Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Justice Mill Lane

We've mentioned the redevelopment of Justice Mill Lane a few times over the last months. Something we've tried not to do is prejudice our own opinion of the new buildings before they have settled into their use and made their presence felt in the wider urban environment through modified transport usage, work patterns, economic ripple effects and so forth.

Left to right: 
Travelodge (looming over Bon-Accord Baths), IQ office (Glass ziggurat), Radisson Park Inn Hotel.

Of the three major developments which have been progressing towards completion through 2010, two - the Radisson Park Inn Hotel and the IQ office development - are now complete and the third - a Travelodge budget hotel - appears to be on final fix. The Radisson is the only one of the three which is operational at the time of writing. And it looks quite nice inside. If you like that sort of thing. We'll go along for an omelette or club sandwich in the cafe-bar soon and report back. This is not a restaurant review blog, but in that instance we'll make an exception. Maybe. A neighbour of ours had a lovely big fluffy grey cat called Radisson, so that might prejudice our review because we loved him.


The gigantic IQ office ziggurat also appears to be complete. We like the idea; we would greatly prefer to see office occupancy in the city centre - in the traditional Central Business District - than see continuation of the current trend which has speculative office 'campus' developments proliferating on out-of-town greenfield sites. 

Justice Mill Lane frontage Radisson Park Inn Hotel and IQ offices.

Out-of-town offices oblige the salaryman cubicle-jockey to clock up carbon-intensive commuting miles; reverse-commuting out of the city every day. We worry that this is one of the factors which helps condemn the traditional city centre to rot and vacancy, blight and decay, for lack of passing trade; lack of effective demand at pavement level. Moreover, more journeys by car erode the livability of our city which (some have forgotten) is actually charmingly compact and pleasantly walkable. It rains very little in Aberdeen, but, know what? Even when it does, umbrellas are available. So are overcoats and jumpers for when it's cold. Overcoat manufacture used to be a big part of the industry of this town, as it happens. But that's in the past, and we really don't want to turn back the clock. In today's global economy, it's better for everyone that overcoats are made elsewhere - we're all information-economy knowledge-workers in Britain these days. Mostly.

We reckon that today's knowledge worker (for such is what all office workers surely are, no?) should either be teleworking via broadband and skype and crackberry etc or, if actual - rather than virtual - 'facetime' (ugh) is really required, what better place could there be for office accommodation than the city centre? Knowledge workers in the city centre generate and distribute wealth firstly through the value added by their work pushing pixels around in the electronic sweatshop and secondly via their consumption of ancillary products and services which are also located in the city centre, close to the office electronic sweatshop. From the sandwich shop to the pub, from the bookshop to the boutique, all benefit from the passing trade of customers who are in the city centre for a different primary reason. 

On the flip side, the office workers benefit from the proximity of these services to their place of work - how convenient! And the city benefits from the mixed-use built environment created by a vibrant culture of pavement-level human-scale enterprises. Through this mix, the opportunity exists for new business and personal relationships to develop through a process of serendipitous accident or coincidence - the fountainhead of creativity.

By contrast, the out-of-town 'campus' concept de-humanises its workers by making them access the workplace by car, by spatially dislocating them from their place of residence and by divorcing them from human-scale interaction with other enterprises and their surrounding environment. The cubicle becomes a cookie cutter of conformity; the knowledge worker is forced into a monoculture and so creativity is stifled. Perhaps this is what the developers of out-of-town offices are wrongheadedly trying to engineer into the workforces which will occupy these campuses; compliance, acquiescence, surrender. Salaryman robot people.

Aberdeen Gateway - out of town, between Cove and Findon

Axcess Aberdeen - out of town, west of Portlethen

Westhill Business Park - out of town, south of Westhill

The completed IQ building looks not bad. But it is for the moment unoccupied and mothballed. Let's hope it gets tenants soon; a huge chunk of capital like that squatting at the west end of the city centre has the potential to regenerate the whole of the area.

IQ southern elevation

Reception mothballed

Now that the Justice Mill Lane builds are largely complete - formwork struck and scaffolding dismantled, roads re-opened and services commissioned - we can begin to think about the visual impact of the buildings on this important city centre site.

The view of Justice Mill Lane from the glen of the Holburn is radically altered, and not for the worse. The new terraces are visible from many points south, creating a dramatically and intriguingly scenographic vista drawing the eye to the west of the city centre. We do, of course, feel sad for the Bon Accord (Uptown) Baths, which are overwhelmed by the new development. Next to the dramatically contrasting upright slabs of the Travelodge, the glazed ziggurat terraces of the IQ, and the chequerboard and dental cladding of the Radission, the baths now look rather hangar-like and drab; a dated industrial shed, it has not aged well. It pains us greatly to write these things, but the truth is the truth. It is difficult to see how the baths can survive. Nothing good will last forever.

Bon-Accord Baths dwarfed by Traveloge and IQ

All our lives the Justice Mill Lane and Langstane Place corridor - historic though it may be - has been an unpleasant, dirty, drab and shabby canyon. It was as if the city centre was showing its semi-industrial arse to the pedestrian or road-user. Now, with the completion of these major buildings, along with other more modest developments further east, we begin to see the emergence of a different, brighter and more vibrant streetscape; significantly altered with new generous pavements contrasting markedly with their cramped predecessors. The more we look, the more we see a modern, clean aesthetic beginning to win over the former dirty, industrial, run-down, blighted and vacant area. 

Ironically, immidately across the road from the Radisson and IQ, the rear aspect of the now defunct Jumpin' Jacks nightclub, formerly the Capitol Cinema, is now one the most egregiously run-down examples of vacant blight in Aberdeen city centre. We can only hope that some group of developers and bankers can wrangle together regeneration capital for the Capitol soon. Ahem.

Not so good

However... these are only early impressions. We reserve the right to change our minds as all three buildings come on-stream and their full impact becomes clear over the months and years ahead. 

We have one significant gripe...

This is the pre-development artist's impression:

This is as-built.

The actual building is far more prominent and muscularly present from the Langstane Place viewpoint than early submissions suggested it would be. Bit naughty.

1 comment:

Alex Mitchell said...

The Radisson Park Inn resembles a shoe-box perched up on stilts, with much unsightly clutter down below, and is completely out of sympathy with the curve of Hardgate Brae up on to Justice Mill Lane and Langstane Place and with the surrounding residential area. No objection to an hotel development on this site, but we could surely have achieved something better than this!