Scottish architectural news – tragedy and triumph

Ulaanbaatar calls the tune: Scots architects snubbed over £45m concert hall design

SCOTTISH architects fear they could lose out on one of the biggest and most prestigious design jobs in the nation’s history because the contest to choose its architect is being run from Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia).

The National can reveal that the competition to choose the architects to design the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s sumptuous new £45 million concert hall in Edinburgh’s historic New Town is being run by an Ulaanbaatar-based company, Genghis Khan Associates Ltd, which has no office in Scotland and lists no Scottish public sector clients on its website.

An article beginning like this appeared yesterday in The National, the separatists’ in-house propaganda comic.

The words are theirs, except of course I’ve tweaked them slightly. For Ulaanbaatar and Genghis Khan read respectively London and a company called Colander Associates.


Do you get the point?

For The National, and apparently some Scottish architects, a design competition run from a city in the UK outwith Scotland might as well be master-minded from Mongolia – Inner or Outer, you choose. Only a Scottish company has the sensitivity and understanding of ‘Scottish procurement laws’ [British, surely?] to run a competition. Note that. It’s not to design the building, but just to run the competition to choose an architect to design it. The result of this London choice is that Scottish architectural practices might be disadvantaged in the competition, shock horror. (There’s also the small matter of the lack of Scottish architectural practices that design major concert halls but that doesn’t bother The National)

On the other hand, Scotland might just get a world-beating concert hall designed by someone far from these islands’ shores.

And what about Scotland’s architects? Do they want to compete for work in England, Wales or even abroad? They should have a care in case commissioning bodies there take as parochial an attitude to them as The National and one or two anonymous architects they quote take to a company based elsewhere in the UK.

The whole thing is just another small example of the nationalist hedgehog, curling ever more into a tight ball to avoid the influence of the outside world. The Scottish tragedy.

Meantime, and almost un-noticed, a genuine triumph of British culture and architectural scholarship has come to a conclusion in Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire with the publication of the 68th and final volume of the three series known to aficionados as ‘Pevsner’ but to its publishers as ‘The Buildings of England/Scotland/Wales.’


These wonderful books, based mostly on the old counties of the three nations, provide a comprehensive guide to just about every building worth seeing in their area. They’re a delight to browse, an essential aid to understanding the built environment of the whole country, and a must-have if you want to explore the buildings of any city, town or country area of Britain. They are unique.

The irony is that their creator, Nikolaus Pevsner, was not a Brit but a German art historian who found refuge in Britain when the Nazi race laws threatened to deprive him of his job and worse (he was born Jewish but converted to Christianity). Once here he lived the rest of his life in England but was keen to have the buildings of Scotland recorded in the same way as his monumental series on England. Here’s what the publisher’s blurb for that final, final piece in the architectural jigsaw of Britain says about Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire:

[an] astounding diversity of character, from the wild remote moorland of the south to the landscape of the Clyde estuary in the north-west, and from deeply rural villages to former steel and iron towns of the Lanarkshire coalfields … not only the medieval abbey at the centre of Paisley, but also the great port of Greenock, with one of the grandest municipal palaces of Victorian Scotland, and in the countryside Georgian houses and well-to-do Edwardian villas, including Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Windyhill … the great medieval castles of Bothwell and Craignethan, William Adam’s majestic hunting lodge at Chatelherault, and planned settlements of international significance, from the model weaving village of Robert Owen’s New Lanark to the post-war New Town of Cumbernauld.

I feel a trip coming on.


Here’s some more reading on Pevsner if you’re interested:

The Guardian on the publication of the last ‘Buildings of …’ volume

Introduction to the Buildings of Scotland series.

There is no additional reading that I would recommend on the dire parochialism and grievance-mongering of The National article.

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3 Responses to Scottish architectural news – tragedy and triumph

  1. David Cushman says:

    The rot goes far deeper, to to very heart of SCO programming. In January for example, a Welsh (!) pianist, Llŷr Williams, is playing Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto with the SCO. Moreover, Mr. Williams is managed by a London (!!) firm. Do we not have Scottish pianists and artist management firms?? Frankly, I have to wonder if the employment of Mr. Williams even meets Scottish procurement laws. Not to mention the deplorable fact that Beethoven was not Scottish (alhough thankfully enough not English). The SCO should certainly stock more Scottish composers’ piano concertos (along with Scottish water at the refreshment counter).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Roger White says:

      Haha – very good. I suppose Williams might just creep in on the basis of some sort of Celtic-nationalist solidarity, although I know nothing of his political views. Still, the fact that he has chosen an Ulaanbaatar management company suggests he’s suspect. Thanks for commenting.


  2. Sam Duncan says:

    “the separatists’ in-house propaganda comic”

    Or, as Guido Fawkes (who, I seem to recall, quietly supported a “yes” vote back in ’14) put it the other day, “bonkers pretend newspaper”.

    Thanks for the news about the Scottish “Pevsner”s. I remember being fascinated by a TV series about his own books years ago, but had no idea his work had been continued and extended into Scotland since his death. It turns out the Glasgow volume was published in 1990, which would have been around the time the show was made, in fact. Better late than never, I suppose; add it to the letter to Santa…

    Liked by 1 person

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