In May, the Scottish Parliament reassembled after a break of 307 years, sitting in the Church of Scotland’s assembly hall in Edinburgh while awaiting the completion of its new building close to the Palace of Holyrood at the bottom of the Royal Mile.
Designed by Enric Miralles, and looking like a series of upturned fishing boats, this new building has already caused controversy: it replaces the original building planned to house the Scottish Parliament, the 18th century Royal High School on Calton Hill which has already been converted for the purpose and occupies a dominant site overlooking the city that is level with the castle to the south. Furthermore, Miralles’ building, commissioned at a cost of 50m UK POUND, may possibly cost twice as much. But compared to the new building for MPs close to the Houses of Parliament in London, whose budget is 250m UK POUND, which means that an office for one MP costs more than 2m UK POUND- Miralles’ design is cheap: in fact, no more than the money required for an average supermarket on the edge of town.
What the new Scottish Parliament may do, however, is reintroduce a clear policy for Scottish architecture and planning, and perhaps a new relationship between the parliament and Scottish local authorities. Since Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister of Britain in 1979, local authorities have been stripped of many of their powers, being forced to go out to competitive tendering for building, road maintenance, refuse collection and other services, and being forced to sell most of their housing stock. In addition, the corporations running the New Towns which were created in Scotland after the Second World War have been sold off, so they too can no longer be subject to overall planning.
One result is that many council houses are now owned by their former tenants while council flats have passed into the hands of housing associations in which former tenants may have an interest. Thus, the houses have become increasingly modified by the addition of garages and conservatories, while the flats have been renovated internally and changed externally by the addition of decorative details with pitched roofs replacing flat roofs to make them more attractive. At the same time, there has been a boom in private housing in Scotland in which brick is now more commonly used than stone, while styles have aped the ‘Tudorbethan’ and ‘Georgian’ commonly seen in southern England. The result is that the Scottish vernacular in housing is becoming seriously diluted.
Despite what has happened in the last twenty years, however, there are areas in which local authorities still retain considerable room for manoeuvre, most notably when they still own valuable properties or areas of land. They can also undertake major planning and
architectural schemes when they win competitions to hold Garden Festivals, or become a European City of Culture or a UK City of Architecture and Design, as Glasgow did respectively in 1988, 1990 and this year (1999), often joining forces with local enterprise companies (government funded bodies used to generate financial growth and regenerate deprived urban areas) to raise money. Funds may also be received from national heritage bodies and the national lottery.
Thus, last month saw the opening of The Lighthouse in Glasgow – the 12m UK POUND renovation and conversion by Glasgow-based Page and Park of the former Glasgow Herald building designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh in 1893, which symbolizes Glasgow’s year as UK City of Architecture and Design. Located in the heart of the city, only a few minutes walk from William Young’s City Chambers in George Square of 1883-88 and Mackintosh’s own Glasgow School of Art of 1897-1909, The Lighthouse epitomizes Glasgow’s determination to use art, architecture and design as some of the main driving forces behind the city’s own renaissance.
Hence, The Lighthouse not only houses a Mackintosh Interpretation Centre which provides a facility to study the work and legacy of Mackintosh himself, but also exhibition galleries, an education centre, a children’s gallery and an area devoted to Design into Business. This is intended to bring Glasgow’s designers and other professionals into contact with those concerned with product design, building and construction in an environment which itself is an advertisement for good design.
One of the reasons given for the city’s success in winning the title over the other applicants, Edinburgh and Liverpool, is that Glasgow’s bid included a high degree of community participation. Thus not only does The Lighthouse itself contain areas devoted to children and local schools, but the regeneration of five specific areas in Glasgow – Govanhill, Possilpark, Whiteinch, Saracen Cross and Graham Square – which are either derelict or underdeveloped, is intended to bring the long-term unemployed back to work.
The 2.8m UK POUND programme involves a variety of architectural practices including Zoo Architects, Alan Murray, Gros Max, Page and Park and Pierre d’Avoine which are working with artists such as David Shrigley, Janet Hodgson and Judy Spark on a mixture of projects that include local housing associations, horticulturists and others to renovate or create new housing units, play areas, moss gardens and features such as the new light tower in Whiteinch.
