Sunday, 7 December 2014

Keppies are back!

the ill-judged West Dunbartonshire Council HQ proposal
 the ill-judged West Dunbartonshire Council HQ proposal

You know, I've been so taken with the fantastic world-leading architecture and planning of Halliday Fraser Munro over the past months that I had forgotten about Keppies - an old favourite and again, a world leader in design and planning. Well! I noticed an article in the treacherous Urban Realm rag last week confirming that Keppies are back in the frame with a fantastic appointment for the design and landscaping of the new £19.3m headquarters for West Dunbartonshire Council - the same Council that brought us this. ( My story is at the foot of the page but the original Guardian article has been removed for legal reasons!)

This is fantastic news for Keppies who will get a nice fat fee out of this but there are many other considerations. The idea of the development is peppered with mistakes which will have many long term implications. Let's have a look at this from an expert planner's viewpoint - ie mine.
Dumbarton Town Hall - An impediment to development - ripe for demolition
An impediment to development - ripe for demolition

First of all, the development seems to be retaining the A-Listed facade of a derelict building and this is clearly an elementary mistake. It would have been cheaper and far better to have knocked this down and built a completely modern structure. I feel that Keppies would be good at this! It could have been a well-earned smack in the face for the conservation lobby instead of a lily-livered piece of tokenism. Or even panderingism!

Secondly, I seriously question the location of the development in Dumbarton town centre - which like so many others across Scotland is a dead zone full of rats, welfare scroungers and tumbleweed. In my view, this development should have been located on a greenfield site with easy parking and good connections to major strategic routes. Another advantage of out-of-town town halls is that it is more difficult for the great unwashed to turn up out of the rain with a series of petty complaints about things they know nothing about, soaking up staff time in the process.

Now Keppie's Director Richard MacDonald is quoted as saying, “This is an important regeneration project for Dumbarton and the redevelopment of this site is a fantastic opportunity to integrate a sympathetic but contemporary solution into the existing urban context", but we all know this is just PR rubbish. Secretly he only cares about the fee and that is absolutely the right approach. Some may say that this proposal follows the guiding principles of the Sir Malcolm Fraser Commission into Town Centres but I think that even he would agree that this is a poor show from West Dunbartonshire Council and should be the subject of an immediate review. After all, what is the point in building a brand new spanking development in an area that will cease to exist in the next few years?

Now I'm not sure about this but I assume that as is the case with most Council offices, the amount of space taken up by toilets is proportionally much more than in normal buildings. Reading racks for the Daily Record in each booth take up a lot of space and there is considerably more demand for and uptake of this facility than in say a call centre. It's an interesting design parameter - isn't it? There is no mention of this on Urban Realm although the discussion boards are alive with commentary from Big Chantelle and Spellcheck, two of the leading architectural critics and thought leaders of the Urban Realm website.

You know, if this unfortunate development is ever built, I think people will look back on it and shake their heads, wondering how this ever happened. Maybe it will be the last silly development to take place before Scottish Independence - who knows. It could have been integrated in the great Lomondgate development where there is plenty of synergistic development - like coffee shops and burger bars and of course a dreadful Andy Scott horse sculpture. Anyway I have to praise Keppies for winning this and getting a nice fat fee but I utterly condemn the development as lightweight and lacking in any real planning principles.

All the best from Auchterness - see you later in the week maybe. Cheeriebye for now.

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