Sunday, 24 October 2010

Samara in Danger still, St Petersburg & Gazprom update...

... and news of a UK conference on Architectural Preservation in Russia, see below.  

UPDATE: Rowan Moore in the Observer on RMJM, Fred Goodwin, and Gazprom (Okhta) Tower

21st November 2010

Last November I posted a  blog post, From Russia With Love Part 2  outlining the dangers to Samara, and drawing to the attention of readers the launch of a new joint MAPS and  SAVE Europe's Heritage publication about what was happening in that city to destroy its heritage. It made uncomfortable reading, especially the murders of architects and planners.

An extract:


World-launch of the new MAPS/SAVE Europe's Heritage, Samara: Endangered City on the Volga, will take place on 18th November at Pushkin House, London.

This report is the work of a panel of Russian and international experts, and is the first of its kind to tackle the problem of the loss of architectural heritage in the Russian provinces.

The city stands on the banks of the Volga, some 400 miles south east of Moscow. It is home to a wealth of styles from wooden houses with finely carved window frames to, neo-classical, art nouveau, constructivist, industrial and post-war buildings. It is a major Russian city, closed to the West under Communism when it was called Kuibyshev. It was also the city to which Moscow evacuated during the Second World War.

Since the fall of Communism, corruption in Samara has led to the uncontrolled demolition of huge areas of the city, including its delicate system of courtyards. There is massive new construction and planners and architects have been murdered, such is the greed for land and property. Approximately one third of the old city has been destroyed. The report was initiated due to the immediate threat hanging over a Factory Canteen of the Constructivist era, which has a ground plan in the form of a hammer and sickle...

I am pleased  Rowan Moore, architecture writer for the Observer newspaper, has today published an article about his visit to the city, and the continuing problems. Here it is and with it a good gallery of new photographs:

 Please read. 

Please order the book via SAVE

Another view on the Observer article

Here is the excellent chtodelat news (linked to with latest updates on the blog list right) on the Factory Kitchen in Samara, see Rowan Moore's article, built in the shape of  a hammer and sickle:

Where to begin with an update on St Petersburg, RMJM, and the ghastly threat of the Gazprom / Okhta Tower on the World Heritage Site?

Last week, the Irish Times:

and Building Design (via Architectural Record):

Regular readers of this blog will know my opposition to this and I have tried to post relevant news when I can.

A selection of past posts:
Sept 2009

Sept 2009

Oct 2009

A site search will reveal more, and here's a snippet from this post:

Those who really don't give a fuck... and those who do:

Anonymous said...

I was quite close to (a few desks away from) this project as it was being designed - the main (nay, the only) idea that went into it was a slight twist to the tower. Why? Not in reference to the dialectical torsion of Tatlin's tower, oh no, but merely because they'd seen some twisted towers in the latest Blueprint or whatever and thought that they looked pretty snazzy, so might as well rip em off...

So RMJM, what answer have you?

Another snippet from that post (December 2009):

Recently an e-mail pinged into my inbox from St Petersburg, bearing the latest news on the RMJM Gazprom (Okhta) Tower, which is already causing destruction of important archaeology and encountering a great deal of heroic opposition. I have posted a number of times about this, and so won't repeat it all here, simply to point to past posts, describing the violence inflicted on protestors by hired thugs, the manipulation of law and public policy and the apparent unwillingness of RMJM's Tony Kettle to engage with any issues other than the ones which will bring about the desired result for his architecture firm.

The status of St Petersburg as a World Heritage Site is at risk, and there is no doubting UNESCO's deep concern. However, as with Liverpool, Bath and Edinburgh in the UK, and of course Dresden, whose Elbe Valley was struck off the World Heritage list this summer over the building of a particularly brutal bridge and the unwillingness of those responsible to consider any compromise, those who put such status at risk, or bring worries that such status isn't high on the priorities of those who should care more, appear unable to consider that there are always alternatives. Short termism and large egos, blinkered city officials aided by elected representatives with motives which at times seem far removed from the real needs of World Heritage cities and their residents, the desire for fat profits... and Philistinism... all are part, and more besides, of the root of the difficulties. Yes, it's complex, each city will tell you they have to move on, silly phrases about 'setting in aspic' and 'economic development' will be spouted, and those who try to urge caution and work for a better solution are always derided as wishing to hold back 'progress'.

Here from 2009 is Tony Kettle's 'justification' for the Gazprom Tower, as reported in the Architects' Journal:

UNESCO should realise that special sites require a special architectural response, says Kettle

I have been pretty clear in the past about my views on UNESCO’s intervention in RMJM’s Okhta Centre project for Gazprom in St Petersburg, Russia. The plans we have drawn up are for one of the world’s tallest buildings in one of the world’s most horizontal cities, where only special buildings are allowed to break the grain.

These special buildings include 30 churches, the Peter and Paul Cathedral, the Admiralty and the TV tower (which is the height of the Eiffel Tower). Each is special in its own right. A city needs a hierarchy of buildings so that the ordinary and the special work with each other. If every building attempts to be special, then they will all become ordinary; so there needs to be a good reason for a building to be out of the ordinary.

The issue of energy is the central concern of our time and Gazprom, as the largest supplier of energy in eastern Europe, is one of the reasons for Russia’s wealth and rebirth, putting it into the ‘special’ category.

The Okhta Tower must symbolise rebirth for Russia and the city of St Petersburg, while demonstrating that an innovative, low-energy building is possible in the extremes of the Russian climate. UNESCO has never disputed the quality of the design, nor the fact that the tower sits some 6km from the historical centre. But it feels it cannot allow one project to break the city’s height limits, potentially opening the gates to a ‘free-for-all’ of new development in the city. In this case, there is no latitude in its thinking, no allowance made for creation of the ‘special’.

