A City Center Becomes a Garden

Aberdeen, a city in Scotland, is not only transforming its urban center into a garden and cultural center, but also making sure the proposed designs suit the needs of the public. An upcoming referendum will gauge public support for the designs created by landscape architects OLIN, architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and Scottish architects KeppieDesign, which won an international design competition. 

OLIN writes that the new City Garden will be a “reinvigorated green heart of the city,” doubling the urban core’s current size. A key concept is to reconnect the dramatic landscape of Aberdeen with the city via a “web of paths.” This web will provide opportunities for visitors to explore a diverse set of gardens harking back to Aberdeen’s rich natural and cultural history. “The gardens’ planting palettes will mimic the regional landscape and ecology of Northeast Scotland and be supplemented with plants from its European neighbors and other parts of the world.”

Buildings and landscapes will work together to create micro-climates, offering buffers from the harsher aspects of local weather. All native plants will be used to ensure local fauna also take home in the garden city. By showing what sustainability looks like in practice, the designers hope that they can engage residents of Aberdeen in a civic dialogue about the future of their environment. “Underlying the design of the landscape is a desire both to engage and teach.” In addition to providing sensory stimulation, the gardens will promote local horticultural skills as well.

The new green space will offer an opportunity for a new “landmark cultural and arts centre,” which promotes the city’s historic streets, “revealing the arches, vaults and bridge on Union Street and retaining the balustrades and statues which are part of Aberdeen’s legacy,” writes Malcolm Reading Consultants, the group that managed the competition.

In their article, Charles Renfro, the lead architect on the project, summed up the idea of the new city center: “While the City Garden is at the heart of Aberdeen, the heart has little pulse…we feel that we can make that heart throb and bring life and energy into the centre of town. By making the park greener, more accommodating to passive and active uses, more engaged at its edges, the gardens can become a magnet for this otherwise youthful and energetic city.” OLIN Partner-in-Charge on the project, Richard Newton, ASLA, added: “Our studio is truly honored to be a part of a team of such accomplished firms to transform Aberdeen’s City Garden into an accessible public space that seamlessly integrates the history and fabric of the city with the region’s remarkable native landscape, providing a unique opportunity for residents to enjoy each other’s company and celebrate their vibrant culture.”

The city, which sees going greener as central to its future economic competitiveness, worked closely with the jury and consultants that devised economic impact studies. Charles Landry, author of The Creative City and a member of the Jury, relayed some of the economic values of the project: “This is a design that can act as the catalyst to regenerate the whole of Aberdeen’s city centre with significant economic impacts for the entire city. Truly inspiring, it can put Aberdeen onto the global radar screen – very, very few designs can do this. Without this type of transformational change, Aberdeen will struggle to meet the challenges it will inevitably face in the future.”  

There are no details on the project size or budget but with the public referendum, more information is sure to be coming.

Image credits: Copyright Diller Scofidio + Renfro

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