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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.

#buildbackbetter (every silver lining has a cloud)

August 9th, 2020

We read, hear and say these words. They make sense, they mix a pandemic crisis, the looming recession it spawned with eye watering sums of money, to spit out a shockproof economic solution to climate emergency. What does that mean, what should we do, and has it already been stolen.

Zoom webinars feed our hunger for recovery plans. We turned on to the Common Weal and Our Common Home, a ‘14 aspect green new deal plan for Scotland’. We tuned in to Doughnut Economics, ‘seven ways to think like a 21st Century Economist’. And dropped out with the Architects Climate Action Network (ACAN) and their three overarching aims, 1. Decarbonise Now, 2. Ecological Regeneration, 3. Cultural Transformation. Loved them all, each a planetary self-help road map to grab my imagination, only to wake up the next day and wonder what to do. They demand major structural change, they are correct however there is another change in town, Build, Build, Build.

Boris beats this drum down south with their overhaul of the English planning laws. Tearing up what has been an effective system in place since World War 2, they propose a straightforward set of categories; growth, renewal and protection, to encourage automatic planning permission and a reduction in scrutiny. History tells us planning deregulation on this scale, including reductions in mandatory affordable housing quotas, can only lead to ill conceived construction. It will all fly under the banner of beauty, in the form of pattern books and design codes, written and judged by watch this space.

We sit smugly North of the border feeling immune from such thoughts and look forward to the National Planning Framework 4. I was one of those who spent many a midnight hour writing a response to the recent Scottish Government’s ‘Call for Ideas’ in what for me seemed like a real opportunity to Build Back Better. I now shudder when I read headlines like ‘Green zealots risk wrecking recovery, top economic adviser warns’ in the The Times (06.08 2020). This is not a Boris Johnson chum but the Scottish Government’s chair of their advisory group on economic recovery. I am no nationalist however do have faith in Nicola Sturgeon and hope this is just a market economy partisan uttering.

It is within this context that I welcome the Scottish Ecological Design Association’s 2020 conference ‘How do we Build Back Better’. Scheduled between the 07th and 10th of September in a series of three evening events. SEDA offered up some of the best recent webinars including Doughnut Economics, Our Common Home and Meet ACAN, that track record suggests this should be an interesting exploration. On the 07th September Urbanity will be scrutinised while on the 08th September Rural takes the spotlight. Ideas from both will be presented to the SEDA membership on the 10th September and help form their agenda for the coming two years. All to be revealed at the RIAS Convention on the 29th September.

Ahead of that, a bit of homework is in order. Build Back Better first emerged from the Central Java earthquake of 2006 by the Japan International Cooperation Agency Reconstruction team. It is a simple common sense concept, eventually defined as a holistic concept in those ponderously titled, far from easy reads ‘Disaster Risk recovery for Economic Growth and Livelihood, Investing in Resilience and Development’ and ‘Recovery and Reconstruction an opportunity for Sustainable Growth through Build Back Better’ both penned in 2015 and adopted by the UN. Today the movement is fronted by the straightforward ‘Build Back Better’, a recovery plan based on five principles: Secure the health and needs of everyone in the UK now and into the future; Protect and invest in our public services; Rebuild society with a transformative Green New deal; Invest in people; and build solidarity and community across borders.

‘How do we Build Back Better’ does not appear to have an easy answer, free marketeers pull it in one direction while so called green zealots tug it in another and all the while the climate emergency clock keeps ticking. Please join SEDA in September for a wee scratch of the head and a think, how can we just get on with it.


For more information on the SEDA conference please follow this link



Any Porto in a storm

April 11th, 2020

In February 2020, just as Covid 19 had begun its journey and the great bush fires of Australia finally abated, Pedro charted storm Denis across the Atlantic, and behold a window of opportunity opened up on his laptop. Undeterred by a journey involving 4 airports each way, Pedro gathered his troops, stuck two fingers at the apocalypse, and we set off to Portugal’s second city for the annual Stratharch third year field trip.

4 airports passed peacefully enough and we made our way to the hotel. Situated in the University Quarter, we discovered ‘hotel’ is youthful Portuguese slang, for beatnik beach huts in a backcourt overlooking a communal barbecue area. Love it, declared Ayrshire Gordie as he breathed in urban chic and exhaled farmhouse steading, our very own Christmas Island. To avoid facing up to the privacy issues too quickly, the rest of us took refuge in the bar, decorated in skateboards and bamboo. We took it in turns to navigate the hipster landscape and check out our bunks, return and venture out for Portuguese rations in the form of a Mexican restaurant.