There is more arguing for development, this time in his home city of Edinburgh,  see link, but that gives a flavour.

Well, it just shows if you are making enough cash you can justify anything. RMJM of course gave Sir Fred Goodwin a well-paid job following the banking crash, of which many feel he was in part the architect.

Here's Malcom Fraser on that subject:

Goodwin’s appointment reveals little has been learnt from the crash

January 24th, 2010

The news that the disgraced former chief executive of RBS, Fred Goodwin, has been given a berth at architecture firm RMJM is strangely delicious, like hearing the school bully, who is still treated with respect by too many, has turned-up wearing a BNP badge.

RMJM are, to me, already the epitome of what the ruling business establishment wants from “architecture”. They represent architecture as pure business model, with its crafts base and ethical sense subservient to the business interests of its corporate clients and its production line outputs glammed-up by high-art marketing -– RMJM have already provided a home for architectural “terrible enfant” Will Alsop’s celebrity shape-making bling.

There was a wonderful symmetry to this RMJM/Alsop dream-teaming, and I thought it lacked nothing until I heard this. Of course! What was missing was the application of some neo-liberal financial speculation, leading to proposals for an excitingly-whacky Dubai Formula One business center in every town …

What a fine exemplar of our failure to learn from the 2008 crash, and our monumentally daft hubris over our relationship to our built environment and the world as a whole -– oh, how I tire of those who tell me that “we just need the confidence back”!

So while my heart goes out to my friends who work down the mine at RMJM, and I fear for the application of the RBS business model and the final trashing of a once-great company, I do so enjoy the brazen effrontery of it -– it’s helpful to get these things out in the open.

I’ll try not to think what might happen in the second great crash -– will I have to pay vast RIBA subscriptions to bail out Alsop’s pension.

Instead, I’ll enjoy the sight of turbo-capitalism (on stilts!) eating itself.

Malcolm Fraser is founder of the Edinburgh-based Malcolm Fraser Architects

Well, a great deal has happened in the intervening months, although the World Heritage Committee did not put St Petersburg on the In Danger list at its meeting this summer despite its strongly worded objection to the tower which is on record*.  However,  the tower had not been granted final permission at that point which could be an explanation.

There were reports in the press last week that permission has now been granted, although naturally this is not the end of the matter and the pressure on the Russian authorities to not allow the desecration of the St Petersburg World Heritage skyline is being stepped up by activists in Russia and beyond. It is rumoured that the Russian authorities are trying to have the WHS boundaries redrawn to exclude the area in which the Gazprom Tower is to be built; in or outside the boundary will not, however, prevent the skyline being spoiled, and the archaeological destruction which has already begun on the site.

 Edinburgh activists saw off the threat to the World Heritage Site skyline by the Haymarket Tower, situated outside the WH boundary, and it gives some small hope for St Petersburg.

However, although political shenanigans and planning is nothing new to Edinburgh, naturally it all pales beside the goings on in Russia.

Last week I heard from a friend in St Petersburg, and I feel this latest news deserves a wider audience. I therefore post here an edited extract from an e-mail, there is nothing quite as good as hearing from those closely involved in the struggle first-hand:

It's not all as simple and straightforward as the BD article (most of which has just been copy-pasted from Sergey Chernov's article about the rally in the St Petersburg Times) makes it seem.

Although they got one thing right: Glavgosekspertiza is "understood" to have issued the positive ruling only because  Vladimir Gronsky (the prototype for the main character in the Chto Delat film) and his PR team at the Okhta Center company immediately began braying about the decision (and well before Saturday), but as far as I know, no one at Glavgosekpertiza itself has confirmed this news.

Meanwhile, the culture minister, Avdeev, stated that if such a decision was taken, it was "technical" -- that is, it doesn't address the "political" and/our conservation aspects of the project. Avdeev again expressed his opposition to the tower in the wake of this alleged decision.

People in the anti-tower coalition are tentatively planning legal challenges against the decision because they suspect that it didn't address the historical preservation question (as, apparently, it should have).

By the way, the rally wasn't a response to the decision: it had been planned in advance, although some of the organizers suspected the decision might be issued round the same time.

The Irish Times piece... is much closer to the truth, although I suspect that their reporter doesn't understand just how close. First of all, just last week, Medvedev finally made a direct statement (i.e., not via press secretaries) that in its own roundabout way did suggest he was opposed to the tower.

But this is just a reiteration of Medvedev's previous, much more carefully mooted stance. The really interesting thing is a revelation made by Anton Glikin, a Russian-born, US-based architect (I recall he had an essay in that pamphlet on historic preservation in Petersburg that MAPS published), during a series of lectures on the topic that he gave last week in Petersburg. During the Q&A after one of the lectures, Glikin recounted a conversation he'd recently had with an unnamed architect at RMJM in London, who allegedly told Glikin that all along they've been receiving secret memoranda from Putin telling them not to worry, that the tower would be built, etc.

A reporter from the local business daily Delovoi Peterburg was there and filed this article:

Here is my translation of the relevant passages (the first three paragraphs) from this article:

"Vladimir Putin every month sends secret memoranda to the architectural firm RMJM London containing his commentary on the Okhta Center project," American architect Anton Glikin publicly announced during the architectural conference "New Architecture in the Center of Petersburg," which took place the other day in the House of the Architect in Petersburg.

According to [Glikin], he was informed about the premier's close attention to the skyscraper project by an architect at RMJM London (the designers of Okhta Center) during a recent face-to-face meeting in London. Such claims about the premier's passion for the project are especially curious in the light of Russian Federation president Dmitry Medvedev's recent statements about Okhta Center.

