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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.

The Electric Blue-Aid Marseille Test

April 23rd, 2017

 

‘From Paisley to Marseille,

Big blue buildings all day,

From Unitie to Corbusier,

Under a concrete bries soleil’


Went the pounding inpromptu student rap as we boarded the bus and waved bye bye to Alsop and Stormer’s Big Blue (1993), an impenetrable local authority headquarters. It was day two of Strath Arch’s 2017 annual third year field trip and as we headed on towards Arles my second steak tartar in under 24 hours started to kick in.

The trip started the day before when at dawn, Der Pierre (our leader) showed up in a black cab, joking with the driver about Groundhog Day.  Same price as last year Der Pierre barked, same tip growled the driver. The Groundhog is a close relative of the whistlepig or to the layman a large dog like rodent. To communicate the rat alternates between chattering, squeaking and hissing, whilst the dog barks, whines and enjoys a good sniff. So went their conversation all the way to the airport where we were joined from Ayrshire by Gordie and Sam ’n’ Isa who brought youthful optimism and a welcome dash of colour. Off we flew as Gordie explained how the winged dog was the official symbol of Marseille whilst the rat was the adopted symbol of their underground culture, this made in his opinion the Groundhog an appropriate mammal to bridge the class divide. Heard it before yelped Der Pierre who scratched his ear when he realised he had been allocated the same seat number as last year and demanded to be moved. Sit commanded Gordie, sheep dog trials being one of his hobbies.

The pain of the early flight was rewarded by a bonus afternoon in the city. The walk from La Gare Saint-Charles to our hotel took us past Port d’Aix, a monumental triumphant arch built in 1839 to celebrate French victories in search of colonial domination; perversely it now sets the backdrop for a make shift market where immigrants swap meagre possessions. Impressions somewhat stifled we dumped our bags and sauntered through the Le Panier an historic quarter which makes up the North side of Vieux Porte. Most of Le Panier was dynamited by the Nazi’s in WW2, in an effort to get rid of those they disliked a lot and rebuilt in the 1950s by a number of notable French architects including the likes of Auguste Perret. The frontage onto Vieux Port is strikingly simple whilst behind the lanes weave through a tapestry of cultural graffiti art. Statues commemorate the persecuted and sit uncomfortably next to posters promoting the French National Front. A bit of alright that Marine Le Pen purred Der Pierre gazing into her poster blue eyes, the inspiration for his noir sports range. For those not in the know, Der Pierre recently launched his underwear collection ‘hang to the right’ as a result of the success of his Adolf Boxer, that bit more slim fit for the gentlemen who boast a solitary testicle.

Fascist boxers also featured prominently in day one, as awakening from a feast of oysters, crab and clams the city had taken on a more changeable nature. Flitting between scorching sun and freezing wind, we started our day at Norman Foster’s L’Ombriere on the harbour front surrounded by a wriggling fish market. It is but a massive mirrored canopy under which you can look up. Frightened by what we saw we quickly moved on to the Abbaye Saint - Victor a nearby ancient religious site. Built high up on the South side of Vieux Port we entered to discover that originally the Abbey was built down from whence we came and a series of ancient arches and buttresses tumbled dramatically down through the carved interior. Startled by this revelation we climbed back out and struck ever upwards to the Bascilique de Notre Dame de la Garde by Henri Jaques Esperandieu (1864). The over proportioned golden Madonna and infant Jesus who feel a bit stuck on, are the best known icons of Marseille and look down over the city. Homage duly paid we headed off to the la Citie Radieuse better knows as the Unite de Habitation for some serious architectural pilgrimage.

In the same way you can’t hit a guy in specs whined Der Pierre as we laughed at a photograph of Le Corbusier boxing on the beach, you have to love his buildings. We all held our breath as we stared up through the massive pilotis at the textured concrete frame and patchwork of primary colours. Tadao Ando was also a boxer piped up Sam ’n’ Isa, he carried all the reminders of every blow that cut him until he cried out in his anger and his pain they sang. High above we heard a less harmonious screech, perched on the Unitie itself we caught sight of Dr J in full murderous black beckoning us up to Bar Corb. Sipping overpriced lager, overlooking Marseille from a Le Corbusier masterpiece was a fine way to end Day 1.