Day 1: The architectural siren rang sharp at dawn, ‘this is not a drill, if you see any Souto de Moura or Álvaro Siza fall to your knees in awe, turn your back and shield your eyes’. Pedro rounded the corner in full combat gear, khaki jacket, black polo-neck and clipboard. He marched us quickly through the Cedoffeita District to Bouça - SAAL, Álvaro Siza’s early housing project (1975-77). Pedro handed out tiny round sunglasses and black banderos, essential when glaring at gracefully proportioned facades, climbing challenged staircases and trying to blend into a community scratching its head.

Blinded by the brilliance, we reeled forward and around the massive concrete spiral, Silo Auto by Albertos Pessoa (1961-64), architects love a brutalist car park; across the hilltop Art Deco outpost of the Cinema Batalha by Artur Andrade (1944-47) and descended into the Centro Historico. First stop the wonderfully tiled Sao Bento Station by José Marques da Silva (1900 - 06), with its 20,000 azulejo tiles depicting Portuguese battle scenes. Painted tiles also lay behind the station in a quiet lane, where the entrance wall to a dance club decorated with 3,000 azulejo tiles, asks the question, Quem Es Porto? (2015) which is answered by the anonymous citizens in graphic certainty. Sao Bento is an area in flux, changing its face while continuing to discharge visitors into the city; from this gateway we fought ever downwards through glittering churches and arched bridges to the Douro River. The architecture rained hard that first day in the sun.

Day 2: The architectural siren rang sharp at dawn, we were up early, standing by our bunks, dressed and ready to go, when something rounded the corner in full white garb. The clipboard was a give away, which waved us forward in single file onto the waiting troop carrier. ’Expect a long hard day, no dawdling, no chatting, no smiling, or ….’. Pedro raised his eyes to the sky, tapped his microphone and in a low booming voice informed us ’First stop Alvaro Siza’s Leca Lido (1966), where concrete and nature meld in runic manner, to create a modernist bathing paradise amongst jagged rocks’. We disembarked the carrier to discover that the might of the Atlantic had destroyed Siza’s masterpiece which lay broken and scattered across the beach. We genuflected our way along the coast to Siza’s second youthful masterpiece, the still intact however now exclusive Michelin starred restaurant, The Boa Vista Tea House (1963). Back on the carrier we nursed our bruised knees.

Onto Braga for lunch and a pleasant wander through the town where we replenished our bodies. On our way out of the city a quick visit to Souto de Moura’s extraordinary Municipal Stadium (2003), home of Sporting Braga and carved out of the side of a quarry. We took turns to stand on each others shoulders to peer over the fans stockade at this 21st century miracle, Pedro raised his arms, and it was back on the carrier. History soothed the remainder of day where we took in Bom Jesus do Monte by Carlos Amarante (1811) and climbed the 12 stations of the cross, followed by a whistle stop knee shuffle around the historic town of Guimaraes. Aloe vera eased the bruising but nothing could calm our minds ablaze with architecture.

Day 3: The architectural siren rang sharp at dawn, this time we ringed the hipster courtyard, backs against the wall, all eyes on Pedro’s beach hut. He walked casually out, all smiles and clipboard. “Today is your day, you can do what ever you like, I thought we would start with a quick visit to Matosinhos”. This may be an illusion but reflected on the glass door of the beach hut, an image of Pedro working a console appeared as the door was shut. What else could we do, Robo-tutor held aloft the clipboard, led us to the Metro, conversed with a ticket machine and a few stops later we arrived at the Casa da Architecture by Guilherme Machado Vaz (2013-17). Inside was the most extraordinary gathering of Souto de Moura models and drawings ever assembled. We marvelled at the depth of exploration, the iterations, the study of scale, minds akimbo we danced back into the depths of the Metro, chatted to the ticket machines and emerged at the Casa da Música by OMA (1999-2005).

A faceted lump, Casa da Música settles amongst undulating hard landscape, now adopted as home to middle aged skate board freaks, I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised. We dodged through the skate boards and visited those parts open to the public, mainly the shop. Robo-tutor checked with the till to negotiate some student discount and we left. The day was far from over and arm in arm we sauntered north to the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art by Álvaro Siza (1989-99), set within a stunning park we whiled away the afternoon while Robo-tutor lay in the sun drinking iced tea and munched miniature custard pies. Before we knew it the sun was dropping and we raced for one last homage to the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Porto, Álvaro Siza (1985-99). A series of sculptural white boxes where students can emulate the master and produce their own sculptural white boxes. We turned to thank Robo-tutor for the tremendous day, but he had wondered off into the sun set.

