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Proving Ground
Diller Scofidio + Renfro to create web-like park and culture center in Scotland.
DS+R's proposal weaves buildings into and under a new park and over a road trench.
Courtesy DS+R

Known as the Granite City, Aberdeen, Scotland’s silvery gray townscape will soon have a dynamic new emerald heart. Designed by Diller, Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R), with OLIN and the Scottish architects at Keppie Design, a new hybrid park and cultural center will transform an existing park and extend over a road and rail trench to better connect the city with a highly programmed, fully accessible indoor and outdoor space with a rolling highland/lowland landscape. On January 16, the Aberdeen Garden City Trust and the City Council announced that DS+R had bested some of the leading firms in both architecture and landscape architecture—West 8, Foster + Partners, Snohetta & Hoskins, Mecanoo, and Gustafson Porter—to win the commission.

The existing park has a 65-foot grade change, so DS+R exploited the sectional possibilities of the site. “Some of the other proposals simply placed pavilions in a park,” said principal Charles Renfro. “We created a layered three- dimensional matrix, where the building is woven under and into the park.” The cultural center will include an approximately 5,000-person outdoor amphitheater—with a dramatic walkway crisscrossing overhead—a 215,000 square foot exhibition hall, and a 500-person black box theater.

Clockwise from top: Inside the 5,000-person amphitheater; the buildings are woven into the landscape; and a site plan.

The varied topography should create a variety of experiences within the small park. “One of the reasons we threaded the cross-paths was to create different parcels where you could have independent experiences,” Renfro said. The pathways also connect to existing streets and major points of interest in the area, including the nearby train station and cultural institutions.

Many buildings-as-landscape projects are built with a relatively thin planting medium, typically on top of a curved or sloping building. Renfro calls the proposal, known as the Granite Web, a “true hybrid of building and landscape.” Working with OLIN, they hope to connect the park to the dramatic and varied Scottish landscape, with large trees, deep berms, and rolling hills of heath. “It will be the defining location in the city,” he said.

“The Diller Scofidio + Renfro team had thought long and hard about Aberdeen’s special history and unique needs.  Answer by answer, they overwhelmed the jury with their vision and their sensitivity to the whole downtown context,” said Sir Duncan Rice, jury chair, in a statement. Now that the project has been selected, it faces a public referendum.

Alan G. Brake