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Weekend roundup: Dundee’s Bilbao moment

Simon Aldous’s take on the big architectural stories of the week: V&A Dundee opens • Royal Festival Hall rooftop row • Should the Mac be taken from Glasgow School of Art? • RIAS presidential election

Will Kuma’s V&A Dundee justify its soaring costs?

Nearly a decade in the building and planning, Kengo Kuma’s V&A Dundee finally opens to the public today.  

The process of bringing it to fruition has been controversial, with costs soaring to £80 million from the £43 million budgeted when the design competition was launched; and that was despite reining in costs by moving the building inland – it was originally planned to sit just off the waterfront.  

A 2015 investigation into the overrun concluded that the scheme was unlikely to have ever come in on budget. This echoed claims by New York practice REX, which was also shortlisted for the job, and said Kuma’s win could perpetuate a situation where architects had to ignore practical demands ‘in order to seduce a jury’; the overall result being to ‘create public distrust in our profession’.  

Nevertheless, if the building is as successful as is hoped, this may not matter. It was always the intention that an iconic building could replicate the ‘Bilbao effect’ where Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum prompted an economic boost to the northern Spanish city. In the first three years after it opened in 1997, it was estimated to have generated €500 million in economic activity, yielding enough in taxes to cover its construction cost.  

Will Kuma’s creation be similarly successful? The omens look good. Dundee’s star has been rising in the run-up to the opening, with GQ, the Wall Street Journal and Lonely Planet all declaring it to be one of the top cities to visit.  

Press reviews have, however, been lukewarm. While no one denies that Kuma has created a spectacular iconic form, there are niggles about the experience once you get inside the building.  

One suspects this won’t have an adverse effect on visitor numbers. But could a neighbouring office building spoil the view?  

Performing at Dundee’s waterfront last weekend, Pretenders frontwoman Chrissie Hynde found herself distracted by the ‘horrible carcass’ of the structure and called for ‘some sort of uprising’ against the ‘monstrosity’. 

The leader of Dundee Council retorted that the waterfront wasn’t just a place for ‘fun and creativity’ but also a place to ‘generate jobs and income’.

Conservationists hit the roof over Royal Festival Hall proposal

Rfh andreas praefcke

Rfh andreas praefcke

Source: Andreas Praefcke

Is it just me or does the Southbank Centre not seem particularly appreciative of its built heritage?  

Having successfully resisted numerous attempts to have the Hayward Gallery and Queen Elizabeth Hall complex listed, it has now announced plans for the Grade I-listed Royal Festival Hall, which are upsetting the conservation lobby.  

It wants to create a performance space on the building’s roof, but more controversially it proposes partially funding this development by means of a 686m² rooftop polycarbonate hospitality venue, which would remain for three years before making way for the performance space.  

While Historic England welcomed opening up the riverside roof, it has ‘serious concerns’ about the designs for the temporary pavilion, which it called ‘a major insensitive intervention to a landmark building’ which would largely obscure its iconic signage and much of its curved roof. 

The Twentieth Century Society, meanwhile, was not even enthusiastic about the performance space idea, calling it ‘an insensitive proposal’.  

Poll: Should the Royal Festival Hall put a temporary pavilion on its roof? 

• Yes, that’s fine 
• Yes, but it should be better designed 
• No, it should look elsewhere for funding 
• No pavilion; and no performance space either 

Vote here 

Last week’s poll asked whether you approved of RIBA presidents being paid for their time. And overwhelmingly you do – 62 per cent had no problem with the annual £60,000 ‘honorarium’ that Ben Derbyshire is receiving. Some 25 per cent were a little less generous, favouring either ‘living wage only’ or that the pay be means tested, while only 13 per cent objected to any remuneration. See RIBA, you really didn’t need to be so coy!

If you can’t look after it properly, we’ll take it away

Mac prefire finlay mcwalter

Mac prefire finlay mcwalter

Source: Finlay McWalter

One of the delightful qualities of the Glasgow School of Arts Macintosh building was that, 100 years on, this Grade A-listed architectural wonder was still being used for its original purpose.  