No siren for our final day, we gathered our bags and headed back to reality. We worked our way through the airports where masked travellers kept their distance and tensions rose. China headlined the news screens, we wondered but we did not realise the sadness coming our way. Today we speak to our students through zoom, discuss screen saved drawings on which we scribble with digital pens and pencils. It’s going well, we laugh, we draw, we move on. We will always have our adventure in Porto.


Thanks to Peter Welsh for the incredible effort he puts in to make the Strath Arch field trips such a success. Thank you also to my fellow tutors for being tremendous company however the biggest thanks of all to the Strath Arch third year students who this year especially were a credit to themselves and the University. This extends to today where students and university have reacted brilliantly, keeping the Architecture course alive through Covid 19. It has been a joy to work with the students, albeit on line, over the last few weeks.

Please keep safe everyone.

Book Review: Sustainable Construction (2nd Edition) by Sandy Halliday

September 29th, 2019

When is a book not a book, when it is ajar, which is kind of open all the time. I bought my copy of Sustainable Construction, the first edition, five years ago and that has pretty much been the case. Scanned, turned, flicked and quoted, Sustainable Construction is a reference book, a sustainable plan, a series of case studies, a philosophical approach and as with all good things, it is more than the sum of its parts.

Sandy Halliday’s approach to sustainability brings together the practical with the philo- sophical so that a healthy, affordable, resource efficient environment is within our grasp. Originally evolved from a training course, Sustainable Construction continues to mature but retain the essential ingredient of a multi disciplinarian, straight forward view of what is a complex subject. Optimism abounds replacing the anthroprocene threat of extinction norm. Sandy Halliday’s world is real, we just need to roll up our sleeves and get on with it.

10 years have passed since the first edition, the second follows the same format, however shifts the focus beyond recognisable sustainable building blocks towards health and well being. Still arranged as a series of chapter headings these have been re arranged from 14 to 12, generally moving through the design process from drivers and policy, to cost, material selection, environmental design and ultimately construction. Along the way we move from the global to the local and using Sandy’s own words from ‘the very right to the very wrong’. I have never read the book in the correct order al- ways jumping to a chapter which is of interest or one that demands attention. My favourite chapter remains the last, ‘Urban Ecology’ was and will continue to be the best thumbed.

It is not possible to describe all 12 chapters, each is stand alone, providing best prac- tise information on a particular topic complete with its individual bibliography, narrative and case studies. Do not be misled by some of the Chapter headings, such as “Cost Issues” which can be the most fascinating, putting to bed a number of imbalances and informing the reader of an emerging future world of modern realism where it is the pol- luters who are expected to pay. For those less au fait with sustainable terms Sandy will take the time to explain their meaning, in chapter 5 “Materials Selection”, aesthetics are left to the designer however an approach which considers resource, impact in use, an explanation of the embodied and asks what happens to the building at the end of it’s life are the reasons we should make our choices. Collectively the chapters boast 120 case studies, many favourites from the 1st edition remain, such as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Solar Hemicycle, while some are new including Emsher Park in Germany which transformed the Rhur Valley and there are those which have grown up between editions such as the Green City of Malmo. Photographs are much improved without losing some of their amateur charm and a significant addition is the inclusion of the RIAS Sustainability Policy (1997) and RIAS Sustainable Design Accreditation within Chapter 2. The time has come for the RIAS to re-embrace both.

For those who do not own a copy of Sustainable Construction either edition, I would suggest this book is essential, why it does not appear more on University Reading Lists is a mystery. If like me you already own a copy of the 1st edition, please get hold of the 2nd edition and study the changes, you will most probably buy it. Together with Eco- Minimalism written with her late husband Howard Liddell and other recent works such as the Sustainability Guide to the RIBA Plan of Work make Sandy Halliday a true sus- tainability champion, we are very lucky to have her.


Originally published in RIAS Quarterly Spring 2019

Bilbao wow wow

March 31st, 2019

Pedro sniffed the Renfrewshire air and prowled through the Basil Spence archways where within the cavernous interior a pack of black clad stray tutors haunched down on all fours. A horrible wail echoed through the airport bazaar, as Pedro raised himself up onto his hind legs and sucked in the rabid spirit of Dr J. Sam & Isa tore off vibrant coloured robes in deepest respect of the Stratharch sage as Pedro led the chant J.. J.. J.. J.. J. Or so I was told, as having missed the first day I traveled solo to deepest Basque to hitch up with Stratharch’s annual third year field trip.

