Aberdeen needs some Arbitration, Conciliation and Negotiation to create a winning 21st century civic and cultural centre

The row over the future of Aberdeen’s Union Terrace gardens intensified today with the launch of the public consultation over City Square from Aberdeen City and Shire Economic Future (ACSEF).

On the surface, it looks like leaders in Aberdeen are consulting the public about a vision for regeneration of the city which could combine contemporary art and culture, green space, markets and community and social celebration.  The plans to create a civic square which sympathetically integrates arts and culture as well as the natural beauty and heritage of the site sounds, in the same superficial way, like a good idea.

Respondents to the public survey on the plans to create a civic square in or on Aberdeen’s Union Gardens today are asked to rate their desire for public art, a contemporary arts centre and performing arts.

But ACSEF’s plans will at worst scupper completely the firmly developed and largely funded plans of Peacock Arts to create a contemporary arts centre. Peacock and masses of supporters have campaigned against ACSEF’s development (with 4400 signatures to the petition and  a Facebook Group), as have a third group protesting against the loss of the green heritage.  Peacock Arts’ frustrations are exacerbated by an apparent lack of collaboration between ACSEF and Peacock.

In masterplanning terms, a development on Aberdeen’s Union Gardens could create a new heart to the city and could create a cultural quarter linking His Majesty’s Theatre to the Music Hall through the proposed city square, containing a contemporary arts facility. This could be an economic, social and cultural winner which is likely to need some compromise all round.

Education, Damnation and Salvation are the three imposing granite civic buildings – the Central Library, St Mark’s Church and His Majesty’s Theatre on Rosemount Viaduct which border the gardens.

So surely its time to bring some Arbitration, Conciliation and Negotiation to the process.

  1. While I have never been to Aberdeen, this debate has certainly caught my attention. As an outsider, I have quite mixed feelings about the proposal, and although the proposed public space looks impressive, I think it would be a huge mistake to destroy the drama of the existing topography. It reminds me a little of the gorge that runs through the heart of the city of Luxemburg which I visited many years ago. To level the site would detract from the city’s character. Imagine Edinburgh flattening Arthur’s Seat, or Geneva filling in the lake. Such natural features are the identity of cities.
    From my understanding, the site includes a railway cutting. Surely a sensible compromise would see some valuable space created over the tracks, helping to link different sides of the town, and extend the garden space.
    I am not one to protect and conserve everything for the sake of it and believe that the existing gardens could no doubt be improved with well designed contemporary insertions, and as such, the arts centre proposal should go ahead as a worthwhile addition to the space.
    I look forward to visiting the city one day and seeing the results of this debate.

  2. The key thing is to agree the strategic vision for the overall site, then to begin collaborative working and then for the architectural solution to emerge. While there are so many adversorial positions its hard to see how one ‘side’ will accept another ‘side’s’ solution

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