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Book Reviews

14 Nov 2008

Gareth Hoskins Architects 0 - 10 years&nbsp; A decade in practice provides a wealth of material for discourse but does the resulting package do this justice?<br/>

Gareth Hoskins Architects 0 - 10 years  A decade in practice provides a wealth of material for discourse but does the resulting package do this justice?

In many ways the title of this monograph is as much about a decade of the Lighthouse’s existence as it is about this important milestone in the life of one of Scotland’s most successful young practices. In that time Gareth Hoskins and his team have garnered ten years of valuable experience: from the evidence of this book’s production, the Lighthouse has simply repeated the same year ten times over.

Why do I say this? The Lighthouse began life as part of Glasgow’s Year of Architecture and Design in 1999 and since then has been central to all things to do with the representation of architecture & design in Scotland. As such, it has been responsible for the production of a number of publications, but has yet to discover there is a big difference between book packaging and book publishing. The former requires the assembly of a number of component parts – in the case of architectural monographs the conventional solution is to get an essay or two by some well-known names sympathetic to the practice in question and follow it up with project information arranged chronologically or by building type or theme. Book publishing, by contrast, requires, most importantly, the involvement of an editor able to take the raw material and order it in the fashion most appropriate to its subject.

Publishing also requires a particular approach to graphic design that, whilst creative, avoids irritating the reader. The Lighthouse, in describing itself here as the publisher, goes for the conventional monograph format – in this instance choosing the thematic option – and then messes everything up by avoiding any critical editing and leaning towards its perennial indulgence – over-design. Good editing would have eradicated the flaws that punctuate this book – the endless errors in the numbering of building plans and sections; the mis-descriptions (the Culloden Battlefield Memorial Centre is not, and is never likely to be, a museum); the lack of project dates; the lack of mention of other consultant input; and the confusion for the reader as to whether unbuilt projects are likely to be realised or not. Good editing would also have avoided the equivalence of status that gives every project – built or otherwise – six pages of coverage, rendering each one as important as another, which clearly they are not. Most importantly, this approach makes it impossible to discern the practice’s intellectual and design progress during the period under review.

The question arises, therefore, as to whom exactly this book is aimed at? Were it a practice brochure, the catalogue of works on offer is an effective summary of the projects undertaken to date by Gareth Hoskins Architects and a useful tool in attracting new clients. As an architectural monograph, however, it fails to recognise the basics of the genre and is unlikely to reach a substantially wider audience. GHA and other Scottish practices merit proper critical appraisal, but if this is the template for future productions in the Lighthouse’s proposed five-part series, it is quite simply the wrong one. Scottish architecture deserves better than this.

Peter Wilson

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