David Gosling

David Gosling

I was appointed Chief Architect/Planner of Irvine New Town in November 1967 just after my thirty-third birthday. I looked forward to the challenge with a mixture of excitement as well as a little fear and trepidation. Excitement, because it was Britain's first new town whose designated area included a coast line and a wild and beautiful Ayrshire hinterland. Like Fred Roche, I would be starting a new town, not continuing the work of others. Trepidation, because of the formidable reputation of the general manager, Dennis Kirby and the fierceness of the corporation board who appointed me there were also the more complex political pressures in incorporating two existing towns into the master plan.

Sir Hugh Wilson (Wilson and Womersley) were appointed as consultants to prepare the master plan which was published in 1967. It was an exciting linear concept some 3 km inland indicating a series of linear settlements developing northwards towards Glasgow. A geo-technical survey carried out shortly before I arrived in February 1968 proved the impossibility of undertaking the Wilson-Womersley Plan. Irvine had been the centre of the coal-mining industry during the 19th the 18th century and was originally the major port for the west of Scotland in the 18th and 19th centuries. Coal mining, which had ceased in Irvine by the middle of this century, resulted in massive land subsidence. The original Wilson/Womersley plan was unbuildable.

I was charged with preparing a new plan in conjunction with Hugh Wilson and Jamieson and Mackay, their traffic consultants. The Interim Revised Plan, which I authorised, was put before the corporation board in August 1969. Approval for the report was circulated to Local Authorities and sent to the Scottish Office (The Scottish Development Department under Derek Lyddon). The final plan of which I was chief editor was published in January 1971.

The new plan abandoned the concept of linear development northwards towards Glasgow and related much more closely with expansion and growth on an east-west axis between Irvine and Kilmarnock. It was a radical plan and, in the same way that Runcorn Town Centre [PHOTO] had a major design input from structural engineers, so Irvine's new plan was influenced by the radical thinking of Bill Mackay, the traffic engineer and a senior partner of Jamieson and Mackay. It was based upon the concept of a group of new housing communities in parallel series, adjacent to the existing villages like Dreghorn and Springside, and located between the town of Kilwinning to the north and the Royal Burgh of Irvine (400 year old) to the south. The new communities were termed urban acceleration units. The presence of an existing infrastructure in existing communities allowed the acceleration the development of adjacent communities by using the existing infrastructure until the new infrastructure of roads and drainage was complete.

In simple terms, the goals and objectives of the plan was the total integration of new communities with the old communities. In new towns this was an important factor since new housing areas could not always be built on green field sites. Bill Mackay introduced the concept of "community routes" which essentially was the re-use of the existing country lanes linking the small villages and farmsteads. Normal vehicular traffic was taken off the community routes. This then became the focus of pedestrian activity with most of the social facilities located along its length, such as schools, shops, churches and pubs. The only vehicles permitted on the community routes were local buses providing an efficient and low-cost public transport system instead of constructing new trackways at greater cost. As existing farms were purchased for new housing development, the farmhouses were converted into community centres. The Annick Valley development, including the award-winning Bourtreehill housing development, was an important innovation in the conceptual evolution of community route structure. Whereas Runcorn incorporated a purpose built public transportation-track at high cost, the community route idea utilised existing roads and country lanes.[PHOTO] Higher density rental housing was developed to adjacent community routes, where private car ownership was likely to be low and accessibility to public transport was important. Lower density owner-occupied housing was built in the hinterland with easy access to the new district distributor roads which encompassed each development. In terms of architectural imagery, the design team utilised the vernacular architecture of the traditional Scottish high street with bright colour washes on the rendered exteriors of the houses along the community route,[PHOTO] whereas the lower density housing was a monochromatic black and white, reflecting the vernacular architecture of the farmhouses.[PHOTO]

Other innovations introduced into the plan were the successful integration of the existing town centre of Irvine with new development. The existing burgh had always been located on the east bank of the River Irvine and the west bank, as well as the foreshore, was undeveloped. The new town centre was seen as one of a pair of major centres located at either end of the sub-regional development combining Irvine and Kilmarnock. The Irvine Centre was integrated with the existing burgh centre.[PHOTO] The topographical advantages allowed it to span the River Irvine as an enclosed high street,[PHOTO] linking with the Glasgow-Ayr electric railway line and Irvine rail station with the foreshore beyond. Here, one of the biggest leisure centres in Scotland was built to act as a catalyst for development along the foreshore.[PHOTO] The key to achieving this megastructure pattern of development lay in the design of the commercial core which, like Runcorn, was financed by private capital in partnership with the Development Corporation and once again the Development Corporation was appointed as architects by the developers, Land Securities PLC and Ravenseft Properties. The design team, led by me and Barry Maitland, developed an ambitious but commercially viable centre which was also full let before construction was completed. Construction started in mid-1972. I left Irvine at the beginning of 1973.