Back to day 2 and I boarded the big yellow bus for Arles realising I had overdone the steak tartar. My brain pounded to the Big Blue Rap as we headed into Arles and pulled up outside the LUMA by Frank Gehry (2018) half built on the outskirts, a kind off out of town cultural centre. ‘Are you on the bus or off the bus’ yelped Der Pierre as Dr J refused to even don Monsieur Gehry that level of respect and replied ‘Don’t look back, it will turn you to stone’. Weirdly Arles centre was a delight, cut from a beautiful jaune sandstone inter-dispersed with Van Gough tourist traps jumping out at you in distorted perspective. Hang on to your ears (Van Gough lost his here) was Der Pierre’s cry as we boarded the bus and my head spun towards a whistle stop tour of Nimes. By the time we returned to Marseille my time was due and a fevered three days of seafood and raw meat had to come to an end.

On the third day I rose reborn and we retraced our steps back into Le Panier to La Vielle Charite by Pierre Puget (1671), an early Ellis Island where immigrants from Africa where once housed. Strolling through the narrow lanes towards Fort Saint Jean the graffiti art took on a new form and blended in front of my eyes the mix of culture which made up the city. On reaching the Fort, home of the Foreign Legion, it was pointed out that the cannon did not face the sea but faced back to the city as it was from here which came the greater threat, I felt an inkling of an understanding of Marseille.

Built alongside the Fort Saint Jean is MuCEM, the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations  by Rudy Ricciotti (2013) through whose grandiose web like Bries Soleil one can stroll down to the quayside and marvel at the cantilevered structure which is the Villa Mediterranean by Stefano Boeri (2013). A right couple of modern white elephants which one can not help but like. Glowering over the pair of them is the massive Cathedrale de la Major by Leon Vaudoyer which for a Romanesque Cathedral is surprisingly new, constructed  as recently as 1896. I very much enjoyed this sequence of buildings however then made the mistake of taking the hike out to Zaha Hadid’s Tour CMA (2012). A twenty storey blue glass office tower built for the local ferry company, some would describe it as elegant, until one might visit and witness the building nestling into ring roads, horrendous pedestrian routes and meaningless art. I could not leave Marseille with this bad taste of neo liberalism in my mouth so I choose to take the even longer hike to Friche La Belle De Mai. In English, La Friche is the Fallow or Wasteland and Friche La Belle De Mai is a crazed, dystopian jungle of culture located in a former tobacco factory. If you ever choose to visit Marseille and need to quickly get to grips with the city, head here.

The final evening was rounded of by those ever brilliant Strath Arch students who this year took over the solitary restaurant open on the elegant Place de Lenche to enjoy some safe pizza, a little fine wine and dance the slosh. By the time we returned to Glasgow Airport I had begun to feel human once more and boarded my taxi with Pierre to be greeted by a familiar driver ‘anyone for a steak tartar’ he barked.

 

A huge thank you to Peter Welsh for organising another wonderful Strathclyde University Field Trip. Special thanks to the Strath Arch students for their reliance in adversity, their constant good nature and their never ending energy. Good luck to everyone in their exams.


Disappearing, Dismantled and Disembodied

February 14th, 2017

‘There has been a renewal of interest in the ideas and planning philosophy of Sir Patrick Geddes’, words of hope from Helen Meller written in 1990. The opening line to her definitive publication about that great social evolutionist and city planner. Back then Post Modernism was well underway, Thatcher and Regan’s policies were starting to bite and here in Glasgow we were knocking down our peripheral estates. Thousands on thousands of faceless homes built in Castlemilk, Drumchapel and Easterhouse to house the slum clearances. More than 25 years have passed since Helen Meller published her book and today we are blowing up our tower blocks, neoliberalism is the accepted norm and in response there has again been a renewal of interest in the ideas and planning philosophy of Sir Patrick Geddes.

Knock them down, build them up and knock them down again. Glasgow’s history of industrialisation, decline and disastrous sixties planning egged on by a gallus swagger, made a Geddes style incremental approach to planning difficult but not impossible. The misconception was that his approach was all about the careful retention of historic architecture when in fact it was the community he sought to hold together. The problem is previous redevelopments were so bad there was little worth saving, save the community. A blinkered focus on zoning left a place where you only live, a place where you only work and a place where you only shop. The result is a super-sized everything from schools to sports centres which rely on the car and make life difficult for the pedestrian and the cyclist.