That all turned a little sour four years ago when a projector used for a student degree show was the cause of a fire that destroyed the building’s library. And now in the aftermath of this year’s more extensive fire, some people are wondering if the school of art is really a suitable custodian for this Glasgow landmark.  

Mackintosh expert Roger Billcliffe is one of four experts who will be giving evidence to the Scottish parliament next Thursday, and has his doubts about the restored building remaining a teaching facility. ‘The building is a work of art and a museum; it should be treated like one,’ he told Glasgow’s Evening Times.  

Another of the experts, the director of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society, Stuart Robertson, told The Times he did not think the school should have sole responsibility for the rebuilding since it was not a conservation body.  

However, a third expert, architect Malcolm Fraser said taking the building away from the school and turning it into a museum would be a ‘disaster’, and made the point that ‘museums burn down too’ and he would be arguing instead for better statutory oversight of important historic buildings.

Democracy comes to Scotland

Election queue

Election queue

Less than a month after the results of the RIBA presidential election, its Scottish counterpart, the RIAS, has launched its own process, with two candidates vying for the job.  

However, this one might be more of a novelty since, for the last three decades, the RIAS president has been chosen by the organisation’s council rather than elected by its membership.  

One thinks back to the first elections of post-apartheid South Africa, when the previously disenfranchised majority enthusiastically queued for hours at polling stations, relishing their right to vote. Surely we can expect similar scenes in Scotland. 

The reintroduction of elections followed the launch of campaign group A New Chapter, which aimed to shake up the RIAS and was followed by the resignation of long-time secretary and treasurer Neil Baxter.  

Carefully reading between the lines of the two candidates’ responses to the AJ’s questions, it seems they have contrasting opinions on the former reign of terror.  

Robin Webster talks of the RIAS as having become ‘one man’s fiefdom’ and about creating ‘a more collegiate incorporation’. In contrast, Gordon G Smith says that while ‘mistakes have been made’ architects should be mindful of ‘the achievements of the RIAS over the last 10 years’ … I’m confident he’s not thinking of the much-ridiculed pop-up installation that graced Glasgow Station last year.  

But if Webster seems the more radical candidate, it’s interesting to note their contrasting attitudes to the future of the Mackintosh Building. Webster favours rebuilding it ‘to Mackintosh’s drawings and details’; while Smith says Mackintosh ‘wouldn’t stand back from change’ and it should be ‘recreated in part and added to in a way that is both sympathetic but an advancement of modern Scottish architecture’.  

Voting is now open and continues till 1 October with the results announced later that month.

Also this week

  • The UK’s largest architect, Foster + Partners, has seen its turnover, profits and staff numbers fall for the second financial year in a row, according to its latest accounts. Figures for the year ending April 2018 show that income fell from £245 million in 2017 to £213 million, while pre-tax profits fell from £25.2 million to £20.8 million. Average headcount fell from 1,425 to 1,266. 
  • SAVE Britain’s heritage is promoting a ‘conservation-led’ alternative proposal to Hodder + Partners’ controversial St Michael’s scheme in Manchester for ex-footballers Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs. The new design was produced by London practice Ian Chalk Architects and has been endorsed by both the Manchester Civic Society and the Twentieth Century Society. 
  • Turner Prize-winning practice Assemble has completed the Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art, a retrofit of a public baths boiler house for Goldsmiths College in south-east London. The 1,000m² space opened to the public last weekend with an exhibition by Mika Rottenberg focusing on the precariousness of labour in the globalised workplace – ironically amid ongoing protests against the working conditions of the college’s cleaners. 
  • The Architects Registration Board is proposing increasing its retention fee to help tackle the growing number of firms illegally calling themselves architects. It says a £2 hike could help pay for two new staff members who would raise awareness of the register and tackle any resulting uplift in caseload. This week the main owner of CK Architectural was fined £500 after a 10-month ARB investigation led to his conviction on eight counts of misusing the term ‘architect’.

Simon Aldous’s Weekend Roundup is emailed exclusively to AJ subscribers every Saturday morning. Click here to find out more about our subscription packages

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