The first years were not entirely happy. Dennis Kirby, the general manager of the highly successful (in industrial and commercial terms) East Kilbride new town, near Glasgow, was deeply suspicious of architects. He was a young, dynamic chief executive whose politics were described by one board member as "slightly to the right of Ghengis Khan". In the long term, however, he proved to be a visionary leader and his initial enmity towards architects might have been based on his resentment of Sir Hugh Wilson. On the other hand, once he was convinced that his own architects had a sense of vision as well as practical application, he became a great supporter and advocate.

As an example of his changing attitude in the early days, he commenced with a belief that the architecture department should be minuscule with the chief architect merely acting as administrator. The majority of public and private housing as well as industrial development, in his opinion, could and should be developed by "design and build" contractors, such as Wimpey. The internal design team had to prove that they could design cheaper and better looking advance factories than its commercial adversaries, though the design process had to include notional profit margins as though we were in private practice. The first advance factories at Nethermains won a Civic Trust Award and later industrial development in the south of town at Meadowhall for which Old Hall acted as prototype, won a Financial Times.

In public housing, too, Kirby wanted design and build firms, such as Wimpey, to carry out the work. My first task was to design the first five hundred houses, Pennyburn I and Pennyburn II using building. This was before I was allowed to expand my department to a working size in 1968. I was allowed to appoint one assistant, Bob Dunlop, a recent graduate from Strathclyde University and together we did the entire project. Because of the political pressure and antagonism, particularly within the Burgh councils of both Kilwinning and Irvine, who had strongly resisted the establishment of a New Town Development Corporation in 1967, visible construction was an urgent necessity. Pennyburn I [PHOTO] was completed by the end of the year and Pennyburn II by the end of 1970.

On moving to Scotland, my first two years were spent in Troon, an elegant, small resort on the Ayrshire Coast to the south of lrvine. However, I strongly believed and still do believe, that no architect involved in public housing can possibly understand the social issues of their designs without actually living with the finished results. I persuaded my wife, who was pregnant with our third child at that time, that we should move into Pennyburn and there we remained for the next two-and-a-half years. It was not an empty gesture, but rather had to do with a learning process. In spite of the discomfort of being surrounded by construction for much of the time, it was, in a curious way, rewarding. The experience of living there altered many of my architectural preconceptions. The houses were designed around pedestrian squares with approximately 30 houses in each square. Though I came from a working class background, I had adopted many middle class values and assumed that families would wish to interact socially. I discovered I was completely wrong and that impoverished families, with little or no mobility, valued, above all else, privacy. In Pennyburn II, the housing types were completely redesigned in the form of courtyard housing and became the most popular housing type in the new town because of this new privacy.

I also argued for the construction of a major Leisure Centre. Having formerly lived in Brazil, I was often impressed by the many sporting clubs where middle class families spent their weekends swimming, playing football and tennis throughout the year. There was no such provision in Irvine. I became friendly with the former Provost (Mayor) of Irvine, Wilson Muir, and the District Clerk, Jack Ramsey, and together we obtained finance for the new "town club" which would be open to all residents, regardless of income. The leisure centre which resulted (published in the Architectural Review, Jan. 1973) opened in 1976 and became the most popular facility on the west coast of Scotland. [PHOTO][PHOTO]

I also argued for play areas for small children because the soft landscaping in the pedestrian square could not withstand the intensity of use by children.[PHOTO] This was nothing to do with vandalism, but to do with necessary recreational provision. [PHOTO] The Development Corporation stated they were not in the business of providing play facilities and once again it was the District Council who took the initiative in funding this; by which time I had become close friends with the officials and council members who were my former opponents.

Nevertheless, I was the only chief officer in the Development Corporation who opted to live in public rental housing and my motives often seemed to generate suspicion. I was termed a "woolly-minded liberal" by the general manager and a "communist" and "socialist" by other development corporation board members. The whole basis of the evolution of Irvine Town Plan in those first five years was dependent for its success on consensus building and public participation. It was at a time when advocacy planing began to emerge in the United States, led by David Lewis of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and others who founded the R/UDAT community assistance teams.

I designed many of the early projects myself, but as the department grew to a staff of more than 120 by 1973, much of the design work was done within the teams and I acted as advocate for the teams at board presentations. I tried to emulate the ideas of Fred Roche in the creation of multi-disciplinary design teams and the avoidance of a traditional pyramidal structure. Amongst the schemes which I designed myself were the Development Corporation offices as an extension to a country mansion supposedly designed by Robert Adam in the 18th century. The building received a Glasgow Institute of Architects Award in 1980, largely due to the efforts of Ian Downs, the Chief Architect for the last 16 years, who meticulously recovered the original drawings and their authorship.

