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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 6 - Immaculate conception or architectural gang bang

October 1st, 2013

September, that most Glaswegian of months has more birthdays than any other, the reason being the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ or the drunken fumblings of a festive season. I often wonder if Jesus looked like Mary and Joseph, in the same way children miraculously morph, often with an emphasis but always a combination. Design seems a more complicated matter.

As a student I often distressed at the mantra 'too many chiefs, not enough indians', a contradiction as we were prepared as 'master servant' fodder, while tutored to be individual. Andy and Isi, who repeated these words were I suspect fortunate in a more generous mentor. In the same way every writer has a book inside them, I have always believed that every decent architect has design inside them, which when added to our training can be a horrible under use of resource and a narrowing of our built environment. Autumn brings with it a new academic year and contrary to those yellowing leaves, I feel more of an opportunity to turn a new one. Excitement and opportunity fills my heart, not the desire to glorify another. It is easy to understand why the one true conception - not a product of the many - is a preference, too many hands watering down the idea, a Frankenstein mish mash of parts. There are others though who see a bouncing fertile soup, breeding fresh numerous thoughts, rather than some seedless barren hermaphrodite.

My academic year has begun jumping between Strathclyde University's old building and half finished new one, the vessels have changed but happily not the content. At this stage the half finished is shiny and worringly tutors have been issued with blue tack which does not set the correct mood for artistic conception. What then is the architectural version of the dimmed lights, a red rose and Marvin Gaye? Is it the black polo, the rotring pen and powermac or something more dirty dancing like the concept model, the collage and dada poem. Personally I split lovemaking into two parts, firstly the idea and secondly hand / eye coordination but always look out for unwanted stylistic bed companions, Post Modern Classicism fast becoming the beige cardigan of architecture.

Starchitects rarely seem to collaborate, or if they do it is as a series of individual efforts taking on the appearance of a MENSA kindergarten. Many a pub conversation has drifted towards the creation of an architectural super race, what would the offspring of Zaha and Norm look like and when did I start refrerring to them by their first names. This naturally happens when one gets so well known and can not be manufactured no matter how hard Cheryl Cole tries. One word architect practices are a rairity, typically being a collection of serious surnames; in the nineties, a shrine of christian + surname; and a much more recent and more fun trend is the bizarre. We all love Dress for the Weather, Pidgin Perfect and Ice Cream Architecture.

There is an ancient Jewish concept that great prophets have an 'integral age', the notion that the prophets of Israel die on the same dates as their birth or conception. The old testament was often daft but it is worth reminding ourselves that Jesus (one name) was actually more socialist than Karl Marx (two names) and more caring than The United Kingdom Independence Party (bizarre).

Scary SEDA Green Drinks, 31st October at Strathclyde University featuring Jonathan Charley discussing the Ecology of Disasters, fancy dress optional.

Fortnightly Blog 5 - The Day of the Dead Alive

August 25th, 2013

'A misogynist slap of a castle', the parting metaphor of a deteriorating night but just standing, I could claim, I was there when Disembodied Energy was born.

It began with a day time ferry trip, mis-timed in an attempt to get a ringside view of the destruction of Inverkip Power Station, mis-timed as a night time demolition had been arranged. Disappointed, the remainder of the journey was spent counting the high rise blocks of Glasgow stripped for demolition and shrouded in the banner of those proud to remove them. None of these heroic structures would enjoy the exit of Inverkip but were being slowly disemboweled by long limbed machines picking out what could be sold. Embodied Energy is the sum of all the energy required to produce any goods or services, considered as if that energy was incorporated or 'emodied' in the product itself. Never does the sum of the parts equal the whole, or so we thought that night.

What followed saw the resurrection of a broken pact to complete the work of the good villagers of Golspie, who for the last few years had been picking away at the bottom left hand corner of the 100 foot tall statue of George Granville Leveson Gower and encourage it's collapse. George is better known as the First Duke of Sutherland who plonked his likeness on Ben Bhraggie for all to see and was chief architect of the Highland Clearances. One of the proud three named on the urinals of the Lismore Bar where inebriated males are encouraged to pish on their memory. His fellow shower companions being Patrick Sellar and Colonel Fell.