During the conference [...] the issues of the Okhta Center project and the architectural look of Petersburg as a whole provoked a lively discussion amongst architects and government representatives. "The Okhta Center project is being lobbied by the high authorities, and KGIOP [Municipal Committee for State Monitoring, Use and Preservation of Monuments] supports it," said Anton Glikin in yet another blunt claim. "Under the committee's leadership, a massive destruction of the urban environment is taking place."

Now  "on the record" (as opposed to in his secret memos to RMJM) Putin has stated time and again that it's up to the local authorities to decide ("in accordance with the law") whether to build the  tower or not. Not that anyone in their right mind actually believed this, however. So if you have any journalists you'd like to "leak" this to, or if you'd like to post it on your own blog or the WHC discussion board, go right ahead....

So I have. And if anyone reading this would like to know more. my e-mail is on my profile.

My friend continues:

Even without WHS, Petersburg should be protected by any number of local and federal laws, as well as federal and municipal protection agencies like ... KGIOP. Instead, the city is being destroyed, often in violation of these laws and most always with the blessing of city authorities, including KGIOP officials. So WHS is actually not a "last ditch" defense against anything at all.

This is the problem with "international law" in general. If it is to mean anything, it has to be enforceable in some sense. Or, at least, there has to be some way of punishing state parties who violate it, if only by excluding them from the bodies organized to monitor observance of these laws. Russia is hardly alone among the violators, of course, but the "constructive engagement" approach often just leads to violators' being able to maintain a veneer of respectability while continuing to engage with perfect immunity in the offensive practices back on the home front.

... By not acting more vigorously, Unesco is complicit in the destruction of Petersburg. It actually has nothing to lose by stating unequivocally that the city will be stripped of WHS if the tower is built. This would not "free the hands" of developers and corrupt bureaucrats to engage in even more destruction, because as it is they do more or less as they please.

Here are three tiny, current examples to back my case.

Yesterday, Living City and other coalition members held a rally against the planned demolition of the so-called Jurgens House, a residential building constructed in the 19th century by Emmanuel Jurgens, a very prominent and prolific architect of the period. A "developer" got hold of the building a few years ago, and as in so many other cases of this sort, they got the necessary "expertise" from the ... Tatyana Slavina Architectural Bureau (who specialize in this aiding and abetting of destruction) -- the building (of course!) was "dilapidated" and could thus be demolished to make way for a six-storey office building with underground parking. (it's no different in this country... Nem)

Journalist Sergey Chernov has a photo reportage from the rally here:

What you might find of interest among the photos there are the images of the info stands Living City set up for the event (although you won't be able to read them). One is entitled "Охранные зоны: кольцо сжимается" ("Preservation zones: the ring is closing"), which shows the effects of the new preservation laws lobbied by KGIOP and passed by the city in 2009/2010. Basically, these new laws already constitute violations of the city's WHS, and as the explanatory text notes, the WHC has allegedly rejected this attempt at "renomination" of the city (has it?) via this shrinking of the protected districts.

After the rally (held in Mayakovsky Square), the demonstrators headed to the Jurgens House itself, which you see in the final shots in Sergey's post. Yes, it looks awfully modest, but it's the hundreds and thousands of buildings like this that make Petersburg Petersburg, not just the spectacular palaces. In local parlance, they're called "rank-and-file" or "background" architecture, but you get rid of them and you get rid of Petersburg.

And as Living City makes perfectly on the text of the stand, by all rights they should be protected. But in real life they aren't.

Here is another case that typifies how the city is being destroyed while the bureaucrats stuff their wallets. This is from the blog of Dmitry Ratnikov, a journalist from the newspaper Sankt-Peterburgski vedomosti and runs the invaluable Internet-newspaper Karpovka.Ru, which is a fairly dense chronicle of news on the topic (Ratnikov often breaks stories that everyone else would have missed this way):

Here he's bringing attention to the fact that (probably illegal) mansard storeys are being built onto the Ziegel clock factory, a truly lovely (and unique) turn-of-the-century brick complex not far from our house. This sort of "mansardization," as it's called, is going on at a feverish pace in the central districts. It is a way for developers to get round the slightly thornier task of demolishing buildings to make way for new construction. However, it has become such a plague that local legislative deputy Alexei Kovalyov (one of the activists of the famous "Salvation Group" from the early perestroika period) has recently sent an official inquiry to the city administration, asking them to explain how so many permits have been issued for such construction, which in most cases also violates preservation and zoning laws.

Finally, after destruction of or "improvements" to old buildings, we have the plague of infill construction, especially in allegedly protected parks and squares. Here is a short report on TV100 about the Lopukhinsky Garden where the battle is apparently lost. One of the city's most notorious development companies, RBI, led by ...Eduard Tiktinsky (quoted on camera in the report; he once famously suggested that the problem with green spaces in the city could be solved by building "gardens" on the tops of new buildings). They somehow got hold of a big chunk of the Garden to build a high-rise hotel. Unfortunately, the resistance in the neighborhood boiled down only to several flashy public actions. It was left to the Norway-based environmental organization Bellona (which has a branch in Petersburg that became famous in the nineties when its then-director, Alexander Nikitin, was arrested for "espionage" for reporting how Russia was disposing of its scrapped nuclear subs in the Murmansk region) to file a last-minute court challenge against the project because no one else could be bothered to do it for some reason. Last week, the court ruled against Bellona. So now TV100 has presented the horror that will ensure in the garden as fait accompli.

