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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 - Extract from A_SPACE, Strathclyde School of Architecture's student yearbook 2014

May 29th, 2014

Is Housing Architecture.

Isi Metzstein once said that only Dutch housing was architecture, a statement not so much about Dutch excellence but the architectural merit of housing.  Housing makes up over half of all architects workload and at Strathclyde University we devote the larger half of our third year to it’s study. This paradox has recently been sharpened with the role of housing in our economic decline, it’s potential rise and how housing has become a simultaneous symbol of failed architectural experimentation and the promise of architectural responsibility.

To start, it is important to understand the depth and range of housing from the affordable to the desirable, from the mainstream to the specialist and from the rural to the urban. Strathclyde University third year students are at the end of a journey from a first year grounding in the rural, a second year wander through the small town, to a rude awakening in the urban. Housing peeks round the corner throughout this passage but it is in the city, where housing steps out from the shadows to become our first dilemma. Is good housing a standout art in itself or just a backdrop for more important urban pursuits.

It does not take long for students to realise that housing is not as easy as it looks, nor to realise that society forgets that housing is but one ingredient, very often the important staple, as part of a balanced meal. These ingredients are cleverly worked into the third year curriculum as ‘to live, to work, to play’ however are quickly forgot as we struggle with stacking, circulation and what is a front compared to a back. In my own unit we place a further emphasis on an ecological design which shares social intent with the search for simplicity. All this leads to another dilemma, does housing sculpt crescents and generate vistas or does it generate lifestyles and sculpt relationships.

These struggles continue into architectural adulthood and form a decent slice of the workload at Collective Architecture where we search for social interaction and personalisation as part of urbanity. Examples of these include our recently completed mainstream modern tenement in Argyle Street, Glasgow for Sanctuary Housing Association and our specialist Alcohol Related Brain Damage centre in Tollcross, Glasgow for Loretto Housing Association. We revel in our work with students and Collective Architecture’s studio mimics the culture of an architecture school. It is no surprise therefore that our project architect for Argyle Street is Nick Walker, third year tutor at the Mackintosh School of Architecture and our project architects for Tollcross are Strathclyde's very own fifth year tutor Ewan Imrie and fourth year tutor Fiona Welch. Happy to say that both projects have been shortlisted for this years Saltire Housing and Scottish Design Awards.

Housing design is once again a young architectural opportunity, only recently the Peabody Trust, London’s oldest Housing Association announced a shortlist of designs by 20 young architects which they hope will become blueprints for the next generation of affordable homes. At what point these blueprints become architecture is still unanswered, I have always thought that when a building design rises above the essential of shelter that is the point of transcendence. This will vary from brutalist architect to ordinary citizen but this is where vistas, lifestyles, crescents and relationships merge.

For more information on Strathclyde School of Architecture Exhibition 2014 please check for details, copies of A_SPACE will be available to purchase via a small donation at the opening event on 13th June at the Barras Art and Design (BAaD) from 6.30 pm.

The editorial team for the yearbook are Michael Cockburn, Kim Noble, Mark Kitson, Emma Long, Jonathan Dawson - Bowman, Michal Supron and Jamie Yeo. Thanks also to the whole team who worked on the yearbook collectively known as the A_SPACE team.


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