Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Granite Crisis!

Over the years that we've lived in Aberdeen, we've noticed a tendency amongst the population: an odd attachment to "The Granite" and a willingness to fetishise it beyond reason. We find it odd, because there's nothing unusual in a town to being so homologous in its predominant construction material - most are.

Let's be sure not to be misunderstood. The architecture of late 19th and early 20th Century Aberdeen is unquestionably magnificent and praiseworthy. But this is now the early 21st Century. Architectural alternatives to the still-prevailing Victorian paradigm do actually exist and we should not be afraid of them. Indeed it's true that the dove-grey and shimmering stone from Kemnay and Rubislaw and other quarries is a very high quality building material, but - in the final analysis - a building material is all it is. And now there's none left that can be economically extracted. Alternatives do exist; we should, similarly, not be afraid of them either. Indeed, our irrational attachment to "The Granite" might now have more psychogeographical drawbacks for us than it has benefits.

We are nonplussed that every so often there's talk of a "Granite Museum" (!). We are perplexed that Big Oil manages to manufacture consent amongst the population by paying documentary-film lipservice to our town's granite heritage. And we are downright confused that "matching" granite for new development is sourced from far-flung quarries on the other side of the world. Why is it necessary that new buildings ape the old in every possible respect? If there's one good thing to be said about Stewart Milne's risibly Disneyesque Dalhebity House, it's that he chose to transcend the granite paradigm, build it from sandstone and so perhaps set a precedent which will allow our town to move on.

Next, we are faintly embarassed that Aberdonians continue to boast of Marischal College: "The Second Largest Granite Building in the World." Honestly, "second largest". It's like that Community Chest card you get in Monopoly: "Congratulations, you have won second prize in a beauty contest". It's an insult. We insult ourselves with this bathetic and vainglorious hubris.

We also feel that -  just as the Georgian/Victorian fakery of kilt and highland games and gathering of the clans to this day helps keep Scotland down: in its place, in the past - likewise this fetishisation beyond reason of our granite heritage has the potential to act as a brake upon the realisation of a progressive Aberdeen of the future.

But finally, and most importantly, (and it is important that we admit this), The Granite is now, after a hundred years in situ, mostly just a disgusting mess.

Truly horrid


Embarrassing (click the pic to see the full-size HORROR!)

We have already discussed on more than one occasion the difficulties and pit-falls which are experienced when building owners attempt to clean their facades. Aberdeen is turning yellow with the failures.

And then, if a building is successfully cleaned, it merely serves to highlight the grimy dilapidation of its neighbours.
Dirty to the left, as if new to the right.
Given all this, we think it's now time to think the unthinkable, time to slaughter a few sacred cows. Now is the time to break this restrictive tabu.

We are prepared to offer a radical solution:

Paint these troublesome buildings

A precident already exists in Aberdeen. Rather than clean modernist concrete buildings, many have recently had their fascias painted. Johnstone House in Rose St. is the first which comes to mind, and we think that Shell's Aztec Ziggurat at Altens Farm Road recently got the treatment too.

Baby blue Johnstone House
Indeed, Aberdeen has some modernist tower blocks which combine concrete elements with granite rubble decorative insets. These have been painted. Nobody moaned.



Looks great. As if brand new.
The benefits of painted facades for Aberdeen's troublesome granite buildings are manifold: The building's facade becomes flexible and easily and cheaply refreshable - changeable to suit fashion or function, whim or caprice; we could at last move away from our dour "Granite City" image and become something altogether more attractive and approachable - the "Ice Cream Pastel City by the Sea"; in the fulness of time, this could become a distinct new aspect to our heritage - unique in the UK - perhaps at long last we would gain the spot on the tourist map which we deserve.

Here are some examples from Do You Know:

Of course, not all of these will be to everyone's taste, but that's part of the beauty of the idea - it's diverse, thought provoking, de-familiarising and playful. And, once you've made the leap to decide to paint a building, you have literally rendered it's appearance infinitely changeable.

[Puts on flame-proof boiler-suit]


SteveL said...

The pub is the Farm Pub, as mentioned in Bristol Traffic Once or twice. We also have a photo of it without all the animals, while it was half complete. Notice how it seems to attract cyclists. That may not be what a bar wants.

PsyGeo said...

Like it! Have to agree, Aberdeen is a bit dismal with the fetishisation of the silver darlings granite...

Doug Daniel said...

Maybe it's all down to taste, but I find those examples at the end far more hideous than even the more filthy examples of granite buildings you've provided.

Aberdeen is a beautiful city precisely because of the granite. That's not fetishisation of a building material, it's just that old mantra of "less is more". Glasgow city centre is an example of how disjointed and downright ugly an area can get when you stop paying attention to the surrounding architecture and colour schemes and just start building and decorating with blinkers on - a sandstone building here, a black glass one here, shove a plain glass one next door, then maybe a mirrored structure, and then top it all off with some yellow painted building at the end. Urgh!

Ask yourself which of Scotland's two biggest cities is the most beautiful - Edinburgh or Glasgow - and then figure out which one Aberdeen is most aesthetically similar to.