Marischal Square: could we have done better?

Having seen an exciting, transformational city centre project moved from the action list to the waste bin, those with an interest in the future of Aberdeen have been looking for a new project to excite their sense of civic pride.

A civic square in front of Marischal College has been an ambition in Aberdeen for many years. I remember viewing a model of the proposed square at an exhibition some years ago. It was an exciting prospect.

Grand Place, Brussels
Any suggestion of a civic square like the Grand Place in Brussels seems to have gone

Opposite the magnificent frontage of Marischal College was an open square in which Provost Skene’s House had pride of place. Around the square were relatively low-rise buildings that, we were told, would house shops, restaurants, cafés and hotels. Visions of a modern-day equivalent of the Grand Place in Brussels, came to mind.



Although we couldn’t create the line of historic buildings, the new square could provide the same sort of meeting place right in the heart of our city. And it would have two magnificent historic buildings at each end – Marischal College and Provost Skene’s House.

  • At that exhibition I could envisage this square with street cafés in the summer.
  • Outdoor performances of bands, orchestras and dance.
  • Son-et-lumiere projected onto Marischal College and Provost Skene’s House.
  • Farmer’s markets and the International Street Market throughout the year.
  • Street entertainers encouraging crowds to linger.
  • Beating the Retreat with the pipes and drums.
  • Hosting elements of prestigious sports events, like the Commonwealth Games Baton Relay.

But that vision is a long way away from Marischal Square as it is envisaged at the exhibition by developers Muse. And, despite brave words from the ruling coalition at Aberdeen City Council, the dominant response from the public seems to be disappointment.

The much-hated St Nicholas House, which has stood opposite Marischal College for less than 50 years is being levelled. In its place the developers propose what look like the modern equivalent office blocks, with shops and restaurants.

ROB ABN 280314 CUT1 from Julia Correia on Vimeo.



Although they are bravely talking about it as a civic square, it looks more like Broad Street will finally live up to its name.

The buildings directly opposite Marischal College will actually be taller than the main frontage of St Nicholas House. Will the afternoon sunlight even reach the Marischal College frontage over these higher blocks? Might it actually end up feeling even more enclosed than it was with St Nicholas House?

You could build blocks like this in any city in Britain. Is there anything about them to make them unique to Aberdeen? Something that reflects the Granite City? Or the local architectural style?

Although Marischal College seems destined to be almost as closed-in as it was, it does look as though Provost Skene’s House may feel marginally less enclosed. At least, without the main block of St Nicholas House towering over it, that particular historic building should get more light.

Yes, I think Marischal Square, as it is currently proposed, would improve the area and bring much needed footfall to this area of the city centre. That is to be welcomed. But, have we missed out by not being more bold?

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