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Scotland ‘one of worst places to be an architect’

Richard Murphy outside his Fruitmarket Gallery. Picture: Sandy Young

Richard Murphy outside his Fruitmarket Gallery. Picture: Sandy Young

  • by Brian Ferguson
 

SCOTLAND is one of the worst countries in Europe in which to be an architect – according to the man behind a string of the nation’s most acclaimed modern buildings.

Richard Murphy said Scots were being saddled with a generation of “awful” public buildings. The architect – whose works include Dundee Contemporary Arts, Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket Gallery and Stirling’s Tolbooth Centre – said “cost-driven competitions” and a box-ticking culture were to blame.

And he said there was little to be proud of built in the past 20 years in Scotland and called for open competitions for major public projects.

Murphy also accused the Scottish Government of hypocrisy for pursuing a cost-driven system while preparing for a year-long celebration of architecture and design in 2016.

He further claimed famous buildings, such as Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s 1909 Glasgow School of Art would not be allowed today because of the unwillingness of planners to embrace modern architecture.

Developers in Edinburgh, he said, were “cowed” when building on thoroughfares such as Princes Street and new schemes such as SoCo on South Bridge had been “fantastic opportunities wasted”.

Edinburgh-based Murphy’s views emerged days after the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (Rias) revealed the shortlist for its annual honours. Contenders include a Waitrose in Helensburgh, a rundown hotel revamp in John O’ Groats, Scottish Water’s HQ in Lanarkshire and a school in South Uist.

Murphy said the Rias was too close to government and gave the impression “everything is wonderful”.

He added: “I don’t want to come across as an angry architect. But most of my compatriots will not raise their head above the parapet.

“It is about the worst place in Europe to be an architect at the moment. It’s the government’s procurement strategy that’s at fault.

“Germany, Scandinavia and the Netherlands almost always have design competitions for new buildings – and are not spending ridiculous amounts.

“We have a basic contradiction. There is a year of architecture coming up… and all kinds of stuff. [But] the system for public buildings means contractors compete for projects, choose the architects, and fees are rock-bottom. Design is the last thing they think about. It’s like a Honda CV pulling against an articulated lorry. They should put architects right back in the centre, rather than on the fringes.

“MSPs had their fingers burnt with the Scottish Parliament. They think ‘fancy architects equals cost’, but a good architect can save you money.

“If you look at the totality of what has been built in the last 20 years under this cost-driven system I don’t think there is much we can be proud of.”

Neil Baxter, secretary of the Rias, said: “Richard is a highly-talented architect whose frustration is understandable. Lowest cost is attractive to those who have to balance public budgets but it is up to the professionals to evidence how this is detrimental and the public to demand better. Competitions would be good and having architects advising clients on the best choice is always beneficial.”

A government spokesman said: “We are ambitious about design and want people’s lives enriched through quality buildings. We are committed to working with the design industry to improve procurement processes. We would be happy to hear from Richard Murphy to discuss his ideas.”

 

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