All these bring to fruition the dreams local people have had about their areas. And Glasgow 1999 readily admits that the inspiration for this programme came from the public spaces initiative developed in Barcelona.
However, these five millennium spaces (a term perhaps used by Glasgow as the city’s response to the Millennium Dome in London) are not the only schemes aimed at the regeneration of the city. Equally important – and perhaps more prestigious – are The Homes of the Future being built on one side of Glasgow Green.
This involves a series of blocks of flats and townhouses which are funded by four private developers and one housing association that was due to be completed this month when they will be exhibited to the public. Designed by Elder and Cannon, Rick Mather, Wren and Rutherford, RMJM (Glasgow) and the Ushida Findlay Partnership of Tokyo, they may prove as interesting from a historical point of view as the Weissenhof Siedlung estate built in Stuttgart in 1927.
Certainly, what the Homes of the Future do is to challenge even more directly than some of the recent projects by housing associations in Glasgow the role of modern architecture in the city today. There is no doubt that the reverence now paid to Mackintosh and to Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson, whose late 19th century churches, houses and industrial buildings are the subject of The Lighthouse’s opening exhibition, serves as a reminder of just how great architecture was in Glasgow at the turn of the century, while the recent demolition of some of the high rise flats built in the 1960s and 1970s is a reminder of how awful it was after the Second World War.
Indeed, running parallel with the building of some of the highest tower blocks in Europe was a road building programme whose scale was astonishing for a city with relatively few cars. Had it not run out of money at the end of the 1970s, it would have demolished Mackintosh’s Public Martyrs and Scotland Street schools and left his Queen’s Cross Church in the middle of a motorway interchange.
Thus one has to remember that love of Mackintosh (whose design signature is now being obliterated by ‘Mockintosh’ clocks, watches, jewellery, picture frames, coasters etc) is only twenty years old, while love of Thomson is completely new. What is remarkable is that it is a portrait of Thomson that has just been selected as the main feature of a new 20m UK POUND note to be issued by the Clydesdale Bank. And, while it seems curious that it is not the much better known Mackintosh who has been chosen, the real significance of this innovation is the meaning it gives to Scottish architecture.
I said at the beginning that art, architecture and design were among the driving forces behind Glasgow’s renaissance – a renaissance that has been compromised by the rivalry that still exists between Glasgow and Edinburgh. Thus, while Edinburgh has just opened its Museum of Scotland in the form of a completely new extension to the Royal Museum of Scotland, and the Dean Centre which houses a major collection of surrealist art as well as the reconstructed studio belonging to Paolozzi and a number of his sculptures, Glasgow has been refused government funding for a new Gallery of Scottish Art.
This was originally to be housed in a new building adjacent to Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery and, more recently, in a converted Post Office in George Square. However, while culture as both a regenerative force and a tourist attraction are important (and The Burrell Collection, which opened in 1983, and Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art in the former Stirling Library, which opened in 1995, are also part of this cultural drive), retail and commercial forces are also playing their part. Thus, the very innovative conversion of an 18th century tobacco merchant’s house into the shopping centre called Princes Square in 1988, which created an ambience of design and luxury which the Glaswegians adore, has been followed by the development of much bigger shopping malls, most notably in the converted St Enoch’s railway station (also in the 1980s) and the newly-built Buchanan Galleries which opened in April.
The latter reflects the current 600m UK POUND worth of shopping development that also includes the Post Office just mentioned and Lanarkshire Court in Ingram Street, which will help to link the much smaller development of the Merchant City in the 1980s to Glasgow’s central core.
When it comes to Glasgow as an industrial city, it has long lost its place as ‘the second city of Empire’. The number of shipyards along the Clyde has been reduced from around forty at the turn of the century to only two today (one of which is up for sale), while building railway locomotives ended in the 1960s and virtually nothing is left of the textile industry, though strangely enough the manufacture of cigarettes still continues. So does a certain amount of engineering. One of the results of this is that the River Clyde, which runs like an artery through the centre of the city, is virtually empty of shipping while its southern bank contains vast derelict areas badly needing redevelopment. It was here that Glasgow’s Garden Festival was staged in an attempt to initiate renewal of the south side of the Clyde – an event that led to some upmarket housing but little else, though a 20m UK POUND lottery grant has just been received to build a science park on the site and the BBC is currently considering relocating its Glasgow HQ to the site as well.