My mistake was to claim expertise in explosives when my knowledge actually only extened to weed killer recipes and a sense of humour which enjoys loud bomb making conversations at the airport check in. Big Mac, the Rothesay nationalist seized on this and the pact was re-born as a complicated pulley system to deposit a pot of (water based) red paint over his head. I enjoy relieving myself in the Lismore with the best of them but shy away from nationalism being more of a believer in the Glasgow City State with an empathy with fellow industrial cities such as Liverpool and Newcastle. More of an un-independence, which will be explored at SEDA's 2014 conference in Ullapool together with the reclaiming of land from the few by the many. What did the SNP do for us apart from build the aqua-ducts.

Big Mac chairs the Bute Film Club and shares the love of a good film, the night before we kind of enjoyed World War Z where Philadelphia borrowed the body of Glasgow for the first and best five minutes. Their explanation of the zombie, a host to disease, fast moving and desperate, reminded us of the various plagues to sweep our industrial cities. The motorways (can anyone believe we built the M74 extension), the ridiculous Bruce Plan (can anyone believe we are building a model of this) and the demolition of the Victorian tenements (can anyone believe we are still bringing them down). I have yet to understand how latent steam at 100C is hotter than boiling water at 100C, or where 21 grams disappear at death, nor remember The Charing Cross Hotel. Not just zombies are killed twice, our body dies and then later we are forgotten. Those who destroyed the Giant Buddhas of Bamiyan; removed the Stalin Monument from Prague (locally known as the queue for meat) or slapped the head of a toppled Saddam Hussein carcas with the sole of a shoe, understood the value of memory.

A more sober exploration of Disembodied Energy is now being taken seriously at Scottish Universities and methods to measure all that is lost beyond bricks and mortar judged as pertinent. Little we knew that evening, as we brought our session to a close with a series of jocular metaphors, 'what if Brad Pitt was a building'. No decent suggestions rose that night (answers on a cinema ticket to Bute Film Club), on the other hand 'what if Sean Connery were a building'.

 

Bute Film Club winter programme now available on www.facebook.com/pages/Bute-Film-Club/191759357521038

SEDA Conference April 2014, Ullapool - exploring the theme of independence and the power of community. Check www.seda.uk.net for future details

 

Fortnightly Blog - Bumper Summer Special

July 18th, 2013

Lying on the beach in my hand knitted speedos, I decided it was about time Fortnightly Blog got serious. This earnest note was prompted by my holiday read, Eco Minimalism or as I much prefer The Antidote to Eco Bling, a must for me, having had so many in depth conversations about a book I've never read. Unfortunately here on Bute the distractions are many and unusual for the Glasgow Fair the weather is hot. The speedos dry out quickly after my early morning dip (be careful wool sags when wet) and I go in search of an ice cream.

Pondering the merits of oysters versus double nougats, seriousness returned as I reflected on last month's SEDA conference. It was here that I blindly conversed about Eco Bling and was mesmerised by Sandy Halliday's reflection on the work of Howard Liddell, Gaia and herself. The fight against Greenwash and poor Ecological Design has been brewing for a while and it brought pleasure in the knowledge that although Gaia's rumble is quite technical it shares the outcome of our own spiritual approach to sustainability. While Collective Architecture put faith in the value of enjoyment, collaboration and longevity through ecological design, Gaia understand the quality of material and environment, challenging Building Control's over emphasis on airtightness, a window can be opened to let in fresh air but also to smell the roses, call the children and enjoy the view. Sandy and Chris Butters laid the foundation with a workable ideology to combat Greenwash and SEDA now march forward with the pinched call 'Deeds Not Words'.

It was refreshing to both eat my world famous Zavaroni ice cream and notice the minimal ingredients milk, sugar and water; more a reserve than a wash and a reminder that the grass is not always greener. A point being stressed right now by Friends of the Earth Scotland, Reforesting Scotland and Lesley Riddoch with the 'Help Make a Thousand Huts' initiative. This is a fantastic way to encourage home grown holidays and improve health and well being for the many. The Scottish Government has proposed there should be a provision for huts within the Scottish Planning Policy and the call is out to support the development of hutting culture. Contact details are below and the consultation ends on the 23rd July, so email today, 'Huts Need You Now'.

