Thursday, 12 November 2009

The things they say: the Royal Commonwealth Pool, Edinburgh (updated)*

Pic: Edinburgh Architectural Association , with apologies if it's copyright*

Update 28th December: an article from the Herald. Dreadful headline, decent text:

and useful to note another listing last week.

In at the deep end! *Updated Nov 14th,

to include FREE GIFT, see bottom of the post.

 No 1 in an occasional series of things 'they' say which make me realise why I could never give up alcohol in large quantities, because if I did I might be driven to murder. As it is, it numbs the pain of having to live in the same world as an elected representative who can spout these words, without, apparently, feeling the slightest bit an idiot:
(continued below)

UPDATE 14th November

(No 2 in the series may be sooner than I had intended, I feel the need for  a rant an informed critique re the letters in today's Guardian in response to Jonathan Glancey's article re World Heritage, see blog from Wednesday: 

and today's blog from

Andrew Holmes, it's just as well you have departed as Director Of City Planning, Edinburgh, but your ignorance explains so much...    maybe another blog to explain just how wrong you are...   In the meanwhile, Argyle House might occupy your time for a moment or two, peeps, link at the bottom of the blog - marmite building if ever there was one. Pictures can be found by a google, or from the same site as the Commonwealth Pool pics:

Now  - a horrible lumpen blot  which should not have been built  and which blocks significant views of the castle, the sooner it goes the better, or a carefully crafted building which speaks of its time (conservation b*ll*ckspeak, for the uninitiated in these matters, and oh yes, mea culpa, I spout it  frequently) which should have been listed (it was refused) and should be re-used? Geddes Professorial Honorary Fellow at the Uni,  Embra architect sorry leading Scottish architect, as the press always has it, Malcolm Fraser:

thinks the latter. I know many don't. But then I know others who do agree with him.  Interesting one to think about.

An architect friend of mine (yes yes I do have some!!!), who I hope doesn't mind me quoting, said: seems - largely - to have been thought about in isolation from its context, except the appropriate darkness of the materials, and the quite nice west elevation with the bits of "turd in the plaza" school of public sculpture over the entrances, now very much period pieces...

He wasn't too complimentary about the rest of it.

The comments box is empty, do post your thoughts...)

Anyhow - as you were, and back to the blog post of Thursday:

No 1 in an occasional series of things 'they' say which make me realise why I could never give up alcohol in large quantities, because if I did I might be driven to murder. As it is, it numbs the pain of having to live in the same world as an elected representative who can spout these words, without, apparently, feeling the slightest bit an idiot:

Ian McKee (Lothians) (SNP):

My other gripe about Historic Scotland concerns some of the decisions that it takes to preserve existing buildings. I have argued about how our built heritage must be preserved, but that surely does not mean that every building that is listed must be preserved, as if in aspic, for the rest of time. I cite the example of the Royal Commonwealth pool, which is just across Holyrood Park from the Parliament. The building has been judged by Historic Scotland to be of extreme architectural importance, and has been given a grade 1 listing. However, it is now unfit for purpose as a swimming pool for international events. More important, it cannot be made suitable. Today, international competition requires 10 swimming lanes, and it is physically impossible to widen the building to accommodate more than eight

Now that an upgrade is required, the cost is much higher, and the time for which the pool must be closed is much longer, simply because of the criteria that must be met given Historic Scotland's listing. The building might be of some architectural interest, but I doubt very much that it is high on the lists of things to see for visitors to our capital. Surely it would have been to the greater public good to raze the building to the ground and replace it, at less cost and in less time, with a pool that is fit for purpose for the inhabitants of Scotland in the 21st century.

Official Report 11 November 2009
Scottish Parliament
Debate on Scotland's Historic Environment


*Royal Commonwealth Pool
Dalkeith Road


Architect: Robert Matthew, Johnson-Marshall and Partners

The Royal Commonwealth Pool is an exemplar of late modern movement design. Designed by John Richards of Robert Mathew Johnson Marshall & Partners, it was built in 1967 for the 1970 Commonwealth Games and consists of an Olympic -length pool with diving and learning pools. The external elevations are strongly horizontal, in three diminishing tiers with recessed glazing behind deep fascias, set into and onto the landscape. A bright steel chimney provides a contrasting vertical emphasis. Functionally, the building not only works well, but also provides attractive and interesting internal spaces.

