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News Analysis


Growing pains in Scotland
13 April 2006


A year old this week, Architecture & Design Scotland is coming under fire from critics who say it has not tackled issues such as PFI, the skills shortage and education. Will Hurst looks at how the watchdog is faring

By Will Hurst


Ian Gilzean looks uneasy. "I think I've given you enough," he tells BD through a fixed smile, backing away. The principal architect at the Scottish Executive, he is not keen on talking about whether Architecture & Design Scotland - Cabe north of the borders - is going to tackle the thorny issue of PFI.

For architects in Scotland, it's a hot topic. A&DS is one year old this week but what was heralded by many as a bright new dawn for architecture in Scotland has proved to be more of a damp squib. It has made headlines with its spiky design review reports but, according to critics, failed to tackle the bigger issues of PFI and the skills shortage in the industry.

A&DS was born amid talk of an architectural renaissance in Scottish architecture, with high hopes that this dynamic new organisation, underpinned by a formal policy on architecture, would soon make a real difference to "ordinary" places and buildings such as schools and hospitals.

But many leading Scottish architects privately believe that A&DS is beginning to mirror its discredited predecessor, the tweed-jacketed Royal Fine Art Commission for Scotland, with its head in the skies while it fails to tackle the real challenges for Scotland's built environment.

PFI is seen by architects on both sides of the border as one of the main barriers to good design in the public sector. But while Cabe and, especially, the RIBA have grabbed hold of the issue with both hands, for A&DS, it is the "elephant in the corner that no one mentions", claim critics.

The procurement method is almost universal in the Scottish public sector, with buildings increasing contracted out in "bundles", giving the edge to large, commercial practices.

"People are waiting for [A&DS] to do something radical on the issues concerned and one of those is PFI," says leading Glasgow architect Alan Dunlop. "Glasgow City Council is the only council [in Scotland] looking at procuring schools using something other than [this system]."

This criticism is echoed by writer and architect Peter Wilson, of Edinburgh's Napier University, who argues that the problem stems from the unwillingness of A&DS's leadership to embarrass its political master, the Scottish Executive - a worry that will be all too familiar to their colleagues in Cabe.

"PFI is completely embedded because the Scottish Executive is completely evangelical about it," says Wilson. "But [chairman] Raymond Young and [chief executive] Sebastian Tombs are very happy to tug the forelock... unless they pick up the ball on the major things like PFI, then A&DS has no function - it is just part of the establishment."

A&DS should also be taking a lead on tackling the construction industry's skills shortage, its critics say. More than a year ago, councillor Trevor Davies, convenor of the City of Edinburgh's planning committee, called for a Scottish equivalent of the Egan Review on skills but still nothing appears to have happened.

There are also complaints, as there are in England, that architecture students are not being taught technical skills at university. Andrew Pinkerton, director of one of Scotland's largest practices, Keppie Design, has had to pay for special courses for "year-out" students working at the practice to make up for this lack of knowledge and thinks A&DS should be on the case.

"I don't see any evidence of Architecture & Design Scotland engaging with the schools of architecture," he says. "But then there has been no communication coming out of Architecture & Design Scotland, apart from the website and the odd press release."

Even in the arena of design review, generally seen as one of the easiest ways for such a body to have an impact, A&DS has its critics. Many architects saw the Royal Fine Art Commission for Scotland as conservative yet unpredictable, and expected that A&DS's design reviews would be a marked improvement.

“‘Unless A&DS picks up the ball on the major things like PFI, it has no function — it is just part of the establishment’”




But a year on, there is a growing feeling that design review should be dropped by A&DS altogether, so it can concentrate on advising clients before detailed design is carried out. Pinkerton, who has applied to become an A&DS adviser, believes design review is a source of negative publicity for the organisation and is of far less value than enabling. He admits he "could be persuaded" that it should be abandoned.

Others, including Dunlop, argue that its panel is unrepresentative and that it is wasting its time looking at schemes by signature architects.

"It is a certain kind of architect [who sits on the design review panel]," he says. "They work on small-scale idiosyncratic projects and there is no architect there with in-depth experience of working on large-scale commercial projects.

"The panel should also be focusing on projects that really matter... the large developments on the periphery of the city. It is seductive to get Zaha Hadid in, but what possible contribution could they make?"

