Aberdeen high-rise buildings | The selective regeneration of our city

We interviewed movie director Mark Stirton last month about his career and how he has coped with lockdown. Shortly after we published he told us that he had something important to share about Aberdeen high-rise buildings and asked if he could write for us on the subject.

While a number of Aberdeen high-rise buildings have been awarded category A listed status, their residents continue to suffer awful living conditions. Over to Mark.

The selective regeneration of Aberdeen by Mark Stirton 

Someone sitting in an air conditioned office somewhere has decided that Aberdeen high-rise buildings like Virginia Court and Marischal Court are in some way historically important. Presumably whoever made this decision at Historic Environment Scotland has never actually been inside these buildings. Certainly they have never had to live in one. So, let’s take a closer look at these historically important buildings shall we?


The first thing you’ll notice upon arriving in the area is that every single paving stone is broken. Not just one or two, all of them. So already, without actually entering the buildings, you can clearly see that this area has not been maintained in any meaningful way in quite some time.

But things get so much worse when we enter Virginia Court. Lift or stairs? Let’s try the lift first and as the door shudders to a close I notice that someone has scrawled something inside; ‘Please fix this door before an OAP gets stuck’. Sound advice and I immediately wonder if the doors will ever open again.

Fine, let’s take the stairs.

The steps leading up to the main stairwell are an immediate cause for concern. The problem is not that the banisters have been removed, which would not be so bad, it’s that the banisters have been partially removed. Nasty sharp metal struts have been left still in place and pointing outwards at exactly eye level for a toddler. Smart.

‘Please fix this door before an OAP gets stuck’. Sound advice …

Aberdeen High-Rise | The Flats

The stairwells themselves are pretty gruesome, with nasty big chunks of wall missing all over the place. But then, no one lives in the stairwells. It’s the flats that are the real eye opener here in this most important of buildings.

Where to start? Electrical wires hang out of the wall as if repaired by someone wearing a blindfold. Plaster is falling off the roof in big chunks. I can see cracks all over the place with massive gaps between floors and walls.

These gaps are more than just unsightly since they allow local insects to infest the lower flats. Without the addition of many rolls of flypaper to at least moderate the influx of midges, these rooms would not be considered fit for human habitation. Especially when you consider the rats.

Also problematic is the difficulty in heating a room that’s surrounded by walls that don’t reach the floor. Having said that, the storage heaters here have been imported from the 60s and would only heat you up if you sat on one.

This may explain why there is dry rot everywhere. One woman I spoke to, who was moving out, cited this exact reason for her moving; the health of her children was suffering just by being here. Is that a mushroom growing out of the floorboards? Yes, you can grow mushrooms here.

Yup, I saw rats. I didn’t hang around to photograph them, but I saw them.

Communal space or lack of privacy?

Anyway, let’s take our lives in our hands and try the balconies. Now maybe it’s beyond the understanding of a simple film director like myself to comprehend why rust and missing bolts everywhere is a perfectly safe way to leave a balcony, but to use your eyes and your common sense? I didn’t linger.

Another issue with the balconies is that of privacy. You see, everyone gets a balcony. What you might not realise from the outside is that most rooms have access to the same communal balcony, including the bedrooms. So if you fancy a neighbour standing directly outside your bedroom door at night, you’re in luck. It’s an appalling design. One that points towards another dirty little secret of these buildings – they were never any good to begin with! Presumably the original 1950’s based theory was to allow for a sense of community. You know, talking to a neighbour on the balcony while discussing the merits of teabags or some such. In the less cosy reality of 2021 however, it just means someone can come along and pee outside your bedroom door at 4 in the morning.

So if you fancy a neighbour standing directly outside your bedroom door at night, you’re in luck.

Not that communicating directly with your neighbours is that big a problem since the uninsulated walls here are paper thin. It’s quite possible to have a conversation with next door without raising your voice.

Aberdeen high-rise | Walkways

Speaking of disasters waiting to happen, let’s examine the two walkways that once connected Virginia Court and Marischal Court. These have not been in use for at least 3 decades. Again, maybe it’s beyond my humble understanding as to why leaving these walkways unmaintained and subject to the harsh winds and rain of Aberdeen for decades is in fact, perfectly safe and nothing to worry about. But I do worry.

There seems to be an insane innocence to all this, a sort of, it’ll never happen here, attitude.

But it might. Consider the aforementioned banister struts sticking out of the wall. No children have lost eyes, yet, so it must be safe to leave like that. They won’t take action, apparently, until after someone gets hurt.

