel’s technical advisor is Neil Baxter, secretary and treasurer, RIAS.

Previous story (AJ 09.01.2013)

Revealed: the six finalists in George Square contest

The AJ can reveal the designs by the six teams shortlisted in the competition to overhaul Glasgow’s George Square

High Line-mastermind and post-Games Olympic Park designers James Corner Field Operations with Gillespies and Make Architects is vying for the £15 million project against landscape specialists Gustafson Porter; France’s Agence Ter with Hengehan Peng and Atmos; jmarchitects with Graeme Massie Architects; John McAslan & Partners; and Burns + Nice, the public realm design team behind the recent revamp of London’s Leicester Square.

Despite council plans to remove 12 statues and monuments from the square which led to objections from experts and the public some of the submitted schemes have retained and repositioned them.

The judging panel includes David Mackay, partner at MBM Architects Barcelona, Andy McMillan, former head of Mackintosh School of Architecture.The panel’s technical advisor is Neil Baxter, secretary and treasurer, RIAS

All the designs by will go on anonymous display at The Lighthouse in Glasgow next week. A winner is expected to be announced on 18 January 2013.

Gordon Matheson, leader of Glasgow City Council, said: ‘The calibre of the six designs is very high and I’m sure whichever design team is chosen, Glaswegians will have a George Square to be proud of again.

‘It is absolutely essential we choose the right team to create a new George Square – a George Square fit for the 21st Century. I look forward to working closely with the winning design team to develop their design and give the people and businesses of Glasgow the George Square they deserve.’

The redevelopment of the square will be carried out in two phases and Glasgow City Council hope the first stage will be complete before the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.

Comment: Alan Dunlop of Glasgow-based Alan Dunlop Architects

Glasgow’s history is defined by three distinctive ages; the Medieval, the Georgian and the Victorian. Although little remains of the medieval city, the Victorian city still flourishes and much of the Georgian grid remains intact.

The square was named after George III and was set out in 1781, on the periphery of Georgian Glasgow. Since then, it has grown in status; from a field where horses were slaughtered for Glasgow’s tanning industry to the most important civic space in the city and a front to the City Chambers.  

At the centre of the square, on top of an 80ft Doric column stands Sir Walter Scott, Scotland’s most revered writer from her Age of Enlightenment. Glasgow has always been socially and politically radical and George Square has been at the centre of it all. The original statue of George III was torn down after the American War of Independence and in 1919; Churchill sent troops and tanks into the square to quell the Red Clydesiders.

Currently, the square is peppered with bronzes of important Georgians and Victorians, including Robert Burns and James Watt and although the majority of Glaswegians could not tell you who the rest were, or their significance, since the announcement of the competition for the redevelopment of the square their potential removal has become a highly contentious issue.

It is within this brief context that the competition for the £15 million redevelopment of the square will be judged. Of the 39 expressions of interest, six international teams were invited to create a ‘world class’ new square.

With just two whacky exceptions that incorporate, what looks like a stone umbrella canopy and a glass ramp that corals the bronzes, the submissions and images are restrained with an emphasis on the quality of surface material and hard landscaping befitting such an important space. It’s clear also that some of the competitors have listened or read many of the comments from those Glaswegians who longed for better seating, trees and greenery.

The majority of bronzes seem also to have been kept although some have been relocated to make the central space bigger and better able to hold larger gatherings, remembering the importance of the square in the social and political history of the city. Although submissions are secret, you can judge those entrants who perhaps know little about the city. They have placed their canopies and covered spaces on the south side of the square, where they will get little sunlight, if any and be in shadow. The north side is where these structures should be.

The bolder proposals include water features of some size where children and adults seem to be frolicking. One thinks of the Crown Fountain in Chicago and although undoubtedly attractive some may question its suitability in the west of Scotland. The presentations are slick with perhaps too much emphasis on cgi, on first view they seem nonetheless to be well considered and respectful of the square’s significance to the civic and public life of the city and should encourage much debate. I hope so.



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