City architect role could bring harmony to Glasgow planning

The role of city architect helps bring a cohesion to cities such as Copenhagen, proponents argue. Picture: Wikicommons

The role of city architect helps bring a cohesion to cities such as Copenhagen, proponents argue. Picture: Wikicommons

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It was once a prestigious civic appointment common in all major cities across the UK.

But the role of city architect largely fell from favour in the post-war era as the number of private developments steadily outpaced grand public works.

The SNP group on Glasgow City Council want to see a city architect appointed. Picture: John Devlin/TSPL

The SNP group on Glasgow City Council want to see a city architect appointed. Picture: John Devlin/TSPL

Now plans have been put forward to reintroduce the position in Glasgow, with the aim of reinvigorating the management of the city’s architectural possessions.

The SNP group on the local authority claims the job would also ensure a visual unity to future developments as part of a wider review of the city’s approach to its built environment - if it wins power at May’s council elections.

Councillors have taken inspiration from Copenhagen, which has underwent a comprehensive redevelopment in the last 30 years while respecting its historic core.

“The concept of a city architect is one which many cities have introduced, but Copenhagen appears to have mastered,” said David McDonald, deputy leader of the opposition group. “On a recent visit to the city, I met with Tina Saaby, Copenhagen’s current city architect, where we discussed her role and what it brings to the

development of Copenhagen.

“We want Glasgow to be a city for people, of people and by people. We want to see better use of buildings and public space to make Glasgow an even more attractive place for people to live, work and play.

“For example, we will develop a new plan for the public realm that is distinctly Glaswegian, prioritising high quality design and which promotes liveability. We will improve city streetscapes and give communities a voice in shaping developments locally.

“And we will work to ensure quality public spaces in communities for play and relaxation. This includes restoring George Square and developing a new events space for the city centre.”

City architects were once expected to define the image of Scottish urban centres and many of their best works can still be seen today.

Ebenezer James MacRae served in the role in Edinburgh for most of his adult life. He oversaw an extension to the City Chambers as well as designing the unique style of police boxes found across the city, many of which have since found new uses as coffee bars and tourist information booths}.

MacRae, who died in 1951, was also instrumental in identifying many ancient tenements in the High Street and Canongate worthy of preservation.

The role was also performed with distinction by James Thomson, who served Dundee corporation and for almost 50 years and oversaw the building of the Caird Hall and city square.

McDonald believes the modern incarnation of the job would help restore trust in the local authority’s approach to development.

“We think there’s a feeling in some communities that developments are not always progressing with their interests in mind,” he added.

“The role would be someone who sits independently from councillors, and politics, and can implement a long-term vision in-keeping with Glasgow’s distinctive character.

“Tina Saaby, and her predecessors in Copenhagen, have turned Copenhagen into one of the world’s most liveable cities over the past two decades.

“This follows on from other successes in other cities, such as Barcelona.

“Our aspiration is to match and surpass the achievements of cities like Copenhagen, Dundee, Malmo, Dublin and Stockholm to become the very best that Glasgow can be.”

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