A project that matters ...
Union Terrace Gardens is one of the most centrally located city parks in Scotland, surrounded by some of the best architecture in Aberdeen. In 2018, after years dogged by decline and controversy, the green light was given to its restoration.
“The proposals have generated enormous interest, excitement and comment across the city. People feel very passionate about UTG – something that became evident during the masterplan consultation.”
Jenny Laing, Aberdeen City Council leader, December 2016
Union Terraces Gardens’ charms had sadly been eroded over time.
“It was fantastic that people came and took part in the artistic activation event, and were enthusiastic about the gardens and their potential.”
Jenny Laing, leader of Aberdeen City Council
From pleasure to pain
UTG opened in 1878 when the ‘bleaching greens’ next to the railway line were given to the people as a pleasure ground by the Council. But decline had set in by the early 21st century, their charm and beauty was eroded, and safety after dark was increasingly a source of concern.
In 2010, controversial plans were unveiled to transform the Gardens with some of the park valley being filled in and built over. For the next few years, Friends of the Gardens fought against any such proposals.
In 2016, LDA Design was chosen to reunite the city behind a new design that would reclaim the Gardens for the people of Aberdeen. But what did the people of Aberdeen want? Such a bitter campaign over the future of the gardens had left people feeling disillusioned about public consultation.
While any plans for the Gardens were going to be subject to intense public scrutiny, people would need some persuading that their voice mattered.
Flying the flag
We had to find ways to put local people at the heart of the design process and demonstrate that the Gardens truly were theirs to shape.
So we started by renewing interest in the potential for change. We distributed thousands of cards around Aberdeen showing ‘instagrams from the future’. The images invited people to imagine the lively calendar of activities and events which could be experienced in restored Gardens.
We also celebrated the fine heritage to build from. On a cold November day, the lawns fluttered with over 200 brightly coloured flags featuring drawings of details found within the Gardens. Mosaic Gardens, designed with engagement specialists NADFLY, was an installation which attracted over 400 people.
Everyone was invited to take a flag home with them as a new memory of the Gardens. This way the flags filtered out across the city as a symbol of reclamation and hope for what was to come.
“I recall watching the team on the display stands during the bitter Aberdeen winter, always ready to listen and answer questions, always smiling. The very high approval rating for the emergent design reflected the engagement with disparate and occasionally adversarial groups.”
David Ewen, Communications and Engagement Officer for the City Centre Masterplan
Strong views and high standards
These events provided bookended a more formal consultation process with residents and stakeholders. A survey on Aberdeen City Council’s Citizen Space portal collected more than 1,400 responses – hundreds within the first few days. Across the city, residents asked for the Gardens to be conserved but with improved access and more amenity and activity.
Improving disabled access was a top priority. The Disability Equity Partnership and Aberdeen Bon Accord Access Panel helped the design team and surveys showed that views on the resulting designs for accessibility, facilities and safety were overwhelmingly positive.
We also worked closely with Historic Environment Scotland on refurbishment of the splendid Victorian toilets, the Burns Monument and Arcade Arches and the proposed pavilion within Rosemount Plaza.
Civic pride is also being restored with the reinstatement of the ‘grand staircase’ and a new informal amphitheatre alongside two new viewing platforms.
LDA Design’s design proposals received a 91% public approval rating, and the detailed planning application was unanimously approved by Aberdeen City Council. Work is expected to start in 2019.
“It is one of the very best examples of inclusive design I have ever seen. They have clearly worked very hard to understand how to make the gardens an experience for everyone, regardless of physical ability.”
Dame Anne Begg, Chair, Disability Equality Partnership