Also at issue here is the old rowing and boating club that has its facilities on the river that runs along one edge of the park.

My point is that one could multiply these examples in four categories -- destruction of old, allegedly protected buildings; "reconstruction" (including "mansardization") of old buildings, which also violates preservation laws; infill construction in parks and squares (also mostly illegal); and construction of high-rises that violate either zoning laws per se and/or the WHS, which also protects the historic skyline -- and thus make an ironclad case against city officials without even once referencing the Okhta Center project. "Vigorous" opposition has in part crystallized round the tower only because everyone realizes that if it is allowed to be built, that will mean certain doom for the city. Which is being destroyed as it is.

Not cheering news, and for those with an interest here is news of a forthcoming conference in the UK on the subject of architectural preservation and destruction in Russia. Speakers include Dr Glikin, see above.

Global Aspiration and Pastiche Identity: Architectural Preservation in Russia

Inter-disciplinary conference, to be held at Queen Mary, University of London on 6-7 November 2010, Mile End Road, Arts G34.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, major Russian cities have been undergoing rapid development, which has led to unprecedented destruction of the architectural heritage. Owing to the practice of replacing historical buildings with modern structures built in concrete and disguised by a mock facade in historical style, the cityscape of the Russian capital increasingly looks like a theme park. This conference convenes an international group of academics and preservationists to investigate the historical context of this crisis, examine current practices, and identify opportunities for future action. It is hoped that through an inter-disciplinary dialogue, the historical roots of attitudes regarding architectural preservation in Russia can be revealed.

The conference is organized by Prof. Andreas Schnle at Queen Mary, University of London and Prof. Catriona Kelly at New College, University of Oxford.

For further information, including the conference programme, and registration, please see here:

Sponsored by New College, University of Oxford; Queen Mary, University of London; GB-Russia Society; and BASEES.

Registration by 29 October 2010.

To read more about the issues facing heritage in Russia you may be interested in two  reports published by SAVE Europe's Heritage in association with the Moscow Architectural Preservation Society (MAPS) on Moscow and Samara.

 *Strong words from UNESCO (really, this is as bad as it gets):

33COM 7B.118 - Historic Centre of Saint Petersburg and Related Groups of Monuments (Russian Federation) (C 540)

Decision Text

The World Heritage Committee,

1. Having examined Document WHC-08/33.COM/7B.Add,
2. Recalling Decision 32COM 7B.105, adopted at its 32nd session (Quebec City, 2008),
3. Regrets that the State Party did not provide a state of conservation report, or a draft Statement of Outstanding Universal Value;
4. Notes with concern, that the maps provided by the State Party define boundaries that include a significantly smaller area than that inscribed, and encourages the State Party to submit formally a significant boundary modification (according to Paragraph 165 of the Operational Guidelines) to allow the Committee to consider this issue;
5. Also notes with concern that the buffer zone proposed does not extend to encompass the landscape setting of the property and in particular the panorama along the Neva River, and requests the State Party to reconsider this buffer zone and submit it formally to the World Heritage Centre;
6. Reiterates its request to the State Party to develop, in consultation with the World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS, a draft Statement of Outstanding Universal Value, for examination by the World Heritage Committee;
7. Expresses again its grave concern that the proposed "Ohkta Centre Tower" could affect the Outstanding Universal Value of the property, and requests the State Party to suspend work on this project and submit modified designs, in accordance with federal legislation and accompanied by an independent environmental impact assessment;
8. Also expresses its grave concern about the continuous lack of a leading management system and defined mechanisms of coordination for the management of the property;
9. Also requests the State Party to invite a joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS reactive monitoring mission to the Historic Centre of Saint Petersburg and Related Groups of Monuments to assess the state of conservation of the property;
10. Further requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2010, a state of conservation report for the property that addresses the above points for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 34th session in 2010, with a view to consider, in the absence of substantial progress, to inscribe the Historic Centre of Saint Petersburg and related Groups of Monuments (Russian Federation) on the List of the World Heritage in Danger at its 34th session 2010.This, and all associated documents, can be read here:

Russian Federation

Date of Inscription: 1990Criteria: (i)(ii)(iv)(vi)St. Petersburg regionN59 57 00 E30 19 06Ref: 540

Brief Description

The 'Venice of the North', with its numerous canals and more than 400 bridges, is the result of a vast urban project begun in 1703 under Peter the Great. Later known as Leningrad (in the former USSR), the city is closely associated with the October Revolution. Its architectural heritage reconciles the very different Baroque and pure neoclassical styles, as can be seen in the Admiralty, the Winter Palace, the Marble Palace and the Hermitage.


Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Sustainable housing, sustainable communities, Scotland

                               Pic: Malcolm Fraser Architects

"Good Homes, Good Jobs and Good Neighbourhoods.”

Nicely alliterative headings there. Can't say I don't try for a bit of wider culcha in me blog.

Anyhow,  post to say warmest congratulations to Malcolm Fraser Architects for the win in the  Scottish Sustainable Communities Initiative (SSCI) Design Ideas Competition, which was run by the Scottish Government in partnership with Assets Ltd.  It is  Whitecross, Linlithgow, on the site of a former brickworks.

Here is the background:

and the whole ethos and planned community sounds remarkable. Let's hope it all happens and does become an exemplar.

At the competition launch in June, the press publicity said that it was to seek 'a new Scottish vernacular' which seemed a contradiction in terms:

Scottish Government Sustainable Housing Ideas Competition

As part of the Scottish Government’s Scottish Sustainable Communities Initiative (SSCI) the RIAS is managing a design competition based around the SSCI exemplar site at Whitecross, near Linlithgow. The competition, launched today, seeks housing and urban design proposals that combine high levels of sustainability and reductions in carbon emissions with a sensitive response to place and context.

