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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.

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;

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