Those within A&DS argue that a year is not long in policy terms and agree that the organisation is still developing. However, they argue that behind the scenes, work is going on to make sure that the key challenges are indeed being addressed.

Chairman Raymond Young is unwilling to pre-empt a review of the organisation in two months' time but reveals that design review is gradually being reformed to ensure that A&DS asserts its influence at an earlier stage.

"For six months we have been operating a system of design review which is done earlier on," he says. "These have been very successful but they are not released into the public domain because otherwise we would never get developers to come forward."

A&DS adviser Gareth Hoskins also defends the organisation, arguing that work such as targeting local authorities and NHS Scotland takes place in private.

"It is dead easy to shout about what is wrong, but to have people coming to us asking for advice is great," he says. "It is the first year so we are finding our feet in some ways, but the direction we are taking is right."

A&DS faces many of the problems of its English counterpart, Cabe, but, as a vulnerable one-year-old, it has less status, and more establishment figures are willing to be openly critical.

Perhaps one of its greatest problems is the lack of budget. While it enjoys around double the funding given to the Royal Fine Art Commission for Scotland, its functions have multiplied to include advocacy, research and enabling, as well as design review.

The organisation must listen to its critics, decide what is really important and focus on that as it enters its critical second year.
 

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That's a fairly accurate article. Pretty much says it all. Over the last three months i have asked quite a few Architects what there views on A&DS were.

I recall a well known Glasgow Architect describing them as "fucking inert". That now is what i think of them when they are mentioned.
 

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Typical jerking of knees there and rather less than accurate. Odd that someone who's practice was shortlisted for a school somewhere other than Glasgow should suggest that only Glasgow is doing schools outwith PPP. Perhaps it only counts when GM+AD are employed but Shetland, South Lanarkshire, Inverclyde, Edinburgh and others are all procuring outwith PPP.

Its also completely innaccurate to suggest that PPP is the sole domain of large practices. The days of a bundle of schools being dealt with by one practice are gone. Bidders know that no practice has the capacity to deal with that and can see the benefits of introducing a variety of design approaches to a bid. Small to medium sized practices can and do get involved as its common for firms to be given maybe just two schools in a bid.

As to A&DS, i have to say there have been issues with them in the past, and we have shared the concern on the makeup of the panels, however that is changing. There is now at least one individual who has experience of PPP (if not large commercial projects) and their whole approach seems to be maturing. For an organisation that supposedly isnt tackling PPP they have been involved at an early stage on two projects we have been bidding, in one case advising the council prior to ITN and in another carrying out reviews on both bidders schemes. I would view that sort of engagement as very positive.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
if I were you outofchaosascatteringofcatlitter I'd send a strongly worded letter to Building Design, I mean there are issues there, no doubt about it. Put them right, it's your duty.

As for Shetland, yeah...... close. Very disappointed in second place but considering we don't yet have a school finished maybe understandable. Once Hazelwood is completed we should do much better in these situations.

Where did your company finish then, with all your school experience, maybe that's commercially sensitive for you?

I'd be interested in your examples of other councils looking to procure out with PPP or are you only teasing, taking the "p" again? and I'm not surprised AD+S would want an early look at what you're designing, not surprised at all. I certainly would.

As I've said before school design is very, very important
 

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We werent close this time (though we were for the previous one up there). I wont go in to the reasons why as i have only had very limited feedback (not personally involved). You might have more success once you complete a school, but its a poor excuse when you lost out to a practice that hasnt completed a school either and who's only school experience is within PPP....

As to what other councils are doing, well since you set yourself up as an expert commentator on such matters i am shock you know so little, but South Lanarkshire are procuring their primary schools through a framework agreement. Edinburgh have i believe put a few primaries out through OJEU (ABC are doing one and E&C are doing some stuff there too i think). Inverclyde are doing a primary and a secondary traditionally as a pilot project before they do a PPP. Falkirk have just completed a primary school in Bo'ness that their own architects department designed.

We certainly dont mind opening our work up to A&DS scrutiny where it is required. We have had very positive input from them. Perhaps your animosity towards them reflects a fundamental difficulty with having to jusitify what you do though perhaps i do you a disservice.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 · (Edited)
outofchaosasinglefishandpennypickle, this new information makes a big difference to me. Had I known about your positive feedback from AD+S I would have been much more unequivocal in my critisism.