It is expected that design proposals will reflect a ‘new vernacular’ for Scottish architecture that demonstrates how environmentally-sensitive designs might influence both the architecture and urban layout of contemporary development. “I look forward to seeing high-quality and creative responses developed for Scotland. What is different about this competition is that designs, while inspiring and innovative, must be realistic and commercially viable. Designing original and inventive buildings that can be realised and replicated is a vital element in supporting the construction sector to deliver the low-carbon communities that Scotland needs.”

I am delighted that the winner in fact does appear to be informed by the past while certainly being of the 21st century.  Lovely. Look forward to learning more in due course, in the sure and certain hope that there is an afterlife re the current housing hiatus, and that all goes forward and gets built. Timber and zinc are featured, both very sustainable materials and ones which look good in urban, suburban and rural settings.

I felt on the whole the MFA houses, a detached and a pair of semis, were the most easily livable in designs at the Scottish Housing Expo; it seems the wider public also thought so and in the public vote for 'favourite house' a Malcolm Fraser Architects' design, the catchily named House NS came top:

Click on pics to enlarge

followed by HLM Architects' Passive House:

and Rural Design, based on the Isle of Skye ('rural design for the Scottish countryside' ) Secret Garden :

whose 'contemporary buildings for rural places' I hugely admire, and was delighted to see 15 Fiscavaig win in the 2010 Saltire Awards:

We were delighted to be awarded the inaugural Saltire Medal, at a ceremony in Edinburgh on the 13th September. The medal was presented  by Chairman of the Jury, and World Architect of the Year John McAslan.

The award was for our project at 15 Fiscavaig on the West Coast of Skye.

McAslan said: ‘The Medal winner, Fiscavaig, stood out for its innovative use of materials and design which took account of its surroundings and setting.

The standard of architecture being produced in Scotland is truly world class and Fiscavaig is a perfect example.

I can only concur; Scotland at its best is producing wonderful architects and architecture (and yes plenty of rubbish also, see previous blog, but let's celebrate success) and it does need shouting from the rooftops. If only the Londoncentric architecture writers for the UK press would leave their cosy enclaves and write a little more about the rest of the UK, and if only Scotland would stop feeling it has to run 'international design competitions' and give the best spots to  Big Names like Hadid and Holl and encourage its own... but I digress and will stop ranting.

Here are pics of all the shortlisted designs for the 2010 Saltire Housing Awards:

and results

and an Urban Realm report on the Whitecross competition here with decent sized images of the five shortlisted entries:

and here:

Very strong shortlist of five whittled down from an initial forty-one entries.

I have blogged before and no doubt will again re the problems I perceive of a retro regressive approach to design, which Scotland is embracing in part with Prince Charles developments and Duany masterplans.

I appreciate Mr Duany's masterplans could be carried out with contemporary designs, but, alas, the 'codes' which accompany them seem to be  a wishful-thinking return to a past 'vernacular' based  on watching too much Disney.

Therefore the competition in association with the Scottish Government, and shortlisted five practices' designs, demonstrate that quality and sustainability allied to attractive places to live can be achieved without resorting to the  ill-digested 'paraphenalia of the past pastiche n pediments' school of design.

Here's the official press blurb:

Result of Whitecross Design Competition

As part of the Scottish Government's Scottish Sustainable Communities Initiative (SSCI) RIAS Consultancy, from the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, has been managing a Design Ideas Competition for a proposed sustainable housing development at Whitecross in West Lothian.

The competition sought design idea proposals from registered architects, working in partnership with developers/housebuilders, for a proposed low carbon community at Whitecross, near Linlithgow. The Whitecross project has been selected as an exemplar project by the Scottish Government as part of the SSCI.

Forty-one pre qualification submissions were received and a shortlist of five was selected by the judging panel. The shortlisted practices were (listed alphabetically):

- Elder & Cannon Architects Ltd

- Gareth Hoskins Architects Ltd

- HTA Architects Ltd

- Malcolm Fraser Architects Ltd

- RMJM Scotland Ltd.

These practices prepared proposals for the judges to assess in association with interviews held on 14th October 2010. Images of the submissions can be viewed on the RIAS website

It is proposed that the shortlisted competition entries will be on public display for viewing at the Urban Room at the ground floor of Edinburgh City Council offices at Waverley Court. Further details of dates and times for viewing will be released soon.

RIAS Consultancy is pleased to announce that the winner is Malcolm Fraser Architects.

Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop said,

“The delivery of high-quality sustainable housing is at the heart of what this Government wants for communities across Scotland. The SSCI design competition has illustrated the depth of design talent in Scotland, with the five short-listed practices presenting bold and challenging architecture.

“I am delighted that all of the submissions demonstrate high-quality and creative solutions, taking account of commercial viability and responding to the particular requirements of the Whitecross site. These solutions showcase how innovative responses can help deliver places of real and enduring value in a time when the economic backdrop forces us all to be more resourceful.

“The winning team of Malcolm Fraser Architects has submitted an original and innovative proposal that I hope will be an important exemplar for the design and construction sector and help deliver low-carbon communities and sustainable economic growth for Scotland.”

The Chair of the judging panel, David Page of Page \ Park Architects, said,

“A strong shortlist of architecture and development teams competed for the first phase of development of the community extension for the village of Whitecross. Working to the masterplan conceived by Cadell2 the five consortia explored variations on the themes of creating a new sense of place on the site of a former brickworks near Linlithgow working to the brief of providing homes to meet the 2013 building regulations with their requirement for a 40% reduction in CO2 production. This Scottish Government initiative with Morston Developments is one of a number to lift the standard of place making and energy efficiency of new communities.