When Historic Environment Scotland granted these Aberdeen high-rise buildings protected status, Aberdeen City Council protested in a kind of ‘Hey we were just about to fix that problem’ sort of way. But make no mistake, the problems in these buildings are entirely down to the borderline criminal negligence of Aberdeen City Council.

New Council HQ

Let’s take an interesting example from Aberdeen’s own recent historical past shall we? Not that long ago Aberdeen City Council decided that their HQ just wasn’t up to snuff. They needed somewhere new and my goodness didn’t that happen quickly!

The old building was gone in record time, a new home was found across the road. It was renovated, cleaned inside and out, new offices fitted and oh look, some fancy lights. In fact the whole area was regenerated in a remarkably short time. Aberdeen City Council can move pretty damn fast when it’s their own comfort at stake.

And what happened to Virginia and Marischal Court? Where people actually have to live, while all this frenzied rebuilding was going on 500 yards away? Well they were left to rot.

Putting aside the hideous living conditions of the poor souls stuck here to one side for a moment. Something Aberdeen City Council seems to have little difficulty in doing. People are telling us that these buildings are in some way culturally important; they’re not but let’s play the game. That means they’ve been letting these highly important buildings crumble away. So even if you take the human element out of this equation, there is still some world class negligence going on here.

Where’s the rush to action that Aberdeen City Council are apparently capable of, given the right self serving conditions?

An important building like Virginia Court falling into complete disrepair? Who do we call about that? If it’s so important, where’s the money?

The Human Element

Except of course, it’s impossible to take the human element out of this discussion, at least not without being a complete sociopath, because real people have to live in these buildings and they need help. Lifts that open, safe balconies, insulation, a heating solution from this century, an absence of midges and rats, a measure of privacy, fewer mushrooms, you know, the little things.

Unfortunately, since being designated as culturally significant, there is now a delay in any major repair work going on in this area. So people, who live in considerably nicer accommodation than is available in Marischal Court, can argue at great length and in comfort, about the relative merits of Brutalist design concepts.

But the truth is that these Aberdeen high-rise buildings were never any good, interesting architecture aside,  and thanks to the inaction of Aberdeen City Council they’ve gone from bad to worse. Decades of simply looking the other way.

The people living in Virginia and Marischal Court need many things to be sure, but I can tell you what they don’t need, before some idiot turns up with a bucket of paint and a Council grant, they don’t need a mural.

Media Gallery

All photos owned by Mark Stirton.

The Fittie, Aberdeen

Using art and culture to improve life in Aberdeen

Lesley Anne Rose is the co-founder of Open Road, a creative operation based in Aberdeen. They use art and culture to improve health and wellbeing and the local environment. Her work at the Fittie Community Development Trust recently caught our attention. We asked her about Open Road's background, her hopes for the development and how we can build a better future for communities.

At Open Road we believe that culture and creativity inspired by people and place transforms lives. 

The Covid-19 pandemic, movements like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, as well as the local and global impacts of climate change have sparked turmoil, disruption, re-evaluation and, at times, chaos. The stories we tell about ourselves about the world have been tested and re-written. Long-silent voices are being heard. The push to make the world, and all of our lives, more equitable and sustainable grows ever stronger.

The impacts of these times on the cultural sector have been seismic as social distancing prevents us coming together
Lesley Anne Rose

The motivation, means and momentum for innovation and unstoppable change are all in place. The impact of these times on the cultural sector have been seismic as social distancing prevents us coming together. New ways to distribute and show work open up and deep inequalities within organisational structures and privilege come under scrutiny. Within the drive for change the power of storytelling, the need for creativity and the role of culture in holding space to heal the past, connect in the present and vision for the future has been keenly felt. 

Owning our identity and history

We know that whoever owns our stories, news, art, and culture, also owns our identities and history. Our aspiration is to empower and enable individuals, communities, cities and countries to own their stories, give voice to their visions and take steps towards healthier and more sustainable futures for themselves and each other. 

Our place and believe that the North is a place of ‘other’ where we do things differently to the South. Extremes of light and dark, global oil and the closeness of Scandinavia influence us creatively, socially and economically. All of these factors, along with the need for compassion, have underpinned a new business plan we have spent the last six months creating. This plan is underpinned by our new mission to be a creative, entrepreneurial organisation rooted in North East Scotland (‘the North’), but with a global vision. We use arts, culture, heritage and the natural landscape which contributes towards health and wellbeing, tourism and environmental sustainability. 

