Monday, 19 July 2010

Regeneration, restoration, redevelopment.

Elsewhere, and in real life, we have had discussions regarding the relative merits of redevelopment or regeneration, as opposed to restoration of 'historic' areas within a city.

Often, when we speak to older relatives or friends, who have a deeper well of memories, it is tempting to indulge in a sort of "oooh it's not like the old days" nostalgia. A case in point is the recent comprehensive redevelopment of the major part of the south of Justice Mill Lane. Let's have a little think about the context in this 'historic' area.

A large office complex flanked by a premium hotel on one side and a budget hotel on the other now occupies a site which has, for the last 30 years been more-or-less derlict, home to itinerant small businesses, ad-hoc car-parks, vacancy and neglect.

The area, without doubt, is 'historic' - being associated with a particularly regrettable episode during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms; but the built environment in the area has, throughout our lives, been host to a different source of regret - that of blight. (Yeah, alright, nobody dies of blight, but bear with us...)

Now as the new-build complex approaches completion, we are aware of increasingly strident voices denouncing the development. This surprises us.

Did those who denounce the new development prefer the derelict motor trade premises and brick & concrete former furniture factory which most recently occupied this site on Justice Mill Lane? Or do they want to turn the clock back further still?

The car sales/service/filling station place (Town & County Motors) did some nasty now-you-see-it now-you-don't misdirection in order to achieve the demolition of Strawberry Bank in 1967, but that was before our time, so we cannot honestly lament it. We're certainly not going to call for its restoration. Of all things we might dislike in the built environment, we detest hollow pastiche the most.

Where would it stop, with that sort of "keep everything as it is/was" philosophy? We note that during this particular area's industrial and residential heyday in the 1860's, the recently grassed area with the shallow steps close to the former (wrong) site of Hardgate Well was occupied by a public house. The Hardgate Well itself was on private ground, with no public access, and a little down the hill a large tannery operated. Would the voices of reaction wish to restore all that? Would they restore the agricultural implement factory (which was on the site where the Travelodge is about to open) even though it would have no hope of finding staff to work in it or a market for its products?

When in time do they believe that the 'perfect Aberdeen' existed? We have no wish to live in someone else's idea of an 'ideal' utopian or arcadian past, for we know that no such thing ever existed. By contrast, we have every intention of living in the future - a future in which we will be full participants - making it as great a place to live as possible.

Or is it that those voices raised against redevelopment simply do not like the physical appearance of the new buildings? Here at Other Aberdeen, we do not have any particular favourite architectural styles; beauty, or otherwise is in the eye of the beholder. Fashions come and go. You've got to give architecture time. Tastes change.

What we do appreciate is quality, authenticity, and integrity. We believe that these aspects cannot be judged instantly when a new building is unveiled - so we're reserving comment on the architectural merit of this complex for the moment. Did similar controversies rage when the redundant Upper Justice Mill was demolished by Scott Sutherland to make way for his Regal Cinema (latterly Odeon, most recently some sort of gym)? Did the folk of Rosemount object to the building of the Shell HQ on the site of Altens farm?

This position is subtle; for instance, there has been much comprehensive redevelopment in Aberdeen which was regrettable. St Nicholas Street and George Street spring instantly to mind; the buildings which were destroyed to create the covered shopping malls had quality and integrity. The threat to Union Terrace Gardens is similarly intolerable.

Here at Other Aberdeen, we are not dogmatically pro- or anti-development. We are pro-quality - we appreciate authenticity - we love integrity.


Anonymous said...

It seems not unreasonable to expect change to be for the better and for new developments to be as good as they can be. The frontage of the Radisson Park Inn, linking Hardgate Brae and Justice Mill Lane, just isn't.

Re pastiche: almost everything is 'pastiche' of something else. Good pastiche, e.g., the Adam Bros, is better than something which is (supposedly) original but crap.

Despite all of which: may I say what an excellent blog this is, both interesting and informative!

Other Aberdeen said...

Thanks, anonymous, for your kind words.

We'll not be bounced into a premature evaluation of these buildings - we've only been inside them very briefly as yet, and it takes time for buildings to 'settle' into their locations and communities. Buildings of this size are, of course, a form of capital, and so will alter the fabric and nature of their location and host community; so a judgement cannot be formed until that process is at least underway - something which is yet to happen at Justice Mill/Hardgate.

For what it's worth, our first impression of the frontage you criticise matches your first impression, but we'll resist allowing our first impression to influence our judgement, which we know will evolve over time.

An example; we despise the mediated experience and hyperreality forced upon the hapless consumer *inside* Union Square. But we really enjoy being *on top of* the building, where the visitor can enjoy a unique experience. So, the balance of our judgement on that shopping and parking complex is, as yet, dynamic.

We hear what you say about pastiche - there *is* truly nothing new under the sun. Let us make the nuance of saying that what we despise most in the built environment is *hollow* pastiche. As we've said, what is important to us is our 'holy trinity' (if you will) of quality, authenticity and integrity.

We'll be coming back to the subject of pastiche in Aberdeen again and again, so keep reading!