Those interested in community and how these are dismantled after each redevelopment will be interested in Chris Leslie’s exhibition ‘Disappearing Glasgow’ currently on show at the Lighthouse. A fascinating event has been arranged by the Glasgow Institute of Architects to compliment the exhibition on the 16th February. Expect a screening of Chris Leslie’s film Re-imagining Glasgow followed by a debate around the question ‘todays solutions are tomorrows problems’. Today’s solutions will have to work with today’s rules of deregulation and consumption, think mega mall, business district and multiplex cinema rising from post war ruins near you soon.

The most cynical of the new rules is the luxury high rise flat or according to Jan Ghel gated mansions in the sky. Previously the high rise represented urban deprivation, now they are symbols of neoliberal wealth and an upward class segregation often without any one at home. The top few floors of London’s Shard houses some of the most expensive properties on the planet, they have yet to be lived in and are but a shiny investment opportunity. A far cry from the worlds depicted in films such as the ‘Last Resort’ (Pawlowski 2000) or Red Road (Arnold 2006) which highlight the social decay of the affordable high rise and the problems that plague them. The latter is of particular interest when set against Chris Leslie’s photographs of forgotten underground bars and bingo halls where the community used to nestle below the giant Red Road towers.

So where do we turn for our solution, to Holland of course and the world of MVRVD. You would think it would be Scotland that would have learnt the most from it’s famous son Patrick Geddes but apparently not. Ideas of walking, density, mixed use, improved public transport, reduced car dependency, increased city centre population spout forth from these Dutch architects like some hole in a dyke. Their aim is to create a happy accessible place that offers something for everyone disregarding age, income or mobility. In their eyes our Dear Green Place needs to be greener.

It is heartening that Glasgow faces up to past mistakes rather than burying them. That is why the films and photographs of Chris Leslie are so important, their depth captures more than demolished buildings but the communities that lived amongst these structures. Work is underway with the Construction Scotland Innovation Centre to measure disembodied energy. Not the normal embodied energy which measures the production of place but the energy produced by those who used it. How can a value be placed on such a matter never mind how that could then be applied, this is something to be discovered before it disappears.

 

The Glasgow Institute of Architects will host the second screening of ReImagining Glasgow as part of Chris Leslie’s exhibition of Dissapearing Glasgow at The Lighthouse on Thursday 16th February at 17.30 pm. Find out more about Disappearing Glasgow and the exhibition via the ink below;

http://www.disappearing-glasgow.com/


Fortnightly Blog - Gold, Consciousness and Poor

December 30th, 2016


If you invested one Roman dinar at the birth of Jesus Christ by the death of Karl Marx it would be worth the weight of planet earth in gold. There are many variations of this statistic but the message is the same, capitalism is unsustainable and we are witnessing it's death.

We all have read that Nero played the fiddle as Rome burned, insured against arson this kickstarted an economic recovery of the Roman Empire. This included the construction of the Coliseum which became the classic device for controlling the mob through popularism. Today all is far more subtle and we live in a world of Neoliberalism of which very few are conscious.

The result is a world ever more divided, the rich are getting more rich while the poor get more poor. When were these new set of rules written, and who brought them down to us. Are we forced to follow this new star or dare we construct our own. These are thoughts of biblical proportion however we should at least try to fathom them and challenge our own methods. If we could all resolve to make one short step,change will result, may we begin;

A long time ago a man who thought a lot, we will call him Wittgenstein, wrote a book (his only book) called Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. He knew his book was flawed however he wrote it never the less, to show that humans to explain the world need to construct systems. These systems when viewed from afar cast a net or often better described as a cage across the world. The cage is limited by a number of factors, language being the most important, and the cage is constructed by a specific community usually sitting at the top where the air is more rarified. The constructs produced by the rarified become how this world exists. Wittgenstein knew this was nonsense and in itself a construct, to the extent that half way through writing the book he realised that humans were unable to construct anything better than God (or the omnipresent one), after all the world is not flat.