Double nougat finished we notice the fun-fair is in town and although not the most ecological of distractions we cannot resist a shot on the Waltzer. Lunching on ice cream, even with the purest of ingredients, is not the cleverest mix with a high speed dance. Seasickness remedies come to mind and I focus on the most distant point, acid coloured cartwheels. Mindfulness and transcendental thinking flash before my eyes and recent photographs of Buddhist monks in a private jet, drinking champagne. This spin takes on greenwash proportions where Eco Hummers claim high performance, low emissions and zero guilt; where 'Barbie Bcause' flaunt plastic bodies decked out in recycled clothing and where MacDonald's corporate logo bleeds from red to green. I am startled out my meditation as the ringmaster issues the command 'Everybody Scream' and I let out a blood curdling shriek matched only by my 20 year old son. Parents accompanied by younger offspring cast looks which we put down to the dyed red mohican and ox blood doc martins with yellow laces but I suspect it has more to do with the sagging speedos.

We leave the fun-fair with our bodies satiated and a desire to feed the soul. For an architect there are snacks everywhere from Robert Rowan Anderson's Victorian Pile at Mount Stuart; Gokai Devici's residential tower; Greek Thomson's Craigmore Villa; James Carrick's Rothesay Pavillion and our own humble Bute Recycling Centre where I pick up a Puch classic road bike out the bargain skip for a fiver. Jumping on with the Last of the Mohicans we cycle off to the Victorian Pile to take in the fabulous Lucy Skaer exhibition, worth a visit to Bute on it's own. Everything at Mount Stuart is in the best possible taste, even the smack of your entrance fee finding it's way abroad and including the stunning Munkenbeck & Marshall visitor hut.

The weather forecast for the remainder of the Fair Fortnight is climate changing scorching, so like a green Bill Murray tomorrow will be much the same as today, the day after the same again, although multiple dips in the Firth of Clyde have shrunk my speedos and I head of to Bute Fabrics for some off cuts. It is a little known fact that Plastic Bertrand had a bit part in Groundhog Day but a better known fact that supposedly  UPVC (and not tight trunks) is the main culprit for reducing sperm count and endangering marine wildlife, so in the immortal French bards mistaken words 'Ca plage pour moi'.

 

'Help make a Thousand Huts' please cast your vote at www.thousandhuts.org

Lucy Skaer's exhibition at Mount Stuart will run from 23rd June 2013 until 31st October 2013, for further information please refer to www.mountstuart.com


Fortnightly Blog 3

June 29th, 2013

Lamenting childhood holidays on the Firth of Clyde with the intrepid Phileas McLachlan, we realised how green these were. I will spend this Glasgow Fair in Rothesay, a synonym for wet and cold, and another in a series of vacations spent in holiday homes, tents and caravans, Memories shine brighter than the reality and Phileas reminded me of MacDiarmid's term the 'yow trummle' when sheep shorn in late July feel the cold, she will not put me off.

One green reason to holiday on the Firth of Clyde is just how great is the public transport. I once timed my journey from Glasgow's West End to Rothesay Harbour, it took just one hour and 28 minutes. This was carried out entirely by public transport, a subway from Kelvinbridge, a train to Wemyss Bay and a Cal Mac doon the water. This made Phileas laugh as it reminded her of 'Trains, Planes and Automobiles', I was able to join the joke and inform her about a teen romance film I enjoyed recently titled 'Angus, Thongs and Snogging'. Phileas hails from the Isle of Bute so is more used to the journey in reverse and made it clear that a one hour, 28 minute trip to buy new shoes and a camping stove is not very green. Phileas knows what she is talking about having shopped in Peru, Papa New Guinea, Portugal and was once spotted buying a round of drinks in the Merchant City, but that apparantly is a myth.

