Union terrace gardens.; Union terrace gardens.;

Union Terrace Gardens, Aberdeen, Scotland

Union Terrace Gardens: a regeneration plan for Aberdeen’s sunken gardens

Union Terrace Gardens is a green space in Aberdeen’s city centre with a long history of community use. Originally opened in 1879, the gardens reopened in December 2022 following a series of upgrades to transform the site back into a much-loved public space.

Involved from concept stage, Arup was commissioned to help develop a regeneration plan that was sympathetic of the gardens’ historical role in the city and transformed the space into a vibrant and accessible area for the public. 

Working with landscape architect LDA Design and latterly Stallan-Brand, our vision for the gardens included a new 80-metre-long footbridge, viewing platforms, an enhancement of the natural amphitheatre and three new pavilions designed to be cafes, restaurants or arts and cultural spaces.

The physical improvements have enhanced the gardens’ heritage features, complimented by a 20m high lighting feature and additional lighting to ensure it’s a safe and welcoming place to visit at all times of the day. 

Project Summary

1879 first opened to the public


2.5acre site

Building on Aberdeen’s heritage

We have been a part of the project since 2016, helping to define the new vision for the gardens, developing concepts for new structures and exploring possibilities to reuse existing buildings on the site.

The existing male toilet building which was disused has been restored and repurposed into an event space retaining its historical features. Similarly, the arcade of arches beneath Union Terrace was strengthened whilst maintaining the historical appearance.

Union terrace gardens. Union terrace gardens.

A vision for energy efficiency

Our team proposed a low energy services strategy based upon an all-electric environmental conditioning solution, reducing CO2 consumption by using heat pumps. Other energy efficiency measures include LED low energy lighting and controls, high-performance heat recovery in the central plant and high-efficiency drives on all motors.

Through the anticipated continued decarbonisation of the national electricity grid in coming years, it is expected that CO2 emissions of the development will also decrease from the current calculated level, assuming all other factors remain unchanged.

Enhancing the visitor experience through lighting design

Areas not visible from street level had become less frequented and were poorly lit. Our bespoke lighting control system has been designed so that key routes and event spaces are well lit 24/7 thus improving access and safety. Secondary areas will benefit from low level feature lighting to minimise power use and help respect and encourage wildlife. The halo above the gardens offers a warm and visually attractive landmark for Aberdeen and its visitors.

A safe and accessible space

In addition to poor lighting, accessibility issues meant areas of the park were unsafe and difficult to reach for visitors with reduced mobility. Staircases and paths that did not meet modern standards have been upgraded, requiring minimal maintenance for years to come. The gardens are now safe and accessible to all, helping reconnect them with the surrounding public realm.

The attractive mix of new and re-purposed structures, paths and bridges are sympathetic to the history of the most well-known green and event space in Aberdeen city centre. ”

Mark Darlow Mark Darlow Associate, Arup


Gold Award for Best Lighting at the Scottish Design Awards 2023

Placemaking Award at the Scottish Civil Engineering Awards 2023