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August 15 2008

Golf - the environmentally damaging side of tourism

Like everyone else, I get a lot of spam e-mails, but it being the holiday season and as a complete sucker for all matters to do with travel, I decided to open an intriguing one from KLM/Air France. “Sign up now to access world wide golf privileges” the subject header proclaimed, the text going on to invite me to join that happy band of travelling golfers who seem to clog up airports everywhere.

While more and more airlines go out of their way to terrorise passengers into carrying little or no luggage, it seems the same rules don’t apply to travelling golfers who get to take their unmanageable sacks of clubs to every corner of the globe, especially those parts that are still euphemistically described as ‘developing’. No doubt the airlines mark up the carriage costs for said clubs and profit hugely from transporting them, but if ever there was a marketing initiative more out of place and time then KLM/Air France’s latest wheeze, then this has to be it.

Let’s be clear what I’m referring to here – whilst golf courses are fast becoming a key attraction for tourist destinations in the tropics, they are major wasters and polluters of water in these countries and require huge amounts of the precious liquid to maintain greens and landscaped gardens. To take an example, Malaysia had around 20 golf courses in the 70’s and now has more than 200. An average 18 hole course in that country soaks up at least 2,000,000 litres of water a day – enough to feed the daily irrigation needs of 100 Malaysian farmers.

In Thailand an average golf course uses as much water as 60,000 rural villagers and needs 1500kg of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides each year. Some 90% of these chemicals end up in the air, often causing skin problems and respiratory illnesses to residents living nearby – and to the golfers themselves. To cap it all, farming communities lose their land and are displaced for golf course development, with minimal compensation. But then, the poor populations that suffer from golf tourism and have their land, water and other assets degraded or expropriated aren’t likely to be able to afford either to fly or play golf, are they?

Netherlands Architecture Centre, Glasgow Branch

The Lighthouse appears to be reverting to its old and less than creditable ways, if the forthcoming lecture by Francine Houben of Delft-based Mecanoo Architects is anything to go by. Don’t get me wrong – Ms. Houben is a luminary in the architectural firmament of the Netherlands and an increasingly bright star on the international stage (recent win in the latest competition for Birmingham Library, for example) and will no doubt bring some much-needed intellectual fizz to Glasgow next week. No, I’m referring to the Lighthouse in its former role as a promotional outpost for new architecture in the Netherlands.

In its early days and struggling for financial survival, Scotland’s Centre for Architecture Design and the City seemed to carry an endless programme of speakers and exhibitions from the Netherlands, a fact not unrelated to that country having ample finds available to promote its best talent on the international stage. For sure, this cultural marketing has had an impact and it is rare to see an international architectural competition without a participant selected from the Netherlands.

Not that this was accidental – promotion of this sort has been a fundamental element in successive architecture policies emanating from that country – architecture policies from which we are supposed to have learned in formulating our own. It’s a pity therefore that down at Victoria Quay three obvious points continue to be missed – promote your best talent into the international domain, do it consistently (i.e. over a number of years) and put in the hard cash necessary to make an impact on the global stage.

Until we get serious about applying these three points, I suppose we’ll continue to scratch around for increasingly-difficult-to-find sponsorship for our own slapdash programmes and to use our architecture centre to tell us how fantastically good everyone else out there is.

Student awards and the credit crunch

Who’d be an architecture student these days? I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that that down at RMJM a rosy future is perceived for students looking to architecture as a career, but the credit crunch is clearly beginning to impact and other reports spell out a different scenario, viz fewer jobs available to Part 3 students with growing numbers facing redundancy; and projects (especially housing) that form the basis for case studies being put on hold or cancelled altogether, forcing deferral of final examinations.

All this after five years of student loans and overdrafts totalling many thousands of pounds and a profession offering salaries identifiable with the last property downturn in the 1990’s. Obviously this is not an across the board situation – some regions of the country are performing better than others, but it remains the case that students entering other professions such as accountancy or medicine - to take but two examples – fare far better in the long term salary stakes.

Indeed after a short probationary period graduates can expect far better returns in other professions than in architecture, and this in a field that is genuinely international these days and should – as RMJM suggest – offer good, life-long prospects. Given all of this, students currently completing their studies seem remarkably resilient if the recent crop of end-of-year shows are anything to go by, but – more astonishingly seem able to raise the funds to produce hugely expensive presentations. It’s a worry if this is what it takes to be noticed by prospective employers these days, especially as the money spent is probably irrecoverable over a lifetime of work. 

Carrie Bradshaw, eat your heart out

The Wrap has taken itself abroad for a week to avoid Edinburgh during the Festival’s peak period. So, here we are, forty degrees in the shade and a guy walks into the restaurant dressed entirely in black – fashionable shoes, trousers and shirt buttoned to the neck, attractive girl on arm. Since it isn’t likely to be Johnny Cash, the silver-haired man in black has to be an architect – what other professional would assume the persona of a solar panel in the brain-numbing heat of Mallorca in August?

Which led me to thinking - Carrie Bradshaw-like – when was it exactly that architects began to dress like followers of Max Mosley’s dad? It’s not really so long ago that leading architects (especially presidents of professional institutions) and heads of schools had a penchant for pointy beards and colourful bow ties, so perhaps the black bit is intended as a symbolic rejection of the status quo (a point now lost since even the highly commercial end of the professional spectrum has its monochrome men). Time perhaps for a sartorial re-think – when times are hard, not everyone wants their professional advisors to look like undertakers. 

And finally...

In November this year a team of architects from MAKE’s Edinburgh office plan to spend a week working in South Africa on a community challenge project that helps provide clean water to local communities through the use of PlayPump© water systems, ingenious devices that are sustainable devices powered by children playing on a merry-go-round. The challenge for the team is to work side-by-side with local people and provide assistance to the schools where PlayPumps© have been installed.

The actual projects undertaken will depend on the requirements of the local schools but are likely to range from basic building infrastructure to creating vegetable gardens to provide essential nutrition within the children’s diets. The team are hoping to raise £4000 in sponsorship, so anyone interested in supporting this really worthwhile initiative should log on to their secure web page at

Go on, you know it MAKEs sense.

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