I caught up with the pack as they rounded off day one wolfing into Chorizo hot dog Pintxos washed down with vast bowls of Rioja. Stories of fine architecture and food from the earlier walk through the Basque industrial capital ran deep into the pequena horas. Finally curled up in my basket for the night I fell into a deep sleep to be abruptly woken by Ayrshire Gordie ‘put on your best collar today the way is San Sebastian’. Dressed kind of like priests and resembling a cross stag party, we herded our flock onto the waiting coach and headed for San Sebastian.

Our drive was short but the destination was spectacular. The February sun warmed our backs as we strolled around la Concha Bay. Young Chris could not contain himself, running around in all directions yelping, look at that, look at this; a wiser Nick ran after him, you missed that, you missed this;  eventually Pedro’s patience broke as he whistled ‘away to me’ and the young pups rounded up the students towards a panting Pedro who pointing at the El Real Club Nautico by Joaquin Labayen (1929) barked the following description; ‘a modernist ship like gem hung over the the promenade like an architectural ark’. Dazzled by his verbosity we scrambled up the steep sided Monte Urgull to the Napoleonic stronghold of Castillo de la Mota with its strategic view of the harbour. We circled round the ramparts and gawped at the gigantic Sagrado Corazon (Sacred Heart) statue, better know as the Cristo de la Mota. Measuring 12 metres tall the huge Jesus stared down to Donastia, the old town, to which we tumbled and headed for the San Telmo museum.

San Sebastian is often described as a Giant Mastiff nestling into a rugged landscape, crashing cliffs and water are imbedded with artworks, the best of which created by the rival sculptors Chillada and Oteiza. This dynamic was not lost on the studio of Nieto Sobejano and their remodelling of San Telmo Museum (2011). Geometric forms emulate the rocks and ramparts forming a bond between rugged coast and shore. In love with the raw strength of the building, we drifted across the adjacent art deco Zurriola Bridge (1931), which straddles the Urumea River closest to its mouth, and gazed towards the Kurasaal Congress Centre by Raphael Moneo (1997), a big lump of a building which was shut. With no where to go the flock scattered until Pedro let out a high pitched whine sending out flankers to guide the flock to a waiting coach. Back in Bilbao we were met by intrepid Iberian writer Chip Landau and his ex pat tash who had joined the trip to pen a guide on unsustainable travel. Forced to walk we all set off towards Party Street (Golenkale), where the Basque underbelly gathered each evening, both students and tutors blended in with ease.

Ayrshire Gordie’s alarm cock crowed the next morning and we gathered for breakfast where Pedro with a giant register between his jaws, joked and jested with the students. All accounted for he barked (jaws full Pedro can speak through his ears, being a rare breed reared to communicate in marshy ground). The students laughed at Pedro’s jokes and wondered at his talking ears. Very proud of his itinerary, Pedro had cleverly left Frank Gehry’s masterpiece to last, we placed our ears next to his and listened to what he had to say; ‘the landscaping around the Rio Bilbao is astonishing (Javier Lopez Chollet, 2005), the Post Modern Artklass apartment block by Rob Krier (2011) is terrible and the Zubiarte shopping mall by Robert A M Stern (2004) even worse, while make your own mind up about the Universidad de Deusto Library by Raphael Moneo (2008) and I would listen to opinions on the Bizkaia Aretoa de la UPV-EHU by Alvaro Siza (2010). Each of these buildings acted as an hor de oeuvre  in anticipation of the grand entrée itself, the Guggenheim Museum by Senior Gehry & his Associates (1997).' We slathered outside waiting to enter this ultimate urban catalyst when with giant register in his jaws, Pedro froze and let out a low blood curdling growl.

Facing us stood a huge dog bedecked in glorious colourful flowers, wow gasped the students, wow. Cameras poised they moved towards the Jeff Koons creation while a green Pedro pounced deep into its midst. Ripping and tearing, the topiary creation was flung skywards transforming into a shower of beautiful petals which fell over tutors and students alike. Black garb transformed into a multi coloured festival and Pedro danced the troop into the museum. We lapped up the curvaceous interior and vowed never again to draw a straight line, never again to make a structure work, and never again to use materials in a sensible manner. With the sound of our own voices in our ears, we left in a dream and headed for Party Street to discover it shut on Sundays.

