|Project Reference||Marischal Square|
|Details||Mixed use redevelopment on the site of former Aberdeen City Council offices (St Nicholas House)|
|Use Type||Retail / Public Realm / Office / Leisure / Arts|
|Lead Designers||Halliday Fraser Munro|
|Planning Authority||Aberdeen City Council|
|Planning Ref||Full Planning and Listed Building Applications / P140698, P140755|
1.01 This report forms a Project Appraisal of the proposals for Marischal Square based on advise given at previous workshops and in response to formal planning and listed building applications recently lodged with Aberdeen City Council. The project involves the redevelopment of the former Aberdeen City Council offices (St Nicholas House) following the relocation of the Council into their new headquarters at Marischal College opposite the site. A mixed use development is proposed including potential office, restaurant, leisure, hotel accommodation uses and public spaces.
2.00 Workshop Scope
2.01 The project was originally referred to A&DS Design Forum by Aberdeen City Council as a Locally Significant Project in 2013. The project was discussed previously at a Design Forum workshop in August 2013 in Aberdeen following a walking visit around the boundary of the site and the existing structures, and subsequently at a further interim workshop on 28th January 2014, also held in Aberdeen.
3.00 Appraisal Outcomes
3.01 Summary of Appraisal
The scheme generally appears to have evolved positively throughout the workshop series. Generally the designs as submitted for planning application have the potential to form the basis of a good scheme, within the commercial constraints of the project. However, there are still specific areas of the designs that the Panel felt could be developed further and which would benefit from further refinement. These were generally felt to be more detailed aspects of the scheme, and which the applicants asserted could be dealt with during the next stage of design development.
Based on the forum workshop process carried out to date, and on the assumption that the issues discussed at the workshop and as set out in the comments below will be addressed, A&DS find the project to be ‘well considered and supported’.
3.02 Urban diagram, movement routes and networks
The urban planning of the scheme has improved with a stronger connection to the surrounding urban grain and clear front and back to the scheme. A strong frontage is provided to Marischal College, with the proposed large civic space filtering through to the more intimate public spaces at the heart of the development, and a reinforced rear edge of the project along Flourmill Lane. The proposed figure ground pattern could however benefit from being slightly less rigorous and more relaxed in plan in some areas, perhaps by picking up on some of the surrounding geometries and on the urban grain of Marischal College opposite, and in addition by bleeding the proposed landscape and plan together so that the development becomes more successfully engrained into the urban fabric of the city.
The handling of Guestrow feels to have reached an appropriate level of emphasis within the project, in being treated as a ‘memory’ of the historic route linking the smaller public spaces of the development together. There is interesting potential in continuing the route southwest through to the adjacent site currently occupied by surface parking, to draw people into the development from the Netherkirkgate and Union Street beyond. We support the Council and Team in their ambition for the route to be reinforced in any forthcoming proposals for the development of this site.
The incorporation of pends into the scheme is welcomed, to help increase permeability through the development and to provide visual connections to significant landmarks and visual markers within and out of the site. At the moment some of the pends appear quite wide which could potentially detract from the experience of going from a large open space to a more intimate and contained one and we suggest that the pends could be made more narrow, to echo the original medieval urban grain and to give a suggestion of ‘discovering something beyond’ the larger spaces. The adjacent spaces may also benefit commercially by increasing in size with this approach.
Two options are being considered for locating the pend opening into Guestrow from Upperkirkgate – the option submitted for planning places the opening at the northwest corner of the scheme, with a second option being considered that places the opening further up the street directly opposite the route leading into the Covered Square from the southeast. Both approaches appear perfectly valid, although the original option as submitted for application may work better in overall townscape terms, encouraging footfall into the development. This arrangement also appears to provide a better spatial configuration in terms of helping to activate the northwest corner of the Covered Square.
The design of Flourmill Lane has improved, providing a stronger visual axis to the city and better pedestrian connectivity through to the site. We note that the width of the lane is as previously proposed, as a necessity to allow service access, but that the apparent width of the lane is to be reduced through use of treatment of surface materials and street furniture. This approach was welcomed by the Panel.