As for your insight into PPP I have in front of me right now details of the school projects from three of the councils your have mentioned. None of the three are due to be fully procured by a traditional commissioning agreement followed through by a competative tendering process. In two that is the intention, I admit but no commitment.

Which leaves Glasgow so far as the only Council that has a project now of site
( Hazelwood School ) that has been fully procured, commissioned and tendered by traditional means.

http://www.murraydunloparchitects.com/news/news-09-12-05-dumbreck.htm

Just to finish now, as I've said we were disappointed with Shetland but glad really that another design led practice won. Don't know what Gareth showed or what swung it, but I'd be very surprised if it was his involvement in PPP.

I could be wrong but I suspect that it may have been the childrens hospice in Balloch which has much school like qualities and sits within a natural landscape ........... and wish him well.

Had it been your lot I'd be more than disappointed, I can assure you...
 

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Squirm all you like, you were wrong in your statement that only Glasgow is not going down the PPP route. I have many comments i could make on your school but i wont as i am not as petty as you are, and i shall make no comment at all on whether i would have been disappointed to see you win Mid Yell. Your sniping suggests an attempt to mask a basic insecurity about your work. If it truly stands on its own you wouldnt need to combine your relentness self-promotion with such childish and ignorant comments.
 

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Alan yer aff yer heid mate... how come you always end up noising everyone up on here ..quite comical actualy :hilarious ... i think you get a wee kick from stickin sharp pins in others arses alan i really do.

Outofchaos, Alan is just winding you up awful i think he means well at the end of the day... you see he has all this time on his hands and has nothing better to do and ends up picking on someone who makes a decent comment about building and design, you see Alan thinks this is his domain and feels a threat to anyone who talks at a certain level.

He is one half of the odd couple ( walter mathau ) means well but a Grumpy Auld bastard. :hilarious

Be nice to each other life is too short. :)

You can buy the book from Here btw.

 

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I know fine well he is at the wind up, i am still half way convinced he is a sock puppet ;) I was going to suggest that his last comment was a sign of a hitherto hidden sense of humour but since i do walk along Argyle Street most days i couldnt claim not to have noticed it before ;)
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
ouch! outofchaosahimalayanbackpackerdowntohislastrichteabiscuit, fucking ouch!

I guess your right mo, my involvement in skyscraper has obviously run it's course. Must have better things to do with my time right enough.

see you.........walter mathau eh? I liked him.
 

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Anyway, getting back to the original topic of this thread. Anyone know who is carrying out the review being carried out of A&DS as mentioned in the article above?

And Gareth Hoskins (whose work i admire) is off track when he says that they are engaging Local Authorities and the NHS on the quiet. Has he never heard of Freedom of Information. The Scottish Executive and Local Authorities have their faults but they will shudder when they hear comments such as his.

Sure it would be a good thing if A&DS engaged with large Commercial Practices on PPP as Outofchaos...suggested is the case, but it really is finger in the **** stuff.

I posted on the PPP Schools thread the numbers and values of PPP Contracts in the last year or so. It is going up and up, year on year and this is with the level of, and availability of suitable skills both in design and construction going down.

I don't know want you mean Outofchaos... when you say there were problems in the past with A&DS...however that is changing. they have just reached the one year mark as an organisation - how did they go from being a concern to your practice to then becoming less of a concern? That is not a trick question. I am genuinely interested in how they engage Architects during the design process.

As much as i think of A&DS as "inert" i recognise that with all new organisations they need time. I do hope that they succeed and have a positive effect on Architecture and the Built Environment in Scotland.

However if they are unable, or more worryingly unwilling to communicate effectively, then how could they have a positive effect on Architecture and the Built Environment?
 

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I would say it is perhaps more a question of perception. Our initial take on it was that it was a collection of the usual suspects. Our early experience of the review process was also not particularly positive. Less to do with the feedback than the organisation of the event and the time allowed for a very large project to be presented. Recent experience suggests that they are learning and while i would still like to see broader representation on the panel it is still early days and we should avoid the typically Scottish habit of rushing to criticise aything which isnt successful immediately.
 
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