Striking shortlist for Scots architecture awards

Eyecatching offices made from shipping containers, a brightly coloured northern ­landmark and an edge-of-town supermarket are among the buildings competing for ­Scotland’s most prestigious ­architecture prize.

Scottish Water - The Bridge - Reiach & Hall. Picture: Contributed
Scottish Water - The Bridge - Reiach & Hall. Picture: Contributed

District 10, a futuristic hub for start-up businesses in Dundee, the formerly “down at heel” Inn at John O’ Groats and a new Waitrose store in Helensburgh are among the 27 shortlisted projects for the ­finals of the Royal Incorporation of Architects Scotland (Rias) Awards for 2014.

Following a record 83 entries, the three buildings will be ranged against bigger ­multi-million-pound projects that have transformed the ­urban landscapes of the ­Central Belt.

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They include the £150 million village for athletes taking part in the 2014 Commonwealth Games and the £125m SSE Hydro, both on the banks of the Clyde in Glasgow, a striking new headquarters for Scottish Water at Stepps and a £49m “Crime Campus” in Gartcosh, which includes state-of-the art forensics laboratories and is the largest single investment in architecture by the Scottish Government.

Heritage projects are also well represented by the new visitor centre at the site of the Battle of Bannockburn, near Stirling, a £3m scheme to convert former council offices into new apartments in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town and the rebirth of Aberfeldy’s Art Deco Birks Cinema.

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Innovative homes in rural areas also feature strongly with entries such as the House on Camusdarach Sands, on Lewis, by the Raw Architectural Partnership. The least expensive building on the shortlist is the £50,000 Mackenzie Place, which acts as a futuristic new “gateway” to a set of council allotments in ­Edinburgh.

District 10 Unit 1 in Dundee, by architects AIM, is the first commercial office block in Scotland made from shipping containers and is part of the regeneration of the city’s waterfront. Built out of shipping containers and with a façade modelled on a computer game, it is the speedily built home to a range of small businesses.

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The judges say: “Recycled shipping containers in zany configurations adorn urban settings across Europe. This development boldly incorporates IT motifs to welcome start-up businesses to a revitalised Dundee.”

John O’ Groats is one of Scotland’s most-visited tourist destination but its once-popular Victorian hotel overlooking the Pentland Firth closed for years, fell into disrepair and was dubbed a “national embarrassment”. It has now been radically transformed into the colourful Inn at John O’ Groats by architects GLM and reopened for business last August.

The judges say: “This symbolic, much-visited, location was, for too long, down-at-heel. Brightly-coloured pavilions ­extend the restored Victorian hotel to create a whole new attraction and a highly-visible landmark.”

The new £4.2m Waitrose store, by Cooper Cromar, is one of very few supermarket buildings to have been shortlisted in recent years but the judges say: “The giant over-sailing roof declares a building which is far from the familiar image of the edge of town supermarket. This is an elegant and welcoming new approach to retailing.”

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One of the most expensive projects on the list is the SSE Hydro, designed by the firm run by Sir Norman Foster, who also worked on Berlin’s Reichstag Museum and Wembley Stadium in London. The new “big-name” entertainment venue in Glasgow has attracted widespread praise with the Rias judges describing it as a “flying saucer” with lighting effects that turn it into a “night-time beacon”.

The new Commonwealth Games Village, by RMJM Architecture, which built the Scottish Parliament, is on the opposite bank of the Clyde from the Hydro up-river at Dalmarnock and, once vacated by athletes, is a Games “legacy project” that will become the focus for regeneration of a neglected area of the city. The judges’ view is that “this development of attractive modern homes will welcome a new community to Dalmarnock and generate a sustainable future for the whole area”.

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They also liked Advocates Close, a £30m project by Morgan McDonnell, which had to convert old council offices over 11 storeys into homes and shops without wrecking the world-famous Old Town skyline. “Urban weaving at its most complex,” the judges said.

Reiach & Hall’s The Battle of Bannockburn Visitor Centre – opened this year to mark the 700th anniversary of the 1314 victory by Robert the Bruce over the English King Edward II – wins plaudits from the judges for its “engaging interpretation” of the historic event. The visitor centre is the second entry on the shortlist by the firm, which also submitted The Bridge headquarters for Scottish Water.

Restoring the Birks Cinema in Perthshire, opened in 1939 to provide “happiness” for the people of Aberfeldy, involved turning an attractive but ­derelict building into an asset for the town. Robin Baker ­Architects’ new 100-seat auditorium and cafe bar, behind the original Art Deco frontage, has “thoroughly reinvigorated” the building, the judges say.

Rias secretary Neil Baxter said: “The economic climate for architecture continues to be really tough and it is a huge credit to the profession in Scotland that the remarkable work illustrated in these submissions is still being produced.

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“Scotland’s architectural renaissance continues.”