3.03 Massing, built form and architectural approach
As demonstrated in the submitted Design & Access Statement, Broad Street is characterised by buildings with a strong vertical emphasis, particularly evident in Marischal College opposite the site. The current proposals seek to emulate this verticality through incorporation of colonnades and vertical window openings set within granite façades. The idea of breaking up the proposed elevations into smaller elements appears valid as an approach, however we feel that the front elevations appear too busy currently, with elements pushing and pulling out from the building line, and we suggest the designs would benefit from being more restrained to allow the building to sit more in harmony with its neighbours and relates better to human scale.
The horizontal emphasis of the large glazed portions of the facade that span between the granite sections appears to jar with the character of the street and we would encourage more verticality in these elements, though construction details and modelling of the façade, to help make the scheme more coherent and give more continuity with the character of the area. Similarly on the elevation to Upperkirkgate, the proportion of the vertical openings at ground level relative to column height above appears uncomfortable and greater vertical emphasis in the façade could help to address this. The clever use of signage and/or environmental protection, or perhaps sheltering louvers could also all help to address issues of proportion.
The incorporation of roof terraces, and the stepping back of the buildings at high level is welcomed and helps to add relief and modelling of the buildings. We would encourage the Team to develop this further, particularly at the rear of the scheme along Flourmill Lane as this will be a prominent view from the city centre. The use of contrasting geometries may also assist here too. Although not accessible to the general public, we would encourage the use and activation of the roof terraces by the tenants wherever possible, for example as restaurant and/or conference facilities for employees of the buildings.
Relationship to Provost Skene’s House:
The relationship being formed between the rear of Provost Skene’s House and the proposed office block (Office 01) to the north was raised as an issue of some concern during discussion. The Panel suggest that the design of the proposed southwest façade of the office block, which faces the House and the ’internal’ Public Courtyard beyond, could be simplified to provide a less dominating, potentially lower and more neutral backdrop to the listed building. In so doing, some architectural or material reference to the external treatment of the hotel element on the other side of the square may assist in adding further visual coherence to the development in general, and to the public realm.
The requirements for the hotel block seem to be more restricting than the other building types proposed, which appears to have resulted in a building with a more regimented and standardised appearance. The building has a different role to play within the wider project and could therefore be treated as a stand-alone element with a different architectural language, perhaps forming a more solid ‘heal’ at the southern corner of the development.
3.04 Public Realm
The Council advised that Broad Street is to be conceived as a pedestrian street, and of their desire for the space to be read in conjunction with the wider public realm nearby, including the Quad space in Marischal College, Castle Gate and the eastern end of Union Street. We welcome the proposed addition of this new civic space, along with the smaller squares within the development, and support their integration into the wider environment. The development of a clear vision and programme for the uses of these spaces is encouraged to deliver on their potential and help inform their design.
A broad practical brief for the civic square is being established by the Council to develop the design of the space in more detail and which seeks to define required vehicle movements though the space, hard and soft landscaping, preferred materials, pedestrian desire lines, street furniture, art, lighting etc. The basic organisation of the hard landscaped space in front of Marischal College seems clear. The introduction of the water feature appears however to break the simplicity of the hard/lawn space and we suggest this might be better placed at the entrance to Marischal College, albeit whilst taking into consideration any safety issues that would need to be addressed in terms of proximity to the road, but dealt within the language of the design.
The line of trees to the southern end of the square appears to compete with the Church tower, which is a predominant feature that pushes out into the square, and could potentially form a visual barrier to the building. Compositionally we wonder whether the avenue of trees could perhaps be widened or made less formal to address this. There may also be interesting potential in pushing trees out from the pends leading off the square into the space as markers to the signify the inner more intimate spaces within the development and Provost Skene’s House.
Public Open Space/Wall to Provost Skene’s House:
Options for potentially repositioning/raising the level of the historic boundary wall and arch in front of Provost Skene’s House were presented and discussed. The Panel felt that the option of relocating the wall and archway to allow the public realm to flow into the space to open up to Provost Skene’s House could be potentially advantageous in terms of bringing new life and vitality to the building and integrating it into the scheme. This issue is to be discussed further with Historic Scotland outside of this forum.
As commented on at previous workshops, we continue to support the Team in their ambition to achieve a BREEAM excellent rating for the development, and to utilise potential opportunities to bring heat into the development from proposed neighbouring district heating scheme being developed by the City as part of an overall environmental strategy for the building.