When we saw the launch of Creative Scotland’s Culture Collective, we knew that we could use it to make a positive difference to Aberdeen. 

About Culture Collective

Culture Collective is a pilot programme from Creative Scotland. It aims to build a network of creative practitioners, organisations and communities. They'll work together to create a positive difference locally and nationally in response to COVID-19. The programme focuses on community engaged creative activity, supporting projects where creative practitioners and communities work collaboratively. Importantly they are responding to the impact of COVID-19, providing employment opportunities for creatives. They'll actively engage people in shaping the future cultural life of their community.

Photo by Glen Rankin

Open Road is working with the Fittie Community Development Trust (FCDT) a charity established to support the harbour-side community in Aberdeen. The people of Fittie set up the FCDT to buy an old Gospel Hall and develop it as a venue for the wellbeing of residents and benefit of visitors. Wider Trust aims include community development and partnership working. 

Fittie residents are both long-term and recent. In summer Fittie can receive up to 1,000 visitors a week which creates a complex relationships between locals and visitors. Fittie sits at the mouth of a global oil port. Complexity also exists between the heritage of the past. The current reality of a city pivoting away from an economy dependant on oil and gas. And, as a coastal community, the impacts of climate change on the future of the village.

Bringing on creatives to the project

With the aim of addressing the impacts of COVID-19 and wider social, economic and environmental influences on community and city, our project will contract three creative practitioners to each work in residence for up to a year. One will create a programme of creative initiatives and participatory events to bring the Hall and community connections back to life. Another will further a project focusing on stories of migration in Aberdeen, linking with visitors, other communities and Aberdeen harbour. The third will focus on the impacts of climate change for coastal communities and the transition to net-zero carbon emissions. 

Community cohesion, the movement of people and climate change are all inter-linked. Through collectively developed briefs the artists will reach across the generations of residents. Linking these aspects of community heritage with the impacts of the current pandemic and environmental issues with a vision for a new future. The project's focus will be The Hall.

Creatives are being encouraged to work across, but be respectful to the physical footprint of the community and consider practices such as community mapping. Planning will be responsive to on-going COVID-19 guidelines with digital spaces all part of the plan. We're also bringing on an early career creative producer on board to help us deliver the project. 

Telling the Story of Change

One of our aims is to help people, communities and organisations tell their stories and the story of change. Story telling helps us answer questions so we can tackle problems with courage, risk-taking and creativity. Stories connect people to their passions, to shared identify and hope. They bring re-conciliation and an understanding that we are not the same as before, as well as help re-build for a better future. This is needed on individual, collective, organisational and sector levels.

Through our Culture Collective project we aim to tell the story of change within our community and set this against a local, national and global narrative. This will include live events, podcasts, filmed content, story sharing and other creative outputs. We will link our activity with the wider Culture Collective network, Climate Reality Leadership, the road to COP26 and beyond. 

Granite Fittie Community Hall basking in the sunshine, with a blue bicycle in front of it. Markings on front show it was built in 1951.
Photo by Chris Sansbury

In doing so we aim to raise the profile of the cultural sector in Aberdeen and its potential to work with and make a difference to communities. We'll also provide much needed paid opportunities for freelancers within the sector. 

With recruitment in progress, we are right at the start of this journey. We're excited to see how it develops and are looking forward to sharing progress as we go. 

Find out more

Huge thanks to Lesley Ann for taking the time to share her thoughts. You can find out more about Open Road on their website, Twitter and Facebook. Art and culture in Aberdeen is one of the main focuses of POST and we'll check in on this project in the future.

Also, check out our conversation with Ica Headlam. He is an Aberdeen creative who shines a spotlight on the work of many others. His focus on Aberdeen’s artists, musicians and creative businesses put him at the centre of a renaissance of the city's creative scene.

The bumpy path that is Aberdeen’s journey to becoming a Cycling City

Cycle lanes have become a major talking point between Post community members over the past few weeks as city council decisions have caused derision no matter where people stand on cycle space management in Aberdeen. The future of cycling in the city seems very unclear, so we decided to reach out to Neil Innes, Grampian Cycle PartnershipCommittee Member and Event Director of Ride the North, to get his views on which direction Aberdeen should be headed.

The Lockdown Spring of 2020 brought a sudden boom in cycling. The public were advised against use of public transport, while at the same time gyms closed, organised sport was suspended and the permitted daily exercise felt like the one escape we all had from the stresses and challenges of the covid crisis.

With roads suddenly as quiet as anyone could remember, bikes that had not seen the light of day for a while were dusted off and with bike shops remaining open as an essential service, demand for new bikes hit an unprecedented high.

