Scottish Architecture: V&A Dundee is Good, Scottish Parliament is Bad and Ugly

What a wonderful, uplifting building has been built by the V&A in Dundee!

V&A Dundee – uplifting on a grey day

It is modern, but references the past life of its location on the River Tay and in the lovely city of Dundee. What is most impressive is how it is so accessible – and I don’t just mean the ramp to the door and lift inside. Everyone can see it and understand what it represents: truly a case of bringing art to the masses in an inspiring and interesting way!

Dundee has a long history of shipbuilding, especially (whisper it) for the whaling industry. Hence it was Dundee that supplied super-strong ships for Antarctic explorers. This building is the cornerstone (!) of reinvigorating the riverside area. It is a welcoming sight as one leaves the train station. Oh, and if visiting Dundee from the south, do try to arrive by train. The journeys across the Forth bridge and Tay bridge are worth the rail fare in themselves.

Magnificent Forth Bridge
Impressive Tay Bridge

The building was designed by Kengo Kuma. For us, even more impressive is the structural engineering of the building. With few internal walls to tie it together, the design of a bowl-shaped building must have been rather interesting! So kudos to Ove Arup for their work there.

 

Contrast to Scottish Parliament

Scottish Parliament – Bad and Ugly

Regular readers will know of our disdain for the Scottish Parliament building – and yet it is feted among the architectural and planning community. We can see that it is innovative, and that the layout of the buildings references traditional Scottish democracy. Yet here is the BUT… and it is a big but (the worst sort eh).

BUT

  1. A weird concrete monstrosity is wildly out of place on the Royal Mile.

  2. The references it makes can only be understood from the air.

  3. It is elitist. It works for people “in the know”, who claim aesthetic training and superior artistic feel. Everyone else just feels excluded.

To us, the Scottish Parliament emphasises the gap between architects, planners, and all of the people for whom they are meant to be working. It has brought the professions into disrepute.

What a contrast to the V&A Dundee. This building is in context, striking but easy to understand. It is uplifting for everyone who sees it. What an inspiration!

Pic from Ove Arup

Scottish Parliament is Rubbish

For once we don’t mean the politicians in Scotland – though as an aside, why is Scottish Nationalism tied up with left-wing policies, when nationalists in other countries are more to the extreme right: eg National Front in France, or EDL in England?

However, this time we are reviewing the building completed in 2004 to house the  Scottish Parliament.

The Parliamentary buildings were ten times over budget. Not ten percent, but a multiple of ten! That is the outcome of public management of projects, spending Government money. To all those thinking that Mr Corbyn has it right in letting the Government run anything to do with construction or businesses, there can be no finer example of why it is such a bad idea.

The build budget was £30mio – £40mio. The final outcome £414million. That is just a mind-boggling variance. Could part of the reason behind the vast overspend be that the builders were Scottish, but they knew it would be the English tax-payers picking up the bill? There may be one or two people in Scotland to whom that would appeal.

Ugly Frontage to the Royal Mile

And so to the design. This must be one of the best locations in Edinburgh, on the Royal Mile, opposite Holyroodhouse Palace, and backing on to the rugged mountainous Arthur’s Seat. Like most architectural observers, we do not advocate a pastiche of earlier designs. A modern design is more honest. But we do believe in respecting materials and blocking forms.

Google Earth of Scottish Parliament

The exhibition inside explained that the buildings in the complex were designed to represent the human body, or groups of people standing around in a form of government discussion. Who bought into these ideas? Even seen from a helicopter (okay, let’s be truthful, even seen from Google Earth), it is hard to make any simile from the mish-mash of weird shapes. Observed from the Royal Mile, the concrete wall with convex and concave horizontal curves – pictured above -just looks a mess, and totally out of place. What an eyesore on the most important street in Scotland. Instead of render or attractive stone, we see bare concrete, enlivened by rusty steel poles.

Unnecessarily complex and expensive details

The Scottish Parliament Building could have been attractive, eye-catching and uplifting. Instead it is jarring and rude. Shame.