Concrete monstrosities top ugly league

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TWO concrete monstrosities designed 40 years apart head a list of the Seven Horrors of Scotland published today.

In a poll conducted by The Scotsman to find the worst architectural eyesores in the country, more than half the votes were cast for the St James Centre and the Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh.

Both stand at opposite ends of the World Heritage Site designated by Unesco in 1995 to cover the centre of the capital, and both are government-sponsored developments funded by public money.

But while the design of the St James Centre can be blamed on architectural trends that went out of date in the 1960s, the Parliament building is based on a design less than five years old and is still under construction.

The St James Centre, which polled 34 per cent of the vote, is visited by 12 million shoppers every year, the majority of them are drawn by the John Lewis store.

It was designed in 1964 by architects Ian Burke & Martin, and the Scottish Office forced through the development, which also includes New St Andrew’s House, to create office and retail space in the city centre. At the time, the project was hailed as the most important development in Scotland for half a century.

However, it is difficult to find many admirers of the project now. Earlier this year, the exhibition and theatre director Richard Demarco wrote of the centre: "No argument can defend the overscaled, heartless and meaningless modernism of the St James Centre development. It makes a mockery of the incomparable view of the city from Calton Hill."

The St James Centre is owned by Coal Pension Properties and operated by Lasalle Investment Management, which runs more than 50 UK shopping centres.

Derek Miller, the centre manager, said: "It is the jewel in the crown of Coal Pension Properties and the most successful of all our centres.

"I suppose it is a victim of architectural fashion. Concrete was very fashionable in the late 1960s and it has obviously gone out of fashion. We are proud to accept this accolade."

The Scottish Parliament building is another prime example of rampant modernism in concrete, and Prince Charles is said to be among those who have doubts about its construction beside the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

Those who took part in The Scotsman poll agreed, with the building, which was designed by Enric Miralles, achieving 18 per cent of the vote.

Although it has not been completed, there has been concern over elements of the design of the building, compounded by the spiralling cost of the project, which is now over 280 million.

Princes Street in Edinburgh is also named among the Seven Horrors of Scotland - as are the town centres of Aviemore and Cumbernauld, Dounreay power station and the M8 motorway.

Martin Hulse of the Cockburn Association, Edinburgh’s civic trust, said: "The St James Centre is so detrimental to the general views across Edinburgh that I can understand why it got so many votes.

"Development tends to go in cycles, and at that time the fashion was to create buildings that were big and brash and gave out the message that Scotland was entering the new world.

"Some people might say the same about the Scottish Parliament building, although I think we will have to wait at least ten years before we can really judge if it has been a success.

"As for Princes Street, that is no surprise. It really is a mess."

Earlier this week, a poll by listeners of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme named the M25 motorway at the top of a list of the Seven Horrors of Britain, none of which was in Scotland. It followed another survey by the publisher of Yellow Pages which nominated the Houses of Parliament, Stonehenge and the London Eye among the Seven Wonders of Britain.

None of the Wonders was in Scotland either, the closest being Hadrian’s Wall.