Elder and Cannon Architects enthused the jury with their sense of crafted place through the synthesis of courtyard typology and earthy brick materiality overlaid the CCG prefabricated timber frame technology.

HTA‟s partnership with Dualchas promoted a modular plan and sectional typology explored through their innovative work in the west coast of Scotland uniquely fused here with HTA‟s community based initiatives to promote community ownership of streets and public spaces.

RMJM boldly reconceptualised the masterplan with the identification of a wide variety of house typologies and settings to deliver a closer linkage between the existing village and proposed new settlement extension.

Gareth Hoskins Architects‟ careful reworking of the masterplan with Crudens was commended by the jury for its manipulation of a modular frame system to create a variety of street settings that would quickly establish a sense of contemporary place".

First place was awarded to Malcolm Fraser Architects with Stewart Milne Homes for development of themes explored at nearby Bo‟ness and more recently at the Scotland‟s Housing Expo. This consisted here of groupings of housing arranged around a sequence of courts and rows linked by a pedestrian spine stretching from the masterplan proposed civic garden in the north down to the river woodland walk to the south. Clever manipulation of the building typologies adapted to the Cadell2 masterplan through adaptation of Stewart Milne Homes‟ prefabricated timber frame systems with innovative suggestions to the commercial development of the anchoring High Street.”

David Dodge, Chief Executive, Morston Assets Ltd said,

“We are delighted that our vision for Yours Whitecross has generated such exciting high quality proposed design solutions throughout this competition. The key focus of the „Yours‟ brand is that the homes are sustainable in both design and use, are built within home zone layouts and facilitate home working and entrepreneurialism. We believe that this has been achieved by all of those shortlisted and was especially apparent in the winning entry. We look forward to delivering a truly sustainable community at Whitecross which delivers Good Homes, Good Jobs and Good Neighbourhoods.”


Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Festering sores and parapets

It's difficult at times to raise a head above a parapet and speak out about something you feel is wrong; it's especially difficult when it involves crticism of fellow professionals, but there are occasions  it has to be done if you can look yourself in the eye in the mirror in the morning.

So well done Jon-Marc Creaney of GCA Architecture + Design Glasgow!/scarpadog/

for penning this piece for the STV News Airdrie website, about the new Community Health Centre undergoing construction.

I hope he and STV don't mind me stealing the text and his photographs. There's not a lot to disagree with in what he says. However, is it too late to stop this? And in a wider view what on earth is the purpose of Architecture + Design Scotland  if a damning Design Review results in no change to the plans?

Airdrie Community Health Centre

Local architect Jon-Marc Creaney gives STV Airdrie his view about the development of the Airdrie Community Health Centre
13 October 2010

In 2000, Airdrie gained the dubious honour of winning the Carbuncle Cup for being the most dismal town in Scotland.

Ten years on, huge sums of money have been invested in the town, millions on streetscape improvements, the award-winning and environmentally accredited business centre has been constructed, and the oldest church in Airdrie , Old Wellwynd, which lay empty for fifteen years, has been rescued and re-used through conversion into a modern community facility.

Airdrie’s problems are shared with many places in Scotland; it is a former industrial town struggling to find a new identity in tough economic times, and it is a victim of poor planning and design decisions of the past few decades.

At the time it was given the Carbuncle Award, the accompanying statement was clear: This is not a criticism of the people of Airdrie, it is a criticism of the professionals who decide what does and does not happen.

This is why I feel strongly enough, as a local architect, to voice my concerns over what I perceive as a fresh mistake, the recently commenced Airdrie Community Health Centre.

The Health Centre is a welcome major investment of £27million; it will provide a wide range of primary care and community-based services under one roof in the heart of Airdrie, and bringing these services together is an opportunity to breathe further life into the town centre.

The problem begins, however, and this is where I see history repeating itself, and the potential for future criticism of the professionals involved, in the design of the proposed new building. I feel this is misconceived, in terms of a lack of civic presence, a failure of integration with the town centre, and visual appearance.

I understand fully issues of budget and design constraints in the delivery of a building of this type; however, in a building of such importance to the regeneration of the town, I believe there is a duty amongst design professionals to stick our heads above the parapet, difficult though this is, and question exactly what is being built.

The design of this building has gone through a rigorous planning process and a design assessment carried out by the government official body Architecture and Design Scotland; yet the comments and recommendations made by A&DS in its report, which heavily criticise the proposals for a lack of civic presence, have been paid barely lip service in the final design.

The architects claim, on their website, that they are a team ‘driven by design excellence’, and they are indeed an award-winning practice.

I have no doubt they will be working to a tight budget, on a challenging site, to a demanding brief. All this will have to be delivered for a ridiculously low fee. However, all this should not prevent appropriate design considerations to be a priority.

The façade of the proposed building includes large amounts of white render.This a fundamental mistake for a building situated where it is proposed; one only has to look at the problems of this material at Glasgow’s Homes of the Future, Glasgow Green, to understand the inherent difficulties posed by white render in the Scottish climate in a building situated next to a busy roundabout.

It will soon shed its bright new image and become very grimy indeed.

In addition, the facades are featureless and bland, a nod to modernism without any of its soul, and a repeat of why Scotland has so few really good modern buildings.

There is little articulation or sense of what this building could be. No doubt the designers could argue there is little local context to draw on, but that is no excuse to build something as architecturally uninspiring as the lump being torn down to make way for the new.

This building should be an exemplar of what Airdrie could achieve in future and allow it to finally shake off its Carbuncle image.