Unfortunately in too many respects we live in this nonsensical world which is not real but our own construct. Much of our constructed cage slips around us without us even knowing, hands up who has heard of Neoliberalism. Some say this Neoliberalism is a fiercely guarded secret guising as a biological law, a kind of Darwinian theory of evolution which has now become a truth. Neoliberalists believe competition is our defining characteristic and our democratic choice exists only in what we can buy and sell. Limit competition and you limit liberty, collective bargaining and organised labour is a distortion of this market and hinders the natural hierarchy of winners and losers. Wealth trickles gratefully down from the bold to enrich everyone and those with all the advantages of class, education and inheritance now embrace the nouveau riche when a hundred years ago they were shunned. Together they claim to have earned their unearned wealth through hard won entrepreneurialism. Those who fall behind become defined as losers and can only blame themselves.

Architecture is one of the key building blocks of our brave new constructed world, where the rarified stare through the looking glass and reinvent our language. Affordable housing is unaffordable, regeneration is any form of privatised development and sustainability can mean almost anything you wish it to. One of the rarified recently pulled back the veil, Mr Patrik Schumacher director of Zaha Hadid Architects and author of ‘Free Market Urbanism - Urbanism beyond Planning’  speaking at the recent World Architecture Festival in Berlin, proposed as a solution to the housing crisis in London; an end to social housing, scrapping regulations and the privatisation of public space. Headline grabbing, but it at least allowed us a glimpse back through the looking glass to a self correcting, self regulating, self organised neoliberal architecture and like some hideous Dorian Gray it stared back. For those who dare look Mr Gray in the eye I recommend ‘The Architecture of Neoliberalism or how architecture became an instrument of control and compliance’ by Douglas Spencer.

Right now we live amongst the breakup of Europe and the rise of plutocrat-populists such as Trump, somehow architecture needs to steer away from neoliberalism and return to clear environmental strategies. For our cities, which have been the most affected, this will require greater participation in urban programmes, understandable spatial structuring of cities and most importantly the vision to be wary of Kings bearing gifts.

 

The Architecture of Neoliberalism by Douglas Spencer is published by Bloomsbury Publishing as per the link below

http://www.bloomsbury.com/us/the-architecture-of-neoliberalism-9781472581532/


How do you value the worth of SEDA

November 23rd, 2016

We try to ask each other this question as it is all to easy to stray. Is SEDA (Scottish Ecological Design Association) measured by it’s influence on the design community. Is it the number of members who pay their subscriptions. Do we help each other, offer support and enjoy ourselves. Can all our events promote ecological design. The answer lies in a mix of these, none of which can be measured without purpose, this is ours:

“SEDA aims to promote the design of communities, environments, projects, systems, services, materials and products which enhance the quality of life of and are not harmful to living species and planetary ecology"

What is real value, for some it can be a large sum of money, fame or power. Having these can provide sustenance and even meaning but for the most part people hold value through dear things; we think value should be based on our greatest need, life. SEDA’s purpose responds to life therefore our aims are important. These can be achieved by influence, in the main through events and activities, it is essential we are active and out there. This relies on vibrant contributors who have to be supported and encouraged. None of this can happen without the subscriptions of our membership. The sum of all these parts is an organisation of worth but each part needs to be constantly nurtured.

Our strategy over the last few years has been an emphasis to increase awareness of SEDA through events. This has been very successful with a number of activities now becoming mainstream and entering the consciousness of Scotland’s design community. We set out to develop four strong events, one for each season around which we could focus, these are:

Autumn - Sandy Halliday organises our Howard Liddell Memorial Lecture and we are fortunate that A+DS annually hold the KJ Award Exhibition at the Lighthouse. This year our lecture (more of a play) considered the life and legacy of Rachel Carson, next year expect something completely different.

Winter - Our Christmas Show and Tell will this year be held on 07th December in Edinburgh. There is still time to book a ticket please refer below for details.

Spring - Research Summit: We have held successful summits at Edinburgh University and at the RIAS.

Summer - SEDA conference and AGM: Last year Comrie was a great success, this year we will hold our conference in Stirling and focus on retrofit.

