Aberdeen City Garden Project: A ‘Guggenheim’ or Teletubbie Park?

An artist's impression of the judges' choice for Union Terrace Gardens, below (Picture: Jane Barlow)
An artist's impression of the judges' choice for Union Terrace Gardens, below (Picture: Jane Barlow)
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IT HAS already proved to be the most divisive project planned for the Granite City for decades.

And yesterday the opposing ranks in the row over the controversial scheme to remodel Aberdeen’s Union Terrace Gardens were as bitterly entrenched as ever as a strikingly futuristic design was unveiled as the winning choice for the scheme.

The winning entry by American architects Diller Scofidio & Renfro – featuring a network of concrete pathways soaring above the parkland – was lauded by supporters as “inspirational” and “ingenious” and Aberdeen’s answer to the world famous Guggenheim Museum.

Union Terrace Gardens as they look now. Picture: Jane Barlow

Union Terrace Gardens as they look now. Picture: Jane Barlow

But critics immediately branded the design “Teletubbie Park” – made famous in the popular BBC children’s television series.

It failed to win the popular vote during a public exhibition of the final six designs. But “The Granite Web” was the unanimous choice of the design jury panel for the scheme which is being bankrolled in part by Scotland’s second richest man, oil tycoon Sir Ian Wood.

The design, which is expected to come in £25 million below the estimated £140m budget, will now go forward to a public referendum on the scheme when the people of Aberdeen will be asked to vote on whether they support the chosen design or if they want the Victorian gardens to be remain untouched.

The design would be built across the existing gardens and the yawning chasm of the Denburn valley, and includes a contemporary arts centre, an open-air auditorium and new public plazas in Union Street and Belmont Street.

It was chosen ahead of the people’s favourite, the Winter Garden, by Foster and Partners, the firm led by renowned architect Lord Foster, which designed the new Wembley Stadium and the Gherkin in London.

John Stewart, chairman of the City Garden Project management board, said the winning design could be Aberdeen’s answer to the Eden project or the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, designed by Frank Gehry.

He said: “I believe it will transform the way in which Aberdonians perceive, use and enjoy the city centre. This could be Aberdeen’s Eden Project, our Guggenheim, and will be a unique space that nowhere else in Europe can offer. With this design, we can aspire to be a contemporary city of style, culture and verve.”

Sir Duncan Rice, the chairman of the design jury, said the winning project was “ingenious” and “inspirational” and would use a “cat’s cradle of filaments” suspended over the historic Denburn to connect the gardens to the whole of the central cityscape of Union Street and the surrounding area.

But opponents of the plans attacked the winning design. Mike Shepherd, chairman of the Friends of Union Terrace Gardens, said the chosen design was a “crime against nature”. He claimed: “The Foster design was the least worst option and at least preserved something that looked like Union Terrace Gardens. But this is the Teletubbie Park and it is going to totally obliterate any trace of what Union Terrace Gardens looks like.”