Sunday, 25 May 2014

The Flames of Opportunity

Glasgow School of Art - the old (in flames)and the new
Glasgow School of Art - the old (in flames)and the new

You know, when I heard the news on Friday that the old Glasgow School of Art building had been badly damaged by fire I knew immediately what my post would be this week. I was literally burning with ideas and glued to the edge of my seat at the same time!

First of all, before people get too upset by what I have to say, I feel terribly sorry for the students who will have lost all their work, most of which will be irreplaceable. It's a tragedy for people so young to experience such loss, especially at such a critical time in their studies. I remember when I was a wee boy on holiday in Lossiemouth with the family when the tide came in and destroyed a magnificent sandcastle I had built. I was inconsolable. On another occasion, my mother threw out a model of a dog that I had carefully constructed from a Fairy Liquid bottle and some drinking straws - I was distraught.  So I know how it feels.

I was also sad to see Muriel Gray so visibly upset at what was happening around her on Friday. I gather that she is very closely involved in the School of Art so it is not surprising that she was in tears. She's a fine Scottish lassie and talked a lot of sense about the institution and its future - it is more than a building. Exactly!

In contrast, I'm very unsympathetic to the hordes of twittering middle class numpties drowning in their sentimentality, wringing their hands and talking about loss, heritage, poor Toshie and all the rest of it. A blizzard of unwanted and unfocused nonsense from people who probably have never been near the building in their lives far less studied there. It certainly has been an opportunity for overweight women in colourful cardigans to cry into their ghastly homemade soup or for thin bearded men to start talking about their philosophy of restoration.
Smoke from the GSA Fire partly obscuring the
excellent Dental Hospital Building on Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow

Of course Glasgow School of Art was the UK's best loved building. But nothing is forever. It seems careless of GSA to lose so much of this building in an afternoon and questions will be asked. Doubtless there will a great wave of enthusiasm for restoring the famous library together with what was the most uncomfortable lecture theatre anywhere in the world but of course it won't be the same. Like the grim, lifeless 'meticulous reassemblage' at the Hunterian Gallery at Glasgow University with its hum of air conditioning - or even worse, the construction of the House for an Art Lover in Bellahouston Park on the south side of Glasgow - it would and will be an exercise in stultifying architectural necrophilia. A Poundbury on Renfrew Street - I hate these places!  You know, it strikes me that there are plenty of photographs and drawings of the building and any intelligent person should be able to reconstruct in their own minds what it was like rather than being spoon-fed an ersatz copy.

Perhaps the time has come, and here I have to make references to my previous posts on the development of the School of Art campus, to consider something new and radical that can act as a receptacle for the wonderful creative minds that will drive artistic innovation in a future Scotland and indeed oil the gears of enterprise. After all there is a model for this new approach across the road at the Seona Reid building - even to the extent of a business park aesthetic over-sailing the remains of the old refectory. Imagine a new building over-sailing the remains of the Mackintosh building - exciting prospects indeed! It's all work for our wonderful development industry of course and I'm hopeful that Halliday Fraser Munro will be involved in the new build. I'm sure John Halliday is sharpening his big pencil as we speak.
the flames of opportunity

And speaking as an expert planner, I noticed in some of the photographs that large parts of the old Mackintosh building had flat roofs. I'm sure that Glasgow City Council planners will try to correct this anomaly and insist on a large pitched roof together with sash and case windows in the restored building. Also it may be possible to accommodate car parking in some of the basement space of the new building. Or perhaps an extra floor could be added so that it would be a better match for the towering Reid Building across Renfrew Street.  These are inevitably the sorts of things that GCC planners will be considering.

I may return to this subject in due course but for now, let's hope that Glasgow School of Art can look to the future rather than the past. Best wishes to all my fans and remember, you're always welcome to drop in at Auchterness any time. Cheeriebye for now!

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

A bridge to nowhere

A Network Rail operative guides a bridge into place
A Network Rail operative guides the bridge into place
You know, as an expert planner I have a great interest in Scotland's infrastructure. For the ignorant among you this can mean roads, sewers or railways. The other day, I spotted a fascinating update on the progress of the Borders Railway project.

This is another of these ridiculous projects where common-sense has disappeared. Why try to rebuild an old railway line when:
  1. there are perfectly good roads to the Borders, and
  2. the money spent on the railway could have been spent on a motorway from Edinburgh to Tweedbank.
This is the sort of blue-sky thinking that planners of my generation can come up with. Most planners today just tick boxes and are so buried in procedures that they can't let their imaginations flow! They achieve nothing. Nothing!

Anyway I digress. It was fantastic to hear Network Rail project director Hugh Wark on the progress of this absurd scheme. They had just lifted into place a new bridge on the railway near Galashiels. He said the lift had gone "very well" and thanked businesses and residents for their "patience and co-operation".

I'm full of praise for this approach. By using this crawling obsequious language, the project manager can cover up all manner of failure and mistake  - it's essential to have these linguistic skills today. Politicians do this all the time of course. It's the bland sunshine language of the PR professional used extensively by planners and other folk in the firing line.

But the best bit was to come later when he said that "the new bridge had a "vital role" in the Borders Railway project". Now I wonder what that could be? Indeed what kind of "vital role" could a bridge possibly play? Is it a military exercise - perhaps something to do with the independence debate? Or could it be that this bridge will connect the Tory rural slums of the Borders to Edinburgh? Maybe building the bridge was necessary for trains to run further south than Galashiels? But dramatizing this trivial event has made the whole thing sound incredibly impressive and that's what appeals to me.

Dear Dr Pangloss, long may your black safety helmet glisten in the Spring sunshine!

