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Chris Stewart

Collective Architecture's Chris Stewart discusses his overlapping roles as architect and member of the Scottish Ecological Design Association in promoting green design to a wider audience.


March 11th, 2018

Darkness descended over Glasgow Airport as the six arrived on a gloomy February morning to depart on this years Strath Arch field trip. Young Nick brought fresh blood but arrived under the weather, clutching his stomach. Sam’n’Isa’s luminescent shoes jarred against the dark tones of architectural garb as they tried to lift the mood. Ayrshire Gordon finally rose from the gloom and Don Pedro gathered the six like gathering blight, nursing us through customs, security and a Gatwick sojourn to arrive safe in warm Seville.

Sunlight burst through the parting mist as we sipped freshly squeezed orange juice and caught a glimpse of an awakening Seville. Bright eyed students chattered and laughed as we followed Pedro through the hotel door and pictured ourselves in a city by a river. We skipped through orange trees squashing the fallen fruit into a marmalade floor, the students called out and Pedro answered quite slowly ‘a gigantic parasol fills a kaleidoscopic plaza, badly detailed wood of yellow and green, towering over our heads’ we looked up in dismay with the sun in our eyes and were gone.

Metropol Parasol by Jurgen Mayer (2005 - 2011) more marmite than marmalade became the subject of bickering as we bustled through Seville, surroundings morphing through history until we were faced with a looming gothic monster. Buttress upon buttress strangled the life out of form, as the full weight of Christianity screamed for attention. Built where once stood an ancient mosque, supplanting Hagia Sophia as the largest cathedral in the known world, we wondered around the beast searching for a hole into it’s belly. A snaking file of humanity wound round until stonework turned into decoration and was gobbled into it’s depths. Left over respite from Islam is offered by the Giralda, part minaret, part bell tower offset at it’s base by the soothing Patio de los Naranjos entered through the door of forgiveness. We gathered away from the beast averting our eyes from the carnage towards the beckoning ramparts of the Real Alcazar. Pedro felt further penance was necessary and dragged us away to ensure an architectural education.

We ticked our way to the pleasantly integrated Triana Ceramic Museum by AF6 Arquitectos (2010 - 2014) with it’s alluring facade, past the congenial pavilions of the 1929 Seville Expo with their nationalistic art deco exteriors and strolled through Maria Luisa Park in perfect harmony, eating ice cream and discussing the future of our profession, to be confronted by the enormous Plaza de Espana semi en-circled by the Pabellon de Andalucia all by Anibal Gonzalez (1928). Dr J stepped forth to remind us about Spain’s history and the pile of wealth generated by South American gold which helped stroke many an egoistical monument. ‘Integrated ceramics may influence your bourgeois kitchen’ he scolded ‘but do not forget conquistador brutality’. Super ego and ice creams melting we walked around Anibal Gonzalez’s id to discover DL+A’s housing complex (2013) where “one could invite neighbours to a watchtower, to a finger, outdoor spaces pointing to each other talking about invisible relationships”. Out of Dr J’s earshot I had to admit to Ayrshire Gordon that I kind of liked it, ‘Architectural Porn’ was the reply, I did not know where to look.

Day 2 began as Day 1, happy faces, freshly squeezed orange juice and a big yellow bus. Merry prankster Pedro herded us on board with his cheery banter ‘stand up if you are not here’ we all chortled; ‘The restaurant serves breakfast at any time’ joined in Young Nick, ‘I just ordered French toast during the Renaissance’; we silently stared out the window and carried on our way to Cordoba. A quick stop off at the Madinet Al Zahra Museum by Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos (2009) built up the growing awareness of Christian destruction of Islamic Architecture (Historians cast a blind eye over similar treatment by Islamic Warriors of the Visigoths however when faced with physical evidence sympathies look towards Mecca). Arriving at Cordoba, Dr J settled into lecture mode to describe a city where in the 10th century education was universal; jews, christians and muslims lived cheek by jowl and Cordoba was the world’s centre of knowledge boasting 38 lending libraries. Since those heady days the extraordinary Mezquita or Mosque-Cathedral has suffered the Reconquista and the insertion of a full blown gothic cathedral into it’s heart. Ordered by King Charles V who in an unexpected burst of decency browbeat his clergy "You destroyed something unique to build something commonplace”. This remains a solitary blip as Spanish Muslim requests to prey in the Mosque continue to be refused by both the Spanish Church and the Vatican.

Day 3 began as Day 2, happy faces, freshly squeezed orange juice and a big black clad Don Pedro. ‘Don’t trust atoms, they make up everything’ he guffawed describing this mornings journey to Seville Expo 2 and it’s emphasis on discovery. ‘I’m reading a book about anti- gravity’ joined in Young Nick ‘It’s impossible to put down’, we walked quietly through the hotel door and crossed the Rio Guadalquivir into Expo-land. Created in 1992 in competition to the Barcelona Olympics, time has not been kind. As built corpses lurked around, none creepier than the Avenue de Europa (Normier and Hennin) and it’s 12 ghostly towers. Students slumped around the redundant structures like a scene from the walking dead, slowly dragging their feet behind us, we quickened our pace. Stumbling upon the bizarre bulbous Hungarian Pavillion, part church, part owl, part whale, part political insult and masterpiece of naturalist architect Imre Makovecz. Now wholly abandoned, boarded up, graffitied, and covered in overgrown trees; we looked around and suddenly we were within biting range. Don Pedro gnashed his teeth and with a strange drawl explained how the Mexican pavilion is a giant concrete X, while Sam ’n’ Isa drooled over the neglected Finnish Pavilion by MONARK embodying the duplicity between nature and man. In need of lunch, we left the post apocalyptic landscape behind us, the students colour improved as we crossed back over the Rio Guadalquivir to seek out the Real Alcazar.

Facing the birthplace of the inquisition, the Real Alcazar promised sanctuary from a bustling city. We walked through it’s gates and calmness washed over us. Intricate decoration accepted as geometric form puzzled colourful patterns in stone and ceramic to form courtyards of splendour transforming into garden, into park, into introspection. The atmosphere was intoxicating as student and tutor settled into trees, into archways, finding solitude amongst a crowd. Minutes seemed like hours and hours passed like seconds, calm expressions spoke millennia as we nodded to each other. Renowned as the finest example of Mudejar architecture we were sad to leave, and retreated through the gates for a last look at the beast and bustle of Seville.

Student and tutor together found their way to a favourite square near the hotel, to eat and drink in our last evening before gathering in El Rinconcilla, Seville’s most ancient of bars. Sevillano food had been unkind to young Nick who finally confessed to an allergic reaction to cheddar cheese, thankfully only mild. We wept tears of laughter at the inadvertent parting shot while Ayrshire Gordon helped Don Pedro onto the back of his donkey, from where he pronounced his parting farewell  ‘Adios Amigos, je recherche la vraie espagne, jusqu'à l'année prochaine’, this time our tears were full of sadness as he rode into the sunset.

Thank you Peter Welsh for organising another superb field trip, thanks also to the ever patient Tania and special thanks to all the third year students who are a credit to themselves, Strathclyde University, and Escocia.