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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 Better Days, at the Briggait, Glasgow #archifringe

July 5th, 2016

Aware how Jude Barber can weave politics, art and architecture, I took time out during a frantic early summer to drop into the last few days of this passing exhibition. The components are simple, an intriguing title; the foreword to a book; identical letters addressed to each of the 129 Scottish Members of Parliament and the same number of small elegant ceramics laid out on a large table.

Exhibition titles in themselves have become important and on arriving, my first point of enquiry was when or when to be, were ‘the better days’. Knowing that the exhibition formed part of the Saltire Society’s 80th Anniversary, I had come prepared for a nostalgic journey through the history of their housing awards. It was therefore immediately enlightening to discover that the exhibition title had been gleamed from Thomas Johnston’s forward to the Saltire Society’s 1944 publication ‘ Building Scotland’ and informed us that ‘the better days’ are to be.

The complete forward written by Thomas Johnston, is hung in a large format banner on one wall and makes powerful reading, reflecting on the spirituality of John Ruskin and looking forward to a heroic post second world war construction boom. Thomas Johnston, was the then Secretary of State for Scotland, a one time Red Clyde-sider, long supporter of Home Rule and one of the most inspiring politicians of his era as this short extract from the forward demonstrates;

“And in this beautiful land of ours, the free people who inhabit it, and who have paid such a high price for their freedom, will, in the better days that are to be, surely insist that the architecture of their buildings, public and private, shall be worthy of them."

1944 was a while ago, plenty of time for these better days to have already passed by and the product of the heroic second world war construction boom is currently undergoing mass demolition.

The opposite wall is covered in the 129 letters still to be sent to all the Scottish Members of Parliament and are signed and dated the 08th July 2016. They bring to the attention of the newly elected representatives of Holyrood the value of architecture and the role environment plays in health and it’s impact on opportunity. Health has always been a crucial factor in housing, previously this has been evidenced in obvious physical need. An indoor toilet, decent private space, uncrowded room to sleep, a place to cook a decent meal. It is heartening to sense that having some control of your personal environment ranks amongst these needs and it is now understood can affect both physical and mental well being.

The exhibition is housed in two rooms straddling the main entrance to the Briggait, I moved on to the second room which in the centre sits the table laid with the ceramic objects. The ceramics have been produced by female architects and collaborators, formed in shapes and adorned with words taken from the 1944 publication. They cover the table top forming a pattern but each retain the individuality of different hands and the irregularity that comes through the firing of clay. Each one will be matched with one of the letters hung on the wall next door and ready made packaging for both sit waiting to be posted out on the 8th July. We all hope the politicians take heed.

There is something enjoyable about the smaller exhibition when the content is simple, the message complex but the effect hard hitting. I left still unsure if the better days have been and gone, still to arrive, or are always with us. Perhaps we just have to look more closely or try a bit harder.


The exhibition runs until the 08th July at the Wasps, Briggait Project Spaces, 141 Bridgegate, Glasgow G1 5HZ . There will be a panel discussion on Thursday 7th July at 6 pm close by in the South Block, Glasgow. Please refer to the link below for further information.

The project also forms part of the Archi-Fringe 2016 programme and has been inspired and supported by The Saltire Society. Please refer to the link below for further information.


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