Monday, 12 May 2014

A Turnberry Lovefest

The Magnificent Hon Dr Donald Trump
The Magnificent Hon Dr Donald Trump

You know, I was sitting in one of my favourite retail park cafes the other day when I saw someone reading an article in the Herald entitled 'Trump predicts 'lovefest' with the community near Turnberry'. I was intrigued! I'm sure there are plenty of young Ayrshire maidens who would prostate themselves at the feet of the Honorary Doctor. In fact the whole town of Maidens may get round to doing that in the near future.

Anyway, I wasn't able to buy the newspaper so I looked up the article on the World Wide Web when I got back to the office. It seems that the Honorary Doctor is having lovefests all over the world including Sarah Palin, Meghan McCain and Ross Limbaugh. Even the President of America himself has been included.

I get the impression that this 'story' is a sordid bit of dirt invented by the Herald reporter, insinuating that My Hero will not be welcome in Ayrshire and that he will have to expose himself to local communities if he is to survive - what rubbish!
Nevertheless, the flamboyant developer and all-round genius launched the first salvo of a charm offensive saying that he would do his utmost to woo people to his cause. Actually my advice to him is that there is no need for that in Ayrshire - everyone is too desperate to do anything other than polish his shoes! He said: "I get along with the communities. The people over there are going to love us. It's going to be a lovefest." He went on to say, "What people don't realise is that we had a 93% popularity rate among people surveyed in Aberdeenshire. In fact they had a thing called the Trump factor. Business is booming since we went there. People are coming from all over the world to play the course."

Exactly! Turnberry and its associated centres of multiple deprivation, sectarianism and entire communities on probation will ultimately warm to Hon Dr Donald as did the miserable sheep-loving black house and railway carriage dwellers of Menie - they are rolling in cash now that God's Own Golf Course is such an international success. Regeneration in Ayrshire may actually involve people getting out of bed and getting a job instead of shoplifting but in time, they will get used to it.

All the best for the week ahead and best wishes to the great unwashed of Ayrshire on their good fortune.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Oh no - it's the Kelpies again

Artist Andy Scott with his 300-tonne Kelpies at The Helix park in Falkirk Photograph: Julie Howden
Cliché Artist Andy Scott with his 300-tonne Kelpies 
at The Helix park in FalkirkPhotograph: Julie Howden

You know, like most people in Scotland, I'm completely sick of hearing about the Kelpies and alleged millionaire cliché artist Andy Scott. But today there is yet another article about the project which is a cringing piece of self-serving nonsense. The Sunday Herald article reports that, "The creator of the Kelpies has told of his hope that his giant horse ­sculptures will become Scotland's answer to New York's Statue of Liberty". He is not modest in his ambitions! When I read this I found myself reaching for my axe and venturing out into the garden to chop some wood.

For people who are not up to speed on this project, it is a couple of 30 metre high horse heads beside a canal at the Helix Park, Falkirk, near the M9 motorway. It's a regeneration project of course, aimed at bringing in £1.5m each year through guided tours. 
The Kelpies on the Forth and Clyde Canal.  Photograph: Murdo MacLeod for the Guardian
The Kelpies on the Forth and Clyde Canal.
Photograph: Murdo MacLeod for the Guardian

I commented on this project back in 2011 so as always, I have led the attack. Scott appears to be Scottish Enterprise's house artist and the go-to person for inept people, philistines, numpties and me-too public sector folk who have had an imagination bypass. It isn't Scott's fault that he has this dubious following.

A recent scathing review by Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones branded the work a "piece of trash". He said: "The Kelpies is just a kitsch exercise in art 'for the people', carefully stripped of difficulty, controversy and meaning." Exactly! Jones went on to say, "I feel like crying that someone spent £5m on this piece of trash. Imagine the boost that bounty might have given to Falkirk's public libraries. Instead, school kids will be bussed to a park to gaze on brainless dreck".

These are harsh words but today, Scott appears to be unrepentant as, in the tradition of Private Eye, he uses a freshly cut onion to bring tears to his eyes as he shamelessly pleads for more people to phone him and commission future work. He speaks of the difficulty in gaining recognition for his work while being based north of the Border, and his hope that the Kelpies will boost his profile internationally. Ridiculous - people want more than metal horses these days. The entire article is laughable - for example, Scott says, "There has not been a single enquiry as a result of the Kelpies ... I think the sheer scale of them might in a weird way ... be too big and people think I am only interested in projects involving 300 tonnes [of steel], which is far from the truth". Perhaps there hasn't been a single enquiry because most folk are bored with his work.

I would like everyone to note that this is not a personal attack on Andy Scott. He is a human being after all - misguided perhaps, but he doesn't deserve to be pilloried for trying to make a bit of cash selling prefabricated horses. He has an entrepreneurial spirit after all and a slight artistic bent!  I know all about personal attacks and abuse - my mailbox is full of them every week and I have cried myself to sleep on many occasions. But over the years I have become stronger and more determined to get my important message out.

My advice to Andy Scott is two-fold. Firstly, please stop promoting yourself - it is embarrassing and you should let others do that. Secondly, stop being a fabrication yard for metal horses and think about developing a creative studio producing startling new work. For example a week in Aberdeen would open your eyes to many new sources of inspiration such as the dogs of war, the galleons of enterprise, the necessary destruction of historic environments or contemporary statues of Sir Ian Wood, Honorary Doctor Donald Trump or Honorary Doctor Wee Stuartie Milne. These ideas would be of-the-moment and relevant. Horses are not.

To all my fans, have a great week wherever you are. Remember you are always welcome at Auchterness. Cheeriebye for now!