Prospect North:Northern Light
22 Apr 2016
Scotland is to press ahead with its own dedicated pavilion at the Venice architecture Biennale once more with a topical look at how the northern regions might come into their own as migration and climate change pressures come to the fore just as Britain’s place in Europe has been thrown up in the air.For decades all roads have led south as far as Scotland is concerned but as the EU referendum draws near all that could be about to change. Dovetailing with the vote will be Scotland’s contribution to the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale an interactive map detailing grassroots community initiatives from the Highlands and Islands to Dumfries and Galloway which will attempt to turn current thinking through 180 degrees.
Backed by Architecture + Design Scotland, the Scottish government, British Council and Creative Scotland Prospect North this project will bring together Dualchas Architects, research and design collective Lateral North and visualisation specialists Soluis to explore the relationship between Scotland and its northern neighbours with regard to place, culture, people and economy. A full scale modular map fabricated in the Lighthouse that can be transported in flat-pack form -presumably inspired by the Swedish approach to space saving, will illustrate the connections.
For Graham Hogg, founder of Lateral North, the Nordic and Arctic regions have long held a fascination, and with an increasing number of newcomers drawn to their unspoilt natural beauty it is an attraction shared by many even if the bottom has fallen out of the oil industry. Rather than just visit these places however Hogg is keen to import their better ideas and solutions for the benefit of people closer to home.
Asked why the north should take precedence over London or indeed the America’s and China Hogg said: “A big part is to do with climate change and how we can help positively towards that, just as the Scottish government looks to the Nordics for inspiration we’re seeking to do the same for architecture and design. It’s an exchange of ideas and culture. We claim to be quite forward thinking on renewables but I think we’re still lagging behind. We’re still looking at fracking in Scotland when we should be looking to develop our offshore wave and tidal power.”
Dualchas director Alasdair Stephen said: “In a way this is an extension of the referendum debate, we’re still thinking about Scotland’s place in the world, but rather than looking to London we’re looking to other places and there are a lot of issues common to the arctic.”
A&DS chair Karen Anderson said: “From our perspective the key thing is looking at what’s happened in Scottish communities and using that as a means to have a conversation with others around the world. We’re not just interested in looking at rural areas; we’re also looking at urban communities and small towns.”
These conversations will be largely conducted through the medium of augmented and virtual reality with Soluis deploying a drone to film various community driven projects which Venice visitors can then experience for themselves by donning their Google Glasses within a ‘virtual documentary’ in the main exhibition space. For those wedded to reality an adjacent antechamber will be given over to physical conversations and discussions concerning Scotland’s place in the northern hemisphere.
Quizzed on the relevance of Britain’s ongoing debate about its place in Europe, whether on the periphery or at the heart of things, Anderson said: “It’s all about the small politics of communities rather than the big political picture. I suspect that it might have an impact on some of the other northern partners, some of whom are in and out of Europe.” For Hogg Britain’s place remains within Europe: “EU withdrawal might provide an opportunity more than anything else to start afresh but for us to stay in the EU is really important because of the connections with the Nordic countries.”
Dualchas director Alasdair Stephen noted: “Whatever the result of the referendum, whether we vote to come out or stay in, there is this profound question of where we look for influence. Is England going to look inward upon itself, or out to America? Is it turning its back on Europe and if it is should Scotland be looking in different places to map out a future for itself?”
More than anything else the exhibition will shine a light on what local communities have achieved, accomplishments that often go overlooked in the bombast of national one-upmanship. Anderson explained: “We’ve got things like the Development Trust Association, which covers a huge number of communities, but there are very few people that have a measure of how many of them there are. This mapping approach will allow people outside that movement to see what’s going on. It’s all about showcasing just how much work volunteers and young emerging practices are doing.”
“It’s about putting Scottish designers on the map but also pointing out the empowerment issues around community buy outs. We will also learn about things we don’t yet know that are happening in Europe and the world.”
Explaining the concept in more detail Stephen added: “We have a limited budget so we knew we couldn’t compete with the architectural installations of other countries so we’ve focussed on how the industry is changing with augmented reality and virtual reality. We didn’t want people to walk around and walk out. We wanted something immersive where you could spend a lot of time. We have touch points and trigger pointe with lots of videos, animation and features determined by the budget and time constraints but which mean people will be able to spend a long time within that space and learn a lot about individual communities.
“The idea is to look at micro level human interest stories, we want to bring in architecture but we also want Scottish culture and humour within the context of looking north and considering Scotland’s place in the wider world. We don’t want anything which is pretentious; we want it to be surreal and to have humour to stimulate thought, opinion and debate about where Scotland is going.
“We want some authentic voices. There would be nothing more boring than having Neil Baxter talking over your headphones. Architects can be quite boring, I you’ve ever spent an evening with an earnest architect when they get too drunk you really want to kill yourself at the end of it.”
Whilst the exhibition will focus on strengths and successes it will not attempt to sugar coat the very real issues which the country faces, as Stephen remarked: “Where we are at present is not where I believe Scotland wants to be. If you look at rural communities many are in a worse position than they were 20 years ago. When I was in Skye I built my first house in my twenties but you can’t get those grants anymore so people aren’t building. I don’t think we can say Scotland is in any way a success story when it comes to community engagement because we still have huge issues with the cost of land and affordability. We’re not going to put a shine on this we’re going to be honest. We’ll be looking to the future and saying this is the sort of Scotland we want and think we can have.
“Most of rural Scotland is still dying on its feet, its population is going up but that’s not because people are being born. It’s because people are moving in. That does have good aspects because in the football team I played for on Skye every single player was in the construction industry and the only reason people had jobs was because people were moving in and buying up ruins and spending £300k doing them up. “
Prospect North will run from 26 May until 25 June at Ludoteca Santa Maria Ausiliatrice in Venice before commencing a nationwide tour, showing participants that things are starting to look up.