Among the emergency responses to the crisis was the Spaces for People initiative. This initiative was launched by the Scottish Government acknowledging that “Across the world, cities have seen increased rates of cycling and many cities have responded to this by reallocating road space to better enable this shift. Scotland’s towns and cities will now be able to do the same”

Aberdeen’s successful bid for £1.76m gave the city funds to implement measures that could provide safe routes to work for key workers and safe space for socially distanced local exercise. To date, the key piece of cycling infrastructure implemented has been the 2.2 mile cycle lane along the city’s Beach Esplanade. It was opened to cyclists on 5 September. On 28 October (54 days later), Aberdeen City Council agreed that most of it be removed.

Despite that introduction, this article is not actually about the beach cycle lane. I do appreciate it raised concerns, but as someone who used it, also appreciate that it was the first time I’d ever seen a ‘proper’ segregated bike lane in Aberdeen. We do have some shared paths (for walking and cycling) that are good for cycling, but as someone whose ridden my bike in cities across Europe, on cycling infrastructure that is designed to keep cyclists apart from motor traffic and from pedestrians, it felt a defining moment to see that concept implemented in my city.

The truth is that the route along Aberdeen beach was never hugely relevant to the goal of shifting us out of cars and promoting active travel as way to get to work or school. That objective requires bold decisions to allocate space for cycling in areas of the city where there is less room to play with. The Beach Esplanade has no residents, no (fixed) businesses, no ‘ownership’ of parking spaces, no junctions of any real note, no traffic lights and no roundabouts. It has the widest carriageway, the widest pavement and a vast capacity for parking. The city’s 2015 masterplan sets out a vision of ‘A Cycling City’ and specifically highlights one cycle route that didn’t exist in 2015 — the Beach Esplanade. That the city council are not prepared to defend it and improve it in the face of feedback is a stark statement of where the city is on that transition being seen in cities around the world.

The decisions we make about that way ahead for Aberdeen have to be shaped around what problems it is we are trying to solve — and it’s natural that there are different views on that.

I said this wasn’t about the beach …and it’s not! The decisions we make about that way ahead for Aberdeen have to be shaped around what problems it is we are trying to solve — and it’s natural that there are different views on that. We all see the world differently. The problem(s) I wish to see addressed are the ones that revolve around our population not taking enough exercise, the air we breathe contributing to serious health conditions as well as climate change, traffic jams costing our economy, a culture of fast driving and high fatality rates across our region and the danger of projecting an image of a city that is stuck in the past and not for moving.

The disappointing thing is that there did appear to be consensus about these matters and the bolder implementation of cycling measures to play a part in tackling some of these issues. There is a consensus in cities around the world.

Aberdeen has an ongoing struggle to come to terms with the idea that a reversal of the trend of increased car usage and it’s associated role in public health concerns and climate change contributions, will not happen by itself.

In Aberdeen, we’ve had a reminder that we haven’t reached that consensus yet. We do have the strategy documents that say we are part of this movement, but we don’t have movement to say the strategy documents are anything beyond a paper exercise. Aberdeen has an ongoing struggle to come to terms with the idea that a reversal of the trend of increased car usage and it’s associated role in public health concerns and climate change contributions, will not happen by itself. It requires leadership.

There is no argument presented here that sets up a cyclist v driver conflict. I had a conversation with a local journalist just a few weeks ago and was told that cycling was a ‘divisive’ issue. It’s not — that’s not a satisfactory characterisation. Riding a bike is a normal way for normal people to go about their normal daily business. Or at least that’s the way it is places that do cycling better than we do. I am a driver, a pedestrian and a cyclist. I’m happy to allow others to aim for a different future where we leave motor cars behind altogether, for now I’ll support a move towards greater harmony and respect in the sharing of the space on our streets.

To create space for cycling, there is a self evident requirement to reassign space that currently has a different use. Our local and national plans will all encourage walking, so we aren’t readily taking away space on pavements. The same plans will all talk about reducing road traffic — so the answer has to reconfigure road and on-street parking to make safe space for cycling. This is exactly what every other city is doing, and exactly what Aberdeen has some evident difficulty with.

For many years now Aberdeen has been left behind by Edinburgh and Glasgow, never mind Amsterdam. That’s not always easy for a proud Aberdonian to admit.

It would be quite easy to say that a country like The Netherlands, all of an hour flight away from Aberdeen airport, has a completely different cycling culture to us, with segregated cycle lanes on all main roads. We all know that. For many years now Aberdeen has been left behind by Edinburgh and Glasgow, never mind Amsterdam. That’s not always easy for a proud Aberdonian to admit.

