Marischal Square: shouldn't we aim a bit higher?

It’s probably inevitable that the unveiling of the design for the proposed Marischal Square in the centre of Aberdeen has provoked so many negative comments in the press.

In the wake of the furore about cancelling the City Gardens Project, the new council leadership promised us something better. This gave rise to hopes of a suitably grand city square in front of Marischal College, to restore a sense of civic pride.

Now that the Marischal Square plans have gone on view, there is an inevitable sense of disappointment.

Previous plans for a civic square opposite Marischal College showed just that – a civic square opposite Marischal College. The plans that are on show at Aberdeen Art Gallery show an open area in front of Marischal College that looks like a broad street. Well, at least that is appropriate to the name!

Provost Skene's House ┬ęK McEwen
Provost Skene’s House was surrounded by St Nicholas House and deserves to be featured better

In place of the 1967 nondescript St Nicholas House office block, the new development is made up of newer office blocks. Opposite Marischal College they actually look to be taller than the buildings they replace!

Is this really progress?

My own feeling is that it looks like a reasonable average, modern development that has been designed to meet the developer’s brief.

But, that’s the problem. Opposite one of Aberdeen’s most distinctive and prestigious buildings, we face a development that could as easily be in Birmingham, Southampton, or Glasgow, as it could be in Aberdeen.

There is nothing unique, or distinctly Aberdeen about it. It is, frankly, pretty standard modern office fare.

Shouldn’t we be aiming higher?

Contrast that with our Victorian predecessors. They created the Granite City, centred on that amazing engineering feat that is Union Street – a grand viaduct on granite arches, built in an era of picks and shovels. The magnificent Granite City put Aberdeen firmly on the map. It was “world class”, as we would probably say these days.

Will people in 50 years time, let alone 100 years, be saying what a magnificent development Marischal Square is and how Aberdeen would be the poorer without it?

I think not.
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