City’s triffid invasion of bad designs

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MONSTROUS architecture is being allowed to spread across the Capital like "triffids", according to one of the country’s leading design experts.

In an outspoken attack, Professor Charles McKean has claimed that poor designs are being repeated all over the city and that "third-rate" buildings are being allowed to go up in the Capital’s historic heart.

Professor McKean, a leading architect and lecturer at Dundee University, condemned the "empty cliches" being used by building designers in the Capital.

Several design features had appeared out of nowhere and then spread across the city like the killer plants in John Wyndham’s novel The Day of the Triffids, said Prof McKean, who will deliver the Cockburn Association’s fifth annual lecture later this month.

"There is a new type of architecture emerging in Edinburgh that could justifiably be called triffids, and I’m going to show how it breeds. This is the new architectural clich. It’s a piece of architectural emptiness. It’s an empty clich," he said.

The professor highlighted part of Edinburgh’s international conference centre as an example of what should be avoided.

He said: "There is a dreadful metal headband that runs around the top of the EICC. It’s now running round lots of buildings in Edinburgh."

He said the worst examples of this particular "triffid" could now be found at the Fort Kinnaird shopping complex, "where smaller metal bands can be found on many of the buildings."

Professor McKean also accused planners at the city council of lacking an overall vision of how the city should be developing.

"We may think planners have control in Edinburgh, but in the central parts the town is over-controlled, and you get third-rate non-buildings.

"In areas that are non-sensitive, I think the planners are out of control. Just look at the traffic jams and the destruction of the views of the city. If you don’t have a vision you can’t control anything."

Councillor Bob Cairns, planning convenor, today labelled Professor McKean a "professional moaner" and denied there was a lack of strategy in the city. "We have the Edinburgh and Lothians structure plan, which sets down broad guidelines on where a development should go. There are also the local plans, which give more detailed guidance for local areas."

Cllr Cairns said there were "numerous" guidelines on design quality, but added: "The problem is, some builders and developers don’t see quality as being as important as we would like, and we have to force them to improve their plans."

He added: "Prof McKean is entitled to his views, and architects are notoriously bitchy about other architects. It’s very easy to criticise from an academic ivory tower, but we have to make real decisions about real people for where they live and work."

Martin Hulse, secretary of the Cockburn Association, said he did not necessarily agree with Prof McKean’s opinions, but he hoped the lecture would spark a debate among architects and planners.

He said: "One reason he was chosen was his fantastic knowledge of architecture in the city. He will be there to create a debate, and the lecture has sold out, which shows an interest in his work and thoughts."

Leading city architect Malcolm Fraser said: "Ninety-nine per cent of new buildings in the city aren’t particularly good, but 15 years ago it was 99.5 per cent, so we’re making progress."

Prof McKean will deliver his lecture at on May 13.