St Andrews Students’ Union upgrade plan ‘much too brash’

St Andrews Student Union is n line for a major revamp.
St Andrews Student Union is n line for a major revamp.

A proposed redevelopment of the Students’ Union building in the centre of St Andrews - it could cost up to £12 million - has run into opposition, with one opponent claiming that the new design will make a bad situation even worse.

The current structure has been labelled as “a major eyesore” by local conservation group, St Andrews Preservation Trust, who maintain that a “greatly improved” building is much needed.

However, St Andrews University’s planned “top-to-bottom revamp of the Union,” which has remained largely unchanged since it was built in the 1970s, has been met with a less than enthusiastic response.


Peter Davidson, a spokesman for the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland, said: ”The present frontage on St Mary’s Place has mellowed over the years and, while uncompromisingly modern, it is muted by comparison with the brash facing of glass and laminate which is proposed.

“This is the conservation area of an historic town, not Wacker Drive in Chicago. Nor do townsfolk really want to see what students are doing inside the building. This aspect of the Union building should be left as it is. Modifications on the other sides are less intrusive.”

Another opponent added: ”The design statement acknowledges the need to better integrate the building into its surroundings and to improve the streetscape. It is difficult to see how this can be done by the use of coloured curtain walling which will only serve to emphasise the size of a building already desperately out of scale with the street.

“We are promised ‘‘branding and lighting opportunities,’’ which will undoubtedly make the building even more intrusive than it already is. This application, while acknowledging that the building sits badly in its historic context and conservation area, will only make a bad situation worse on all fronts.”

Further criticism has been registered over the proposed use of coloured laminates, which will be visible on the windows of the refurbished building. Said another objector: ”I have seen these on other buildings and, in my opinion, they cheapen and detract from the dignity of the building. This is particularly relevant in an ancient town of the stature and presence of St Andrews.”

Meanwhile, although stating that the present building “gravely blights an important part of the conservation area.” the Preservation Trust is not objecting to the design proposals.

A spokeswoman said: ”The only truly satisfactory solution would be for the existing building to be replaced by a new structure, but for the moment a compromise in the form of a refurbishment is very welcome and seems to go some way towards solving the problem.

“From the design statement, the architect appears to realise the problems involved in disguising a large, outdated building in an historic town centre.”

However, the trust has criticised the use of coloured laminate on the glass of the new building and the spokeswoman added: ”Such use of colour on buildings tends to look cheap and nasty.”

A university spokesman responded: ”We held a widely advertised major public consultation event several months ago, and it’s disappointing that those who have objected didn’t attend or make their views known at that stage when there was an opportunity to amend the design.

“We will take these points seriously, however, although the numbers who have objected are small. Our intention has always been to improve the current building and we agree with the Preservation Trust that there is an opportunity to replace an eyesore with a development more pleasing on the eye and in keeping with its surroundings.”

The university hope to start work next year and the upgrade may include an attractive piazza and new entrance which could transform the current car park area, a new street-facing café, the transformation of the present Venue One split into a nightclub etc, a radio broadcasting facility and film editing suite, a cocktail bar and kitchen and an artists’ workshop.