Building up to a role in the city's future?
FROM Hong Kong to Gateshead, Singapore to Edinburgh, Sir Terry Farrell is a man who’s made his mark on the world - literally. The Newcastle-born architect has created a style of building which is now synonymous with urban regeneration around the world.
His landmark designs are wont to dominate any space they’re constructed in - which is why, although he’s award-winning, he hasn’t escaped the "controversial" tag.
Signature projects have included the MI6 headquarters, Charing Cross Station and the TV-AM building in London with its famous twin eggs, while elsewhere he’s designed aquarium The Deep, in Hull, and the transportation centre for the international airport in Seoul for the last World Cup.
And of course, there are his designs in Edinburgh. Farrell was responsible for the Edinburgh International Conference Centre and the Sheraton hotel’s Health Spa - as well as the blueprint for the development of the whole Exchange area, which at the time was regarded as extremely daring, bringing as it did a new type of architecture to the city.
Which is perhaps exactly why the council is now reportedly aiming to make him the city’s new "design champion", with a brief to raise the standard of public space and future development in the Capital. The unpaid, honorary role, would see him as a figurehead for the city’s attempts to improve architecture, as rapid economic growth prompts new building projects. Of course, landing such a prestigious role in a city like Edinburgh - where conservation groups are extremely vocal, gap sites are quickly running out and the biggest architectural project has been the crisis-hit Scottish Parliament - will not be without its problems. So is Farrell the right architect for the job?
Ian McMillan, an associate at Cooper Cromar Architects, and who once worked for Farrell, is sure he will prove to be an inspired acquistion. He says: "I really enjoyed working for Terry at his practice in London. I’m sure he’ll do pretty good for Edinburgh architecture and in urban design. He’s got a good track record both at home and internationally with urban design projects as well as commercial-based stuff. He’s also got commitment, knows Edinburgh really well, and is aware any scheme he’s promoting will be viable.
"His work at The Exchange is testament to how good he can be and he’s not an ‘outsider’ when it comes to Edinburgh. He’s very amusing, has a great personality, and when it comes to his work, he’s very theatrical as well.
"Fresh ideas are interesting, and his interior work at the Dean Gallery should be noted, as should his submission to the Royal Scottish Academy, which he unfortunately didn’t win. He’s even done stuff down at Leith that not many people know about," he adds, refusing to detail what exactly Farrell has done in Leith. The council is keeping relatively tight-lipped over whether or not Farrell will be appointed as an announcement isn’t due until February 3.
But should Farrell become Edinburgh’s new design champion, surely there would be no shortage of projects for him to get stuck into?
"Obviously, we can only speculate he’s got the job, but you can’t for one minute imagine what his brief will be," says McMillan. "There are possibilities to be found with places like Edinburgh Airport and the city bypasses. Although I do think he’s got the opportunity to match George Drummond [the 18th century Lord Provost whose vision was behind the building of the New Town], but then George Drummond had a big patch of green land at his disposal, Terry won’t."
Cowgate-based architect Oliver Chapman, who runs his own practice, also refused to be drawn on what potential new schemes Edinburgh’s new design champion may undertake.
However, he says: "If Farrell does get the job, so long as he gets good ideas out of people - hopefully he’ll work with, support and ask the smaller practices for ideas - and makes sure all the same big old firms don’t get the commissions, then I’m sure he’ll do well.
"Terry has a strong identity and a high profile, and I hope he looks at the more background problems we have in Edinburgh - I don’t think he’d go for all these big flat tenements with huge car parks all around it. He has a big reputation for transport infrastructure, most notably train stations, and perhaps he can undertake big developments such as the debate over what happens to the Ross Bandstand in Princes Street. He does have the contacts with big clients after all."
It’s certainly all a long way from the 65-year-old’s first job which was designing two ventilation shafts for London’s Blackwall Tunnel after he graduated with a first class honours degree at the School of Architecture in Newcastle.
He went on to found his own practice in London in 1965, and since then has gone on to create some of the most acclaimed and controversial buildings in the world - the Kowloon Station in Hong Kong, Maritime Square in Singapore, the Silvertown Aquarium in London, as well as being responsible for the urban regeneration of areas of London including the Greenwich peninsula and the Paddington basin.
He also designed the Gateshead Millennium Bridge and for a television documentary gave Buckingham Palace the once over, creating an official public gathering place beneath that famous balcony. He was knighted for all his efforts in 2001.
But it was back in the mid-90s that Edinburgh got its first taste of Farrell, when he helped transform the west of Edinburgh’s city centre by turning it into the new financial district. By helping to regenerate a neglected part of the city, his influence ensured big firms wouldn’t have to move outwith the city centre. Although it has since been reported he was alleged to have vented his anger against the design of the Clydesdale Bank Plaza and Standard Life buildings as being "not of the first rank".
If anything, that goes to show he cares. To his credit, he has pulled out of projects whenever he’s felt developers were cutting back their effect on the landscape.
Malcolm Fraser, another Edinburgh award-winning architect, welcomes the creation of the post.
He says: "It is great to see that we are getting something done to draw together the various strings that are involved in building up a bigger picture of developments in Edinburgh. Whoever does the job will need to be able to bang a few heads together. It is important to realise that in today’s planning process we are creating tomorrow’s World Heritage Site and an overview is needed to put things in perspective.
"That whoever gets the post should have the ability to step back from it all and not be a part of the debate is essential in order to see the city afresh as outsiders view it. That is incredibly important."
And Chapman believes Farrell fits all requirements. He says: "He promotes himself as having an urban design planning angle, which is good, because we need someone who talks the language of the planners as well as the architect. His work at The Exchange ensured it kept all the big employers in the city centre and that was fantastic.
"Hopefully, if Terry’s appointed, we can use his influence to help persuade the council to make the planning office more welcoming of getting planning exhibitions up, and raise the profile of those planning applications."
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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