Thus it is not surprising that Glasgow’s depute director of development and regeneration, Don Bennett, sees building another bridge across the Clyde as a means of strengthening the links between the two sides of the river which, he says, is the city’s greatest (and largely wasted) asset. The new city plan envisages the river not as an edge but as an element within the centre of the city, whose development could connect areas like the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre and Pacific Quay laterally along its northern bank while the derelict Govan Graving Docks on its southern bank could be used for maritime activities and a maritime museum. In Yokohama, graving docks are the centre of a major development. In Glasgow, some people have wanted to fill its graving docks in!
The loss of much of Glasgow’s industrial base means that some seven per cent of its population is unemployed, but when the figure is applied to those living in council rented accommodation, the figure rises to seventy per cent. This has not only led to immense social problems on the council estates (which makes it difficult to sell these estates to the private sector), but it also means that revenue from these estates is severely depleted, and this loss of potential income for the city has recently been exacerbated by the redrawing of local government boundaries which means that the City of Glasgow has lost some of its most affluent suburbs.
Thus the number of people contributing to Glasgow’s finances has fallen from 1,500,000 at the beginning of the 20th century to 700,000 today. As a result, Glasgow has been at pains to underline the fact that, as in the rest of Europe, the future of a country’s well-being depends on the health of its cities so that Glasgow remains important to the people who live around its periphery and to the rest of Scotland.
One of the things Mr Bennett is looking at is how, by creating his new department out of what was planning, property services and economic regeneration, a super department can be created that will embrace the development process from the cradle to the grave. It will be involved in all strategic thinking, including a masterplan that will give a holistic overview and planning at regional level, while using the city’s property asset base in the market place to bring about a much more innovative and creative way of doing things.
What Glasgow is doing today can be summed up as marrying its cultural heritage to a commercial drive based on the retail sector and new service industries such as telephone call centres, and this symbolizes what is happening elsewhere in Scotland. In Edinburgh, for example, there are plans to put a shopping mall underneath Princes Street and this might be connected to the existing underground link between the Royal Scottish Academy and the National Gallery of Scotland. The Academy itself, designed by William Playfair at the beginning of the 19th century, has just received lottery funding to pay for its renovation, and there is also funding to develop the underground link between the academy and the gallery, so that it can house lecture theatres and gallery shops.
When it comes to cultural development, most of what is being done in Scotland involves the renewal of existing buildings – the Mackintosh building for The Lighthouse in Glasgow, a former school for the Dean Centre in Edinburgh, a former garage for the new Contemporary Arts Centre in Dundee and the conversion of an existing printmakers-workshop into an art gallery in Inverness. Only in England is the creation of entirely new buildings for cultural purposes common. Converting buildings to other uses in Scotland also applies to churches and banks, which become nightclubs and bars, and to industrial buildings like mills, which are often used as offices, commercial buildings, blocks of flats and even hotels!
Only when it comes to new HQs for banks, insurance companies and the oil industry, conference centres, university campuses and science, industrial and business parks are new buildings common, although those in industrial parks are often no more than glorified sheds.
Despite this, a great deal of attention is paid to planning and architecture in Scotland, partly because events like Glasgow 1999 receive publicity through the Press and tv, and partly because the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland has for years run an annual convention that is probably unique in the world. In May, for example, it brought people like Enric Miralles, Javier Mariscal, Charles Correa, Adriaan Geuze, Martha Schwartz, Jean-Pierre Charbonneau, Lord Richard Rogers, Ron Arad, Nigel Coates and Richard Seymour to Glasgow to talk about landscape, architecture and design.
Thus, there will almost certainly be pressure on the Scottish Parliament to take action in these areas so that a new policy for planning and architecture could be developed for Scotland. But whether this will complement the kind of programme now being put in place by Glasgow remains to be seen.
As Mr Bennett says, interventions by the Scottish Parliament into the affairs of local authorities could make life even more complicated than it is at the moment and, were resources to be moved elsewhere, make the kind of holistic planning at both city and regional levels much more difficult to achieve.