Time to reward the best in commercial design

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Kirsty McLuckie

It’s a question asked by a media commentator recently and which provoked an achingly slow response as industry insiders bemoaned the lack of design- driven buildings coming out of the ground in Scotland.

But identifying and raising awareness of architecture and design is part of the driving force behind the Scottish Property Awards which celebrates achievements in commercial and public property.

In the last two years, four awards have been presented to design teams creating new buildings in Scotland. The landmark SSE Hydro created by Foster & Partners won in 2014 and this year, the strikingly beautiful Maggie’s Centre in Airdrie by Reiach & Hall earned the crown of Architectural Excellence for a public building.

In the commercial space, the award winners have been JM Architects for the Albus Business Centre in Bridgeton, Glasgow and Morgan McDonnell for the sensitive conversion of the southern terrace of Charlotte Square and Hope Street Lane in Edinburgh.

So is there a foundation to the feeling that there is a lack of statement buildings created recently in Scotland? Perhaps encouragingly, in the last two weeks and in Edinburgh alone, members of the public have been asked for their views on two high-profile planning applications.

Edinburgh’s “Ribbon Hotel” a 12-
storey swirl with a distinctive bronze cladding, has already prompted strong opinions from both experts and the public. There have been calls to scrap the proposal which is part of the £850 million redevelopment of St James Centre.

But its designer, Jestico & Whiles, has a track record designing hotels in capital city locations and the project team behind the redevelopment is confident that its arrival on the scene would dramatically improve the quality of the surrounding area, part of the designated world heritage site.

This was followed last week by images released of a new hotel on the site of the former Royal High School at Calton Hill. Gareth Hoskins Architects revealed designs for the £75m development by Duddingston House Developments for Urbanist Hotels.

These were a reworking of an earlier design, and described by the architects as a fundamental revision of their first submission in response to concerns by heritage groups.

The new design sees two “organic” wings splaying away from Thomas Hamilton’s unused 1829 masterpiece.

Both hotel plans are created with a strong design statement and whether they are declared carbuncles or masterpieces, the public debate which will continue has to be encouraged.

While gaining the necessary planning consents could prove painful, the practice of engaging the public in debates about architecture is essential in gathering an appreciation and respect for the urban environment.

In the case of Calton Hill, the design statement has already been five years in the making with lengthy consultations with the public and local interest groups.

Fortunately, the awards process is much quicker. Only six weeks remain until the deadline when architects can submit their work for consideration by the Scottish Property Awards judging panel and the two architectural winners will be announced in March 2016.

Design-driven projects which are already under construction and nearing completion or compete in 2015 are eligible.

Two awards will be presented for a public-use building and a building for commercial use. The building must be in Scotland but the design team can be based anywhere in the world and judges will be looking for entries which include full details on location, design, materials, energy efficiency, specification and landscaping.

To enter the Scottish Property Awards, visit www.scottishpropertyawards.co.uk and download an entry guide.

The awards dinner takes place on Thursday 3 March at the Glasgow City Hotel, when over 500 guests from the industry are expected.