Irvine New Town was well received and when the formal plan was published in 1971, a leading editorial by John Thomson (Scotland's Fifth Architects'Journal, 22 Sept. 1971, pp. 616-619) said "without doubt Irvine New Town Planners are salesman of distinction. The Revised New Town Plan, the third publication on Scotland's fifth new town, is an impressive document providing the reader with a text on new town planning which will take pride of place in many libraries and personal collections. In the book by "New Towns: Their Origins, Achievements and Progress". (pp. 438-452), Arnold Whittick concluded his assessment of Irvine in the following way after his 1972 visit, "One of the most notable aspects of the new development is the architectural distinctiveness, particularly the work of the Development Corporation." Admiration was expressed for the appearance of the houses at Pennyburn and a similar scheme at Dreghorn was commended by the Saltire Society in 1972. Interest has been shown in the new housing areas complete at Bourtreehill, particularly the integration of vehicular/pedestrian traffic, the bold use of colour and the generous provision of soft landscaping.[PHOTO] Both advance factory designs mentioned earlier here received recognition. The smaller block, at Nethermains, gained a Civic Trust Commendation in 1972 and the larger block also designed in 1972 at Oldhall gained a Financial Times Commendation in 1976. The shopping centre complex and leisure centre completed in 1976 have also attracted wide international interest.

In retrospect, it is interesting how changing architectural theories give a different contemporary viewpoint. Oscar Newman's "Defensible Space: People and Design in the Violent City". Architectural Press, London 1972, published two years after the completion of Pennyburn recommended the creation of high density, low rise, two storey row houses around pedestrian squares and courts, and gave, as illustration, an example in San Francisco of a lower-middle income scheme. And yet, if this was a solution to high density housing problems in the United States of America, it did not work in Scotland. There was (and is) one great difference. Whereas the blue collar residents of the San Francisco project had mobility in the form of their personal automobiles as well as a benevolent climate, personal mobility was not available to the Scottish residents and this is why privacy and not social interaction was so important.

Seen from the outside over a period of more than twenty-five years, Irvine has been a success, architecturally, economically, and socially. Much of that credit must go to Ian Downs, the Technical Director and Chief Architect for the past 16 years. His many award-winning schemes show an evolution and continued sophistication in vernacular Scottish architectural design as well as urban design, which have gone far beyond the ideas of those first five years.


  1. 'DESIGNATED AREA' The total area of land identified in the Designation Order for the development of a new town. In Northern Ireland it included land beyond that required for development - see Distinguished Area.
  2. Fred Lloyd Roche was Chief Architect and Planner at Runcorn where he established himself as adventurous, committed to new towns and to team work. He joined Milton Keynes Development Corporation in 1970 as director of design and production and was General Manager between 1971 and 1980.
  3. 'WILSON, H & WOMERSLEY, L' Irvine New Town: Final Report on Planning Proposals 1967, HMSO Edinburgh
  4. 'IRVINE DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION' Irvine New Town - Revised Outline Plan 1969, Irvine
  5. 'LYDDON DR W D C, CB, DLitt, FRTPI' Chartered Architect and PlannerArchitect Planner, Stevenage Belfast and Coventry, 1952 - 1958 Deputy Chief Architect and Planner, Cumbernauld New Town, 1958 - 1963 Chief Architect and Planner, Skelmersdale New Town, 1963 - 1967 Chief Planner, Scottish Development Department, 1967 - 1985 President, International Society of City and Regional Planners 1981 - 1983 Chairman, Environmental and Planning Committee of Economic and Social Research Council, 1985 - 1987 Chairman of Edinburgh School of Environmental Design, 1989 - 1995 Vice-Chairman, Edinburgh Old Town Renewal Trust, Governor of Edinburgh College of ArtChairman, The Planning Exchange
  6. 'IRVINE DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION' Irvine New Town Plan 1971, Irvine(included on this site)
  7. 'MACKAY, WILLIAM KENNETH, BSc, CEng, FICE, FIHT, MAE' Civil EngineerGroup Engineer, Roads, Cumbernauld Development CorporationFounding Partner, Jamieson, Mackay and PartnersDirector of JMP Consultants LimitedContributor to New Towns Worldwide and The Metropolis in Transition
  8. 'MARK I/II/III TOWNS' Also referred to as 'First, Second and Third Generation Towns'. Grouping of new towns according to the date and period of their designation.
  9. 'SYSTEM BUILDING' Also referred to as 'Industrialised Building'. General term used to describe the construction of buildings supplied or designed in 'kit-form'. Usually pre-constructed components are brought to the development site and assembled there as opposed to the traditional or conventional approach of building brick walls and tiled roofs from component materials.
  10. 'DOWNS, IAN, RIBA, MRTPI, FRIAS' Chartered Architect and PlannerVarious appointments, Cumbernauld, Livingston, and Redditch Development Corporations, pre 1979 Chief Architect and Planning Officer, Irvine Development Corporation, 1979 - 1981 Technical Director, Irvine Development Corporation, 1981 - 1996
  11. 'OSBORN, Frederic & WHITTICK, Arnold' New Towns: Their Origins, Achievements and Progress. 1977 (3rd edition) The most up-to-date edition of this important survey (originally published as 'The New Towns: the Answer to Megalopolis', 1963).
  12. 'SALTIRE AWARD' A Scottish award initiated in 1937 for excellence in development. The purpose of the Saltire Society is to preserve the best of Scottish tradition and to encourage new development which can enrich Scottish cultural life.