Some very good pictures etc here:
including this one, click on thumbnails to enlarge.

                                                  Pic  c Adrian Welch

As a post-script to this, there is to be a national conference on post-war architecture in Scotland,  November

Is there a place for modern Scottish architecture in our towns and cities?

Press release from Historic Scotland

5 November 2009

Do you have a view on how modern architecture fits into our towns and cities?

Ahead of a conference looking at how we value post war architecture, Historic Scotland is looking for people to contribute their opinions and comments to be addressed by panel of experts.

The conference, Scotland: Building For the Future, will take place at the Bonar Hall at the University of Dundee on Tuesday 24 November 2009. It will be opened by Michael Russell, the Minister for Culture, External Affairs and the Constitution.

Broadcaster Pauline McLean, host of the conference, said: “There's one subject in my brief as BBC Scotland's arts correspondent which is guaranteed to stir up a storm - and that's historic buildings. And when those are post war buildings - with architects still around to argue their motivation - only one thing is guaranteed, opinions are going to be divided. “I'm delighted to be asked to chair this event which I hope will allow for open and robust debate on all aspects of the subject. “

The day will be chaired by Ms McLean and, in addition to speakers from Historic Scotland, the programme includes Raymond Young of Architecture and Design Scotland; Neil Baxter of RIAS; David Page of Page and Park Architects; Miles Glendinning of Edinburgh College of Art and Janet McBain of the National Library of Scotland.

Dr Deborah Mays, Historic Scotland’s Head of Listing and organiser of the conference said: “For many people modern architecture is a subject that can be like marmite – you either love it or hate it. The conference will bring people from across the spectrum to see how we value modern architecture as part of the Scottish landscape.

“We want to hear from anyone with an interest to submit questions for our experts to consider on the day at  It can be a contentious subject and I am very much looking forward to putting some challenging opinions to our panel.”

In addition, Historic Scotland has recently launched a publication on post-war Scottish architecture, which is here as a download:

A recent post-war listing - BHS, Princes Street, Edinburgh, RMJM. And yes I love it, especially the lettering.

One quote from the Edinburgh Evening News, when an article was printed last year suggesting this might be listed:

Leading architect Malcolm Fraser, whose projects include the Scottish Storytelling Centre on the Royal Mile, said not all modernist buildings deserved a bad name.

        Scottish Storytelling Centre

"It's popular for people to look at the 1960s and think everything was rubbish, but we need to understand there are also some good buildings from that time," he said. "If you look along Princes Street, 75 to 90 per cent of the 1960s buildings are dreadful and need to go. But in Scotland we always seem to get rid of the best ones first.

"The 60s caused such damage to Princes Street that a reaction that says 'tear it all down' is understandable. But the materials used in the building were better, and it was done with much more finesse and care than the other 1960s additions to the street.

And a comment under that:

Ian Ross,Edinburgh

The BHS store is like a boil on one's rear end, and is as ugly a building as the St James Centre. They must need their eyes tested. There is NO architectural beauty there at all.

In the eye of the beholder etc etc...

How about:

 Jason L. McKenzie, Moredun

More tiresome bleating about the possibility that something in this damn city built after the 1300s MIGHT actually have some merit in eyes other than those of the bleaters. You might want to live in an ossified theme park. I'm not so keen. Keeping a few good 60s buildings would be a start; getting some striking new architecture into what should be a living developing city would also be good. Or we can just go back to all throwing our crap out of a tenement window, if you prefer.

Indeed. I think this one isn't going to be easily resolved, and Historic Scotland will have a way to go to win all hearts and minds.


Post-script number 2 which explains a little more: Malcolm Fraser in the Scotsman:

Oh Mr Fraser...  maybe another day another blog...

Anyhow, to add that required air of gravitas to the new Geddes Honorary Professory Fellowy person, and all others who aspire to be so, here's a little something to consider:

Click to enlarge, save, print on thin card, cut out, and indeed, wa-lah!  


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