The new building does nothing to enhance or engage with the streetscape, and it turns its back on Graham Street; these issues have been raised during the design process so there is no excuse for the decision makers if this goes wrong.

I believe architects have a responsibility to the wider built environment and should not consider their designs in isolation. They should be brave enough to question the brief, to explore alternative approaches to present to clients to demonstrate how buildings can work better as part of a holistic solution rather than merely providing an envelope to house the brief.

There is a wider question of the purpose of a Design Review; why bother, if comments made are not acted upon?

A building of this civic importance should be designed as an integral part of what will become the Conservation Area of the centre of Airdrie, and designed to stand many decades into the future.

As things are, it will be lucky if it survives as long as its 1960s predecessor.

Here is the Design Assessment report from A+DS April 2009


This report relates to proposals submitted for Planning Approval for a development of a retail and primary care facility in Airdrie town centre. A+DS carried out an earlier Design Assessment through our Health Programme, in conjunction with the building developers, NHS Lanarkshire and the Local Authority. The Assessment report was issued on 13th November 2008 and was forwarded to the Planning Authority for guidance.

Our comments are based on a desk top analysis of the information in discussion with a member of the original A+DS Design Assessment panel and with reference to the previous Design Assessment Report.

A+DS Views

1.0 General Comments

1.1 We support the principle of locating public facilities in the centre of Airdrie, providing a major new public building and helping to reactivate the town centre.

1.2 When the design was previously assessed, our report raised a number of issues including: the lack of an entrance to the Health Centre from Graham Street; poor quality of the surrounding public spaces, particularly along the west side of the building; a confusing and functionally difficult internal layout; and a lack of a confident or unified expression in the external form.

1.3 We welcome the process of reviewing the proposals and some amendments in the submitted scheme, particularly the inclusion of a public entrance to Graham Street, and some improvements to internal wayfinding and the quality of some public areas. However, there are still a number of issues which we feel need to be addressed.

2.0 Wider Context

2.1 Community Context and Development

This part of Airdrie is set for significant change, with the development of the rail station and improvements to retail and community developments on this and adjacent sites. This important public building should become an integral part of the vision for the town. We previously recommended that the Council develop a strategic framework for spatial development and the public realm across the broader area, considering the location and nature of public routes and spaces, within which the designs for this site can be developed. If this opportunity is not taken at this stage then the town could lose the opportunities that come with the planned new developments, potentially resulting instead in a series of dislocated interventions.

2.2 Urban analysis / design statement

We note that a Design Statement has not been included in the referred documents. Without this, or an analysis of the urban grain and fabric, it is not possible to assess how the building and surrounding spaces will integrate with the town, or how design principles have been applied. There is not sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the current designs will best use the opportunities available to achieve a high standard of development.

2.3 Urban Design

2.3.1. Entrance Strategy

We welcome the introduction of an entrance to the Health Centre from Graham Street, and the omission of the overly prominent escape stair at the north east corner. However we note that the south entrance from the car park, which has been retained with a projecting lobby, still reads as the most significant. In contrast, the new entrance to the major public space to the north is smaller and recessed. Neither entrance has the sense of occasion or spatial generosity that one would expect from the entrances to a major public facility.

2.3.2. Building footprint / Lane along West side of building

We believe that there are significant opportunities to activate the areas around the building by modifications to the building line, particularly along the north and east sides. These improvements to the quality of the public realm would create a more attractive area for retailers and shoppers, maximizing the benefit of the increased footfall generated by the Health Centre. These spaces should be used to clearly direct the public to the Health Centre entrances and link into the other routes through the town.

The pedestrian access along the west elevation, which is currently a narrow and hostile alley, is also a well used route to the shopping area, and will be even more so once the Health Centre is open and the station upgraded. We acknowledge that some improvements are now proposed that address some problems of this route, with the public realm works now extended into this area. However the lane itself is still ungenerous: the addition of 600mm to the width is not really ‘significant’ as stated, and the cross section remains tight, meaning that the lane is still likely to be overshadowed and unwelcoming.

2.3.3. Form and surface of the building

The elevations have been rationalised and are more unified than previously, but this has been to the extent that they have become faceless, and still lack civic presence. We welcome the larger areas of glazing where waiting and circulation spaces have been brought to the exterior providing animation to the street. However, we feel that there are considerable opportunities to lend the building greater articulation by celebrating the entrances to the Health Centre which, particularly at Graham Street, currently appear highly underplayed. The Design Team should be more ambitious in aiming to achieve a far more confident expression to give the building a greater civic presence in line with its important public role.

There is potential for creating additional life on surrounding streets by the provision on the ground floor of shop units and the Council Social Work facility, where there are currently blank facades. However, we remain concerned that the proposals for these frontages will not necessarily create the activation as well as they should, given the unit layouts and elevations. We note the frontages appear likely to be made from standard commercial shopfronts with some areas closed off, and we would like to see a more imaginative approach that contributes positively to the streets. We have particular concerns about the introduction of the long dark brick wall along most of the east side pavement which prevents any overlooking and invites vandalism. We would suggest looking at other more varied facade proposals to resolve the issue of blank side walls to shop units facing Graham Street. Similarly we recommend solutions that can add real animation, better than using advertising panels, to deal with their side walls onto the lane, e.g. opening up the entrance lobbies visually to this side as well.

3.0 Internal Design

3.1 Plan layout in relation to entrances

There have been a number of improvements in the proposed layout, but it is still potentially confusing for many users of the building, particularly those who are not familiar with it. The inclusion of a central reception point on each floor, adjacent to the daylit open central court, is welcome, but has significant problems in being located away from the vertical circulation / entrances on the corners on the east side. There will be issues for many visitors in needing to be directed to it and then navigating the building to other receptions elsewhere. We note that staff-only areas in the north east on each floor can still only be accessed through other practice areas, which we understand need to be locked down individually.

