My memories of Aberdeen stretch back to the 1950s and (especially from my then roughly one-metre height) the buildings in the town looked like the Rock of Ages, all of them composed of huge blocks of granite which no-one would ever mess with. But in recent decades, during my widely spaced return visits, I’ve had to get used to the idea that even Aberdeen has town planners and property developers.
So, for other far-flung Aberdonians, here’s what I saw when I visited this week. The good news – Marischal College (pictured) has had a scrub up and the outside looks fantastic. Since the City Council have made this great building their HQ, there’s an actual hole in the ground (even better news) where their former home, St Nicholas House, used to be, and round the corner the previous Town House is also having a cleanup. But – not so good – it looks like another hotel-offices-shops thingy will be filling that space, with a very prominent office building also underway around the Triple Kirks, somewhat altering the perspective from Schoolhill over Union Terrace Gardens (which itself evaded the fantastical makeover you may have heard about).
Exiting the station you now enter Union Square, a covered mall as found in really cold places like Minneapolis and Montreal – I couldn’t begrudge the present residents this although it’s a pretty boring building in an important location. But nearby I was cheered to see the restored Tivoli Theatre looking lovely on the outside. And Esslemont and Mackintosh is now a Jamie’s Italian – that’s either good or bad according to taste. Aberdeen Art Gallery is going to re-open in 2017 with an added new storey (my visit this week was for musical reasons related to that) while the Music Hall is also being refurb-ed. Architectural differences of opinion apart, I returned south relieved to see that the city’s public space is at last receiving such rigorous attention.