Interspersed amongst our key events are individual activities centred around Green Drinks, next week on the 01st December in Edinburgh we will show a screening of Underkastelsen/Submission by filmmaker Stefan Jarl, again please refer below for details. This year we have also been fortunate to obtain funding from the Festival of Architecture 2016 and the Post Code Lottery to enable the following;

Green Drinks Festival - Walks and talks through Edinburgh organised by David Seel considering subjects such as Colony Housing and the work of City Architect Ebenezer MacRae. Maps showing these routes can be downloaded from our web site, please refer below.

100 Sustainable Buildings Publication - Chosen from a list of member nominated projects the publication will include a forward by Robin Harper and a number of essays from important ecologists. he book will be published this spring.

Urban Interventions - Matt Bridgestock has recently completed  cycling and jogging maps around sustainable points of interest in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Inverness. Further maps are planned for Stirling and Dundee, for further information please refer below.

This work has helped establish SEDA as a well known organisation in Scotland with greater opportunity to promote our raison d’etre. None of this can happen without our membership and we constantly encourage others to join by understanding the importance of our purpose. We do this with a genuine smile, it is important to enjoy your work.

 

To join SEDA  please visit the membership page on our web site at the following link http://www.seda.uk.net

To download maps for Urban Expeditions and our Green Drinks Festival please follow the following link http://seda.uk.net/architectural-tours/

To obtain tickets for  the screening of screening of Underkastelsen/Submission by filmmaker Stefan Jarl on the 01st December or our Show and Tell on the 07th December please visit the events page on our web site at the following link http://www.seda.uk.net

HL Memorial Lecture 2016, The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson

August 24th, 2016

A film, a play, a discussion, following the theme of Eco-Max, this year SEDA will focus on the life and legacy of Rachel Carson. Her book Silent Spring, is widely recognised as a catalyst for the environmental movement and was written in 1952 when Rachel was herself suffering from cancer. She brought to the attention of a contented America enjoying homespun rock & roll and Walt Disney, stories of dead fish in rivers, silent songbirds in hedgerows and children storing up toxins.

Eco-Max was set out by our own Sandy Halliday in last years inaugural  Howard Liddell memorial lecture. Paying respect to a number of eco pioneers, Eco-Max questioned whether with everything to gain, ecological design is still marginalised and largely perceived as counter cultural. She noted that we continue to ignore science and common sense and pondered whether we will ever be able to create a radical change of direction. Each year Sandy will choose an eco pioneer to develop both Howard’s and her own ideas. We are all delighted that this year, together with Liz Rothschild, she has chosen marine biologist and conservationist Rachel Carson.

Having first read Silent Spring in bursts over the last half decade, it is not the science Rachel Carson lays bare but the dark beauty of her writing which keeps drawing me back. In 1952 science was quite different to what it is now but the poetic prose continues to perceive the negative effect humans can have on the natural world;

‘the lifeless remains of the birds that fell before the unselective bludgeon of insecticidal poison'

For those who are unfamiliar with Rachel Carson, her main argument is that pesticides and their poison are never limited just to the target, they concentrate inside the bodies of all living things. Most of the book is devoted to their devastation of natural ecosystems but four chapters are specifically devoted to human misery, accusing the chemical industry of spreading disinformation and officials who unquestioningly accept industry claims.

The evening will commence with the film, The Power of One Voice: A 50-Year Perspective on the Life of Rachel Carson a documentary examining the life of Rachel Carson and the profound implications of her environmental work. This will be followed by a reading by Liz Rothschild, a writer, performer and celebrant. Liz worked as a community arts worker and then trained at the Bristol Old Vic. She worked in rep and small scale touring. Knowing the SEDA crowd expect a lively debate to follow, which will spill out into the streets and pubs after the Lighthouse has shut it’s doors.

So join us for a film, a play and a discussion, about a book and the woman who wrote it. Come along on the 29th to meet Sandy and Liz and discover how deep the legacy of Rachael Carson does truly run.

The second Howard Liddell Memorial Lecture will be held at the Lighthouse, Glasgow  on the 29th September 2016 at 6.00 pm - 9.00 pm. For more information and to reserve tickets please refer to the link below. Please note that spaces are limited and it is recommended to book early.

Link for tickets through Collective Architecture Web Site here http://collective-architecture.tumblr.com