All dressed up with no where to go, we sat in our most loved Plaza while student detectives used digital smoke signals to discover the one and only bar in Bilbao which opened on the Sabbath. Falling under the underbelly our colours faded as we entered a heavy metal nirvana where a Basque Cruella De Ville served up local brew while eying up our coats. Etiquette agreed with the local zombies, we shoe gazed our last hours in Bilbao head bashing to Spanish hard rock while Pedro slowly revamped back into his lovable darker shade. We all patted his back and tickled his chin congratulating him on another already legendary trip.


Thanks to Peter Welsh for the incredible effort he puts in to make the Stratharch field trips such a success, thank you also to my fellow tutors for being tremendous company however the biggest thanks of all to the Stratharch third year students who are a credit to themselves and the University. Long live Dr J.

A Guide to Being Unsustainable - Climate Alarmism by Donald Clarkson

December 16th, 2018

‘Snow falls on the Coliseum in April’ read the headline and still we are told climate change is here. What is the reason for the snow, the arctic is having a heat wave this winter. There is no sun in the arctic in winter, a heat wave with no sun. It is not just this year, this is the third year in a row, with no sun. The scientists think we should believe this.

Apparently we do not understand the difference between weather and climate, weather is what we get while climate is what we expect. Everyone knows we never get what we expect, did the scientists predict sleet spoiling Easter in St Peters Square, no they did not. Will the sun rise tomorrow or do we predict it will rise tomorrow. Is the Pope a Catholic or do we predict he is a Catholic.

So who was in charge of these scientists, who was the high predictor, that will be John Charles Beale, senior policy adviser of the Environmental Protection Agency to the United States Goverment. And what is John Charles Beale best known for, scrupulous science and a search for the truth. No the guy responsible for explaining why the Tiber freezes in Spring, is a convicted fraudster.

This is not new, when ever society sets an established view, in this case climate change, along comes someone who disagrees and is subjected to abjure, curse and detest. The best known is Galileo Galilei who was trialled and convicted in 1633 for supporting the Copernican theory that the Earth revolves around the Sun. The Catholic Church immediately chastised him, he denies the scriptures, he places the Sun at the centre of the universe, burn him. Poor old Galileo was found guilty of heresy and spent the rest of his life under house arrest. The same is happening today and the biggest farce is that scientists studying climate change have actually enlisted the help of the Flat Earth Society, yes a Flat Earth also suffers from climate change! Galileo would revolve in his grave.

You are still not convinced, you don’t even believe Galileo. Tell me then what was the best selling science book of last year, was it ‘How do we tackle Climate Change’ or ‘How to Save a Planet’ no it was ‘Shackled’; Chris Turney’s environmental best seller, a true account of an epic voyage to Antarctic waters. In 2013 Mr Turney, the acclaimed Professor of Earth Science and Climate Change, galavanted southwards to measure the melting of glaciers in Antartica and got stuck in thick ice. ‘Ship of Cold Fools’ ran the headlines, ‘From Melt Down to Iced In’ went the stories, ‘Scientists with Red Faces and Blue Feet’ they laughed. Mr Turney explains the disaster with his own personal brand of science, ‘climate change has caused dramatic changes to currents and winds in and around Antartica. These changes have resulted in warm water melting the ice from below and undercutting vast glaciers. That is making them melt and everyone knows that fresh water freezes more quickly than salt water’. In other words the ice turned back into ice however somehow got bigger. The Huffinton Post described Shackled or ‘How a scientific expedition to Antartica became a fight for survival’, as a bloody good read and apparently Mr Turney held back from eating penguins unlike the real Shackleton. Hooray for the eco system.

Why should we the public trust the media, false news has been with us for years. Cheap slanderous pamphlets led to the American War of Independence, while more recently we know Nasa’s moon landings were stage set, the Sun newspaper spoke the truth about Hillsborough and that Barack Obama is not a native born American. Our post truth political world relegates facts to a concern of secondary importance, simply take a look at Brexit and the US presidential election. It is no longer important whether Donald Trump was correct in stating that ‘Climate Change is a Chinese invention in order to make U.S. manufacturing non competitive’, what is important is what I think and I have to agree.

A Guide to Being Unsustainable part 1 has recently been published and includes Climate Alarmism by Donald Clarkson. Part 2 is now under development and when finished the two guides will be combined to form a lifestyle Colour Supplement to help us all tune into our changing world. It will include fashion, travel, your money, relationship advice, film reviews and a horoscope. The publication started a year ago with the original blog, if you want to find out more try …….