3.2 Use of Courtyard

The central courtyard is inaccessible and isolated, and is unlikely to be a pleasant environment for rooms to look out onto. We believe that the courtyard could be better used. We are aware of similar facilities where the design has been able to resolve the demands of circulation and privacy to create a usable and pleasant place that also aids in wayfinding, daylighting and ventilation. Again, we believe that a more imaginative approach to the entrance and internal plan arrangements could achieve this, with a minimal loss of ground floor commercial area and large gains in usability.

3.3 Circulation and waiting spaces

We welcome the relocation of some waiting areas to the external facade, allowing natural light and views. However, several other waiting areas, and the majority of corridors, remain entirely internal, resulting in poor quality spaces and a lack of legibility or opportunities for orientation from within them.

3.4 Connection to Social Work offices

We note that there does not appear to be a fully accessible connection between the Social Work offices on the Ground Floor and the Health Centre above. We acknowledge that there is no current requirement for this link. However, we suggest that the inclusion of such a connection could produce great potential benefits for future flexibility and the integrated functioning of these facilities.

4.0 Sustainability

We note the intention to achieve a BREEAM rating of ‘Excellent’ but are not clear how this will be achieved. Several occupied rooms remain entirely internal, and so will be reliant on mechanical ventilation and artificial light, with implications on build and running costs and carbon emissions. There are still opportunities that could be exploited by using the central courtyard, which would allow it to contribute to both natural daylighting and the ventilation strategy within the building, and assist in achieving the ambitious targets set.


We support the project in its aspiration to improve accessibility to services and in the potential of enlivening the town centre. This initiative presents a unique opportunity for the town to acquire a building and public space of civic presence and which will set the standards for surrounding developments. As currently presented the proposals do not demonstrates that this will be achieved. We encourage the Design Team to continue to develop the designs, to match the aspirations and commitments given in the Council’s own guidance ‘Designing North Lanarkshire’, the Scottish Government’s ‘Designing Places’ and the ‘Policy on Design Quality for NHS Scotland’.

We believe there are opportunities that can be taken to achieve a project of a standard that will help promote a vision for improvements in the town centre and enhance the lives of the people of Airdrie. We look forward to having the opportunity to comment on a revised scheme in the future.

Airdrie: Elevations

What has been altered as a result of that damning report? Not a great deal it appears.

Is it too late to do anything other than gnash teeth?


Sad, but so many professionals involved in this, and it seems that lessons have still not been learned from 2000:

At the time it was given the Carbuncle Award, the accompanying statement was clear: This is not a criticism of the people of Airdrie, it is a criticism of the professionals who decide what does and does not happen.

Airdrie, futher picture gallery:

Airdrie Town Trail:

Old Wellwynd Church:


Monday, 4 October 2010

Cake, architecture, Edinburgh World Heritage site, poems.

The Scottish Poetry Library,  Edinburgh: Malcolm Fraser Architects

OK maybe you will disagree with the order of importance in the heading,  but Thursday 7th October 2010 is National Poetry Day.


To mark the occasion, the Scottish Poetry Library  @ByLeavesWeLive on Twitter, which I think (well actually I know!) is my favourite post-war building, is hosting a tea party (cake!!!) at 3pm.

Tea, cake, and poetry (theme of Home) in one of Edinburgh World Heritage Site's  most iconic 20th century buildings (for the cognoscenti dahlings...) is my idea of bliss.

Cake, photo my copyright not to be reproduced without permission

I hope to be there, I hope you will be there also.

Right, the links.

Scottish Poetry Library

Thursday 7th October, we’ll be stopping for tea at 3pm. Although we are keen tea-drinkers, this particular tea party will be for a Higher Purpose (oh yes!) and we invite you all to join us in celebrating National Poetry Day with a cup of warming tea and a poem about our theme, ‘home.’ You can join in by coming along to our tea party at the library at 3pm, by stopping to read a poem about home wherever you are, or by tweeting @PoetryDayUK or @ByLeavesWeLive.

Postcards will be available by post from the SPL (send us a self-addressed ordinary letter size envelope with 1st or 2nd class stamp marked NPD 2010), to pick up at the SPL, and online as e-cards from 7th October. Postcards will be available from lots of other places around the country: email us at to find yours.

It’s been all hands on deck this week in the build up to National Poetry Day, particularly for our Reader Development Officer, Lilias Fraser, and our Education Officer, Lorna Irvine. Postcard orders for schools have now closed, resources for teachers and education professionals are up on GLOW (look for a national group called ‘poetry’) and everyone at the library would like to thank them for their hard work with a cup of tea, coffee or Earl Grey… how’s 3pm, Thursday 7th October?

Malcolm Fraser Architects

I look on this building as a poem that we've made together, composed from light, view, rhythm, embrace, movement, gathering, colour, texture and metaphor to express the joy of poetry, and optimism for its future within our culture.

Malcolm Fraser

Designed by Malcolm Fraser Architects, the building was financed principally by a grant from the Scottish Arts Council National Lottery Fund. The Scottish Poetry Library has won several awards, and was shortlisted for Channel 4's Building of the Year 2000.

As well as general reading and study sections, it has facilities for listening and performing, and special children's and members' areas.

Edinburgh World Heritage

A national celebration of poetry in a fantastic building in one of the most wonderful of cities. All this and cake too. How much more bliss can life hold?


A selection of past posts on similar subect matter: