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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.

Fortnightly Blog 9 - Fin de 'Fin de Siècle'

February 10th, 2014

Faster than a movement, more creative than a fad, able to complete tall buildings in a single bound, was that a 'fin de siècle'. Neither DC Comics, Nietzsche nor Goethe can claim Superman, the spirit of fin de siècle on the other hand seems to have been fermented by the latter's mate Schopenhauer in the late 19th Century: boredom, cynicism, pessimism and a widespread belief that civilisation leads to decadence.

When within, it can be hard to realise, educated during the height of post modernism, I have mixed emotions for this derided movement; I learnt recently about the probable demolition of Michael Graves's Portland House, described by Charles Jenks as a seminal building: I disconcertingly reminisce Charles Moore's moniker crushed into a fake capitol as part of his seminal Piazza d"Italia in New Orleans: I wonder one day will all this be lauded: I cringe to think it might.

'The past is but the beginning of a beginning, and all that is or has been is but the twighlight of the dawn' (HG Wells 1899). Herbert George could not have expected the endless 60's, 70's and 80's revivals we have been forced through over the last decade. Nothing is original, according to Jim Jarmusch's fifth rule, 'steal from anywhere which resonates and from that which speaks directly to your soul'. It is again with mixed emotions that I learnt of FAT's last gig, you have to admire those who swim against the flow, I love the engagement but not necessarily the PoMo revival.

Steven Holl's addition to Glasgow School of Art's campus was completed this month, commissioned a century after the completion of the Mackintosh building, that most fin de siècle of all structures. The principles of magical thinking informs us that if two objects come into contact they will affect each other even when apart, will the magic of Mackintosh rub off on Holl, if the rooster does not crow will the sun rise. A chance to view the relationship between the two can be enjoyed at 'Drawing on Holl' an exhibition curated by Mark Baines to be seen at the Mackintosh Museum. Apparantly there are 7 laws of magical thinking, the sympathetic law provides meaning and understanding of the baffling events that may occur to anyone in any place; Alan Miller is collecting just such memories from the Victoria Cafe and it's history spanning the original salvage from Govanhill by Mac students to the latest vieled embrace by the Reid building. Details on how to pass on your memories or how to visit the exhibition please see below.

Mackintosh died penniless in 1928, spending his later years producing exquisite water colours in the South of France merging the man made with the natural, what does the future hold for this generation. The 19th Century fin de siècle was quickly followed by the mass horror of World War One, dissilusionment of the old and the birth of the Modern Movement. We currently have a foul recession draining our standing in the construction industry with the possible exception of the starchitect, in a world where the gulf between the rich and poor widens, architecture is no exception. Unbelievably recent surveys have shown the pay gap between male and female architects has grown.

2014 holds some possibilities, in Scotland it includes the vote for independence. My difficulty is an aversion to nationalism; an acceptance that the best ideas are with Holyrood and an affinity with English industrial cities. Would London be swapped for Edinburgh, either way Glasgow would remain the second citiy and share that gallus nature with likes of Barcelona and Chicago, which together enjoyed the lions share of the last fin de siècle. My hope lies with the similarities in the counterculture of the fin de siècle and the punk movement. Both celebrate the romantic willful sense of decay and a rejection of social order. Both are concerned with equality, freedom, individualism, direct action and free thought, that's a way forward.

Such potential holds the key to an alternative approach to architectural practise; by allowing individuals to flourish and enjoy a decent relationship with the public perhaps we can win back their faith. In the words of one who mamaged to straddle the decades better than most:

"I'm not a prophet or a stone aged man, just a mortal with potential of a superman" (David Bowie 1970)


To pass on memories of the Victoria Cafe, Glasgow School of Art, please contact Alan Miller at either or

"Drawing on Holl' from 08th February untill 23rd March 2014 at the Mackintosh Museum, The Glasgow School of Art, 167 Renfrew Street, Glasgow G3 6RQ. For further details please check

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