Commonly applied logic is that the first step in addressing any issue, has to be acknowledgement that there is an issue that needs to be addressed. This, perhaps, is where Aberdeen’s challenges begin. There are lots of great things about our city — overall, it has an excellent quality of life and has enjoyed great prosperity. But nothing stays the same forever.

The environmental agenda has changed perceptions of what a modern city is. Greater mobility of the workforce and skill shortages mean that cities are now in greater competition with one another to attract and retain talented people. Aberdeen knows this and has been at the heart of the talent attraction contest for decades — wages here have been higher than other places for fifty years. As I say, nothing lasts forever — we need to be a sustainable and healthy modern city rather than rely on the same plan for the next fifty years. Cycling, despite the 54 day toe dip, requires a longer term culture change and we do have to think many years ahead.

Photo by Phil Hearing on Unsplash

In March 2018 the city’s Lord Provost is quoted in the local press saying “Aberdeen has one of the highest rates of people cycling of any city in the UK”. It doesn’t — it’s not at the races. We have rightly been proud of the fact that Aberdeen has, for decades, lead the way on so many fronts. We don’t lead the way on the creation of a modern city with active travel, high public transport use, city centre pedestrianisation, moderating the dominance of motor traffic, developing cycling. We are behind the curve on these matters.

While I was invited to write this piece as the voice of a ‘cyclist’, cycling is not my chief concern. Creating a better city is what we all want. I aspire to see more children travelling to school without a lift from parents, thriving shops on Union Street, teenagers who want to stay here and build their lives here — a the direction of travel has been against on these matters for some time. I want to see Aberdeen sustaining the quality of life it has offered and to improve the life chances of its citizens. We don’t achieve much by standing still. If we genuinely want a city with more active travel, we aren’t moving forward fast enough.

A huge thank you to Neil for sharing his views. You can get in touch with Ride the North on Twitter.

There is no easy solution to how things can be improved for cycling in Aberdeen. It will take bold leadership at the council, further funding from the Scottish government, and smart well thought out ideas from citizens and community leaders. We’d also love to hear from YOU. You can find us on TwitterFacebookInstagram and LinkedIn.

Aberdeen Producer Nominated for SOMA

Aberdeen producer Louis Seivwright has been nominated for a prestigious music industry award

At just 22 years old, Aberdeen based Louis Seivwright has been nominated for an award at this year’s Scottish Alternative Music Awards (SAMA Awards).

Fast emerging as one of the hottest producers in the UK music scene, Louis’ unique style of heavy-hitting beats blends grime, trap, drill and hip-hop into a sound that is becoming the backbone of Scotland’s blossoming rap landscape. He‘s been nominated in the ‘Best Hip Hop’ category, and is the only nominee from Aberdeen in the event which takes place online on 18th November. The nomination comes after the successful launch of his second album earlier this month.

On 3rd October 2020, Louis released his ground-breaking new album ‘Cloud 9,’ providing a platform for Scottish talent to showcase their skills. Reaching an impressive 50,000 streams in its first week, the album is now closing in on 100,000 streams and has become one to watch this year.

Featuring a mix of fresh and established artists, it brings rappers and vocalists together in one place as part of a new and exciting project. The collaborative effort features tracks by artists such as Shogun, who has garnered over 10 million views and is currently starring in BBC’s ‘Rap Game UK’ this year, local rapper Ransom FA, a recognised name on the scene and emerging female songwriter and vocalist Tammi Whyte who has made her debut on ‘Cloud 9.’ Louis’ motivation was to bring focus to all artists at varying stages in their musical careers, working closely with his fellow colleague PJ the Engineer at their local recording studio “RansomHQ”, they have been able to create a strong, industry standard sound for this scene defying album.


The concept for the album comprises of 2 themes — Side A and side B. Side A offers a more universal sound with a collection of chilled tracks and vocals. Meanwhile, Side B brings Louis’ signature rap sound to the forefront. By combining 2 different genres, the producer has demonstrated diversity in his production and prides himself in being able to deliver something for everyone.

Commenting on his nomination Louis said “I am delighted to get the opportunity to shine a light on the growing hip hop music scene we have locally. Winning this award would be a first as no one from Aberdeen has won before, so hopefully I can take it home.”

The SAMA awards will be open to a three day public vote starting on the 9th of November, with the winners being announced at the ceremony.

Written by Kirsty Whyte