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Edinburghs festival of architecture 2016

Festival of Architecture 2016: Scotland’s best buildings revealed

Mike Plaster
Tuesday 4th October, 2016

The Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland is holding a year-long festival dedicated to showcasing the best and brightest Scottish buildings. As the Scotstyle public votes roll in to find the country’s best building, we take a look at the contenders.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh, James Miller and of course, Sir James Stirling – all have left an impressionable footprint in Scottish architectural history, which has gone on to produce many of the UK’s best buildings.

In Scotland, 2016 is the year of great architecture; The Royal Incorporation of Architects has held a series of events since January to celebrate the spirit and sensibility of the buildings that define the country. The 2016 Festival of Architecture has launched a public vote, Scotstyle, to decide which single one is the nation’s favourite.

From an initial list of 100, the final 10 were announced in August – and the winner will be named at the Festival of Architecture Finale on the 18th November. Here is that shortlist.

St Conan’s Kirk, Argyll

This 19th-century church is best known for its Robert the Bruce Chapel, which is said to store one of the great king’s bone fragments. Architect Walter Douglas Campbell was thought to have salvaged oak from two battleships in the process of building St Conan’s. Preferring to stray from convention, Campbell used a variety of architectural styles to complete work on this Category A-listed building in 1886; the combination of Norman archways and wrought-iron gates only add to rather than detract from the overall aesthetic.

India Tyre and Rubber Factory, Inchinnan 

The India of Inchinnan was once at the heart of the Scottish wartime effort – here in a once-adjoining hangar, the Scots built airships throughout the First World War. But it’s when the office building was completed in 1930 that the ‘self-consciously modern’ Art Deco style began to lift the locals out of post-war depression. The building was restored in 2003 and won its new tenants an award for 'Best Re-Use of an Historic Building' at the Scottish Design Awards.

Rothesay Pavilion, Isle of Bute 

This blocky yet curvy seaside pavilion was completed in 1938 and would be the first herald of a great British beach holiday for those arriving on the Isle of Bute by ferry. With the clash of a curved façade below its flat roof, the building makes a unique streamlined statement and a strong case for the International Style, which was being pioneered throughout Europe. The 20th Century Society is currently overseeing an £8 million refurbishment project that should safeguard the pavilion’s future.

Hermit’s Castle, Achmelvich 

When you think of castles your vision tends to lean heavily towards grand, old-world majesty – but this humble abode, which overlooks the shores at Achmelvich, is very different. Built in 1950s from poured concrete, its designer David Scott was looking for something much homelier. This castle only has one cramped, confined room with a small concrete bed, boxed windows and a chimney. It’s thought that the English architect stayed only one weekend in Hermit’s Castle – but his loss was the locals’ and tourists’ gain.

Dundee Repertory Theatre, Dundee

The Rep’s designers, Nicoll Russell Studios, declared its project the finishing touch to the only Georgian square left in Dundee and its place-making status as a ‘shop window’ into the arts for the city residents. Built with what it calls ‘almost Brutalist pride’ typical of the early 1980s, the hard modernist angles on the theatre call for attention and grab the eye in an otherwise much softer locale. The ‘shop window’ also benefits greatly from being lit up to stunning effect at night.

Princes Square, Glasgow  

Bill Bryson called it “one of the most intelligent pieces of urban renewal”; the addition of the glass dome and other modern features over this cobbled Glasgow square produces a dramatic yet stylish modern accompaniment to John Baird’s original work from the 1840s. The original sandstone exterior is a Category B-listed building while the overhaul – including glass-sided lifts and wrought-iron detailing on the winding staircases – has won many design prizes from RIBA and the Civic Trust among others.

National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh

A nominee for the 1999 Stirling Prize, what would become the Museum of Scotland caused some controversy when noted building traditionalist, the Prince of Wales, resigned his patronage over the competition to design it. Even the staunchest advocate for traditional design can’t help but admire the final product; a symbolic claim to Scotland’s fame as the home of the biggest and best castles, with a circular turret rounding off its sleek square form, inspired by Le Corbusier.

The Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh

The designer of the Scottish Parliament building, Enric Miralles, said he was looking to produce the effect of a building ‘growing out of the land’; one that belonged to the entire country. The strong use of wooden frontage on the public entrance certainly seems to point that way – but at a cost that came in at over 10 times more than initial estimates, the Parliament building was not without its detractors. Despite this, the design was well-received – and won the 2005 Stirling Prize.

Dundee Contemporary Arts, Dundee

Another building that highlights natural growth, the newly-built frontage of Dundee Contemporary Arts seems to grow out of the adjoining brick warehouse. Also integral in the design scheme is the sheer amount of light allowed into and around the building through its wide glass windows and skylights. The idea is to entice passers-by into stopping off to make use of the facilities. Even the cinema contains a window underneath the screen, which is uncovered after the credits to let viewers take advantage of the fantastic views.

Pier Arts Centre, Stromness

The PAC is nestled among the stone-faced front that welcomes visitors to the island of Orkney – a strategic decision that pays off, as the new building contrasts completely with the rest of the seafront; it’s completely white on three sides and glows at night when lit up. The aim in these three contrasting buildings is both to blend in and stand out; to take the viewer away from their surroundings and to allow them in fully.

Whichever of these magnificent builds ends up scooping the top prize in Scotstyle 2016, the campaign has been a proven success in raising the profile of Scottish architecture as one of the most significant and diverse contributors in history.

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