One round I did enjoy was last night served up at the June SEDA Green Drinks by ecological engineer Matthew Petticrew. A fascinating insight into an enquiring mind and how to think 'More for Less'. For example as concrete grows older it grows stronger, Matthew is busy building extra storeys on well aged structures as an answer to our building shortage or he is figuring out how to test high tension glass staircases with a fork lift. SEDA Green Drinks were again hosted at the New Glasgow Society Gallery which I am glad to say is still full of massive carved stones salvaged from Glasgow Green Railway Station.

Right now I climb aboard the 08.55 morning train from Glasgow Central Railway Station and head for the extraordinary Wemyss Bay Railway Station modelled with it's vast tunnels leading from platform to pier to herd the holiday crowds onto their ferry. Phileas unfortunateely could not manage along and on her behalf I have to pitch her brilliant ideas for a Rothesay Lighting Festival, inspired by the 1930s when folk crammed on paddle steamers to oggle the lights of Clyde resorts, one estimate put the crowds at 10,000 daily.

I saunter on to the Cal Mac ferry and less than an hour from leaving Glasgow I feel on an adventure. The adventure is further heightened by a school of porpoises dancing just of the prow followed by a basking shark tracked by five oyster catchers. The ferry arrives in Rothesay and for all that I love about the place there is always a whiff of decay, it never quite regenerates, to compound this I bump into some architects trying to save a listed hotel tottering on the edge of collapse, roofless and plagued with seagulls, I wished them well.

Meeting over and the 'Amazing Phileas McLachlan's Extraordinary Rothesay Lighting Festival' moves a step nearer to being switched on and I start the reverse trip. Journeys back all ways seem longer but I will return in a fortnight when Blog 4 will be posted, weather depending.

SEDA needs you, please join us at www.seda.uk.net

Fortnightly Blog 2

June 13th, 2013

Crits and conferences have replaced the Scottish Highers as the first signs of summer, all spent in darkened rooms focused on the cerebral while outside the world is bright and cheery. Two weeks ago I would have qualified the last statement as snow had been predicted for June and Oklahoma had been devastated by freak tornadoes. Today we only have Northern Eurpoe flooded, those who are interested Jonathan Charley at a Green Drinks date to be confirmed, will discuss the ecology of disastors and his belief that we who contemplate heat exchangers and air source heat pumps are pissing in the wind.

Back to the afore mentioned darkened rooms. Crits have become a lonely experience, at one time they were a joy, a calamity and always ended in a crowded bar. Now they are typified by business cards, no guests, a round of applause and a stop watch (in the form of an i-phone) after which everyone goes home. At Strathclyde School of Architecture in some areas we were able to enjoy some well thought out north light but unfortunately next year we can only look forward to a basement.

Conferences now need to focus our attention away from the sunshine with a theme. In Strathpeffer the RIAS treated us to 'Big World and Wee Scotland' a great event but the theme seemed only to spilt up the two days. Those who addressed the theme fared the best with Kathryn Findlay and Christophe Egret shining the brightest. Kathryn choose to consider the cultural differences she encountered on her return from Japan and how thresholds have been blurred. This was evident in her stunning thatched pool houses built for the mega rich. Christophe stressed another recent trend, that landscaping is pretty damn important, though the rumour that Rem Koolhaas is giving up designing buildings to concentrate on plants, seems a step too far.

SEDA's conference the following weekend in Camphill, Aberdeen was a tad more humble and concentrated on health and well being. Chris Butters and Sandy Halliday of Gaia gave fantastic presentations. I was both surprised and delighted that our own approach to ecological design harmonised with Gaia's, which is best summed up through Howard Liddell's fabulous book Eco-Minimilism or 'antidote to eco-bling' (a must read for any one reading this blog) Our approach follows a more spiritual path placing an emphasis on the importance of loving your building (more to follow in a fortnight or two) but is just as anti-techie.

Finally, I have been disapointed by the quality of blog name suggestions. Come on all you fearsome UR trolls, otherwise we are looking at Fortnighly Blog 3 - probably in a month's time.

 

Further details on forthcoming SEDA green drinks can be found at www.seda.uk.net