Spaces of Labour

As part of the Spaces of Labour programme at The Lighthouse in Glasgow (originating out of a research project, touring exhibition and publication) A+DS supported a seminar that considered the relationship between architecture, design and Scotland’s economic future. The event invited discussion about places and building typologies associated with industries that have experienced decline, such as coal, textiles, fishing and slate. It speculated on possible regeneration, and re-imagined the innovative types of productive landscape that might conceivably emerge.

The session was chaired by Dr Jonathan Charley, Senior Lecturer and Director of Cultural Studies at the University of Strathclyde. Charley’s expertise is in the politics and social history of architecture and urbanism and his introduction to the seminar touched on the tendency, in the latter years of the 20th century, to routinely demolish what would once have been Scotland’s landmark industrial buildings. Five guest speakers each spoke for fifteen minutes on alternatives to this practice, drawing on current best practice in policy, research and urban design. Finally, there was a broad ranging debate among the delegates and speakers, which included reactions both to the seminar itself and the wider Spaces of Labour programme.

Discussion

The policy context was covered by Ian Gilzean (Chief Architect, Scottish Government) who highlighted national placemaking initiatives such as the National Planning Framework (NPF), Scottish Sustainable Communities Initiative (SSCI), and the twin design policy documents of Designing Places and the recently launched Designing Streets. The importance of learning from what exists was identified, and, drawing from international practice, the Netherlands’ mapping of national trends and future scenarios projection was illustrated.

Recent A+DS/University of Strathclyde publications ‘An Comann’ and ‘Under The Microscope’ are relevant in this context as they look in detail at how and why Scottish towns were built, and how growth has changed over time. Future infrastructure investments based on developer contributions can no longer be relied upon, particularly in the current economic climate, and new delivery models will be necessary.

Dr Lori McElroy (A+DS, Programme Director, SUST) spoke of the importance of creating sustainable places, with new industries replacing old, and the opportunity of building on the legacy of what previously existed (i.e. heavy engineering provides a skill base and location/s for the manufacture of wind turbines, etc). Concerns exist around distinctive quality of place in relation to ‘large shed’ typologies, and the similarity of shopping malls to other uses such as schools, and airport terminals. There is a need to think about what constitutes sustainable placemaking, and how Scotland can meet future climate change targets, as a significant proportion of what will be the built fabric in 2050 already exists.

The linkages between place and cultural values, and the interdependence of economic and social factors were covered by Dr Andrew Perchard (Scottish Oral History and Labour History Workshop). The presentation identified the lasting effects of decline on former industrial communities, which continue to bear social and psychological scars, amidst feelings of abandonment and disempowerment. Work provides a basis for social organisation of communities; loss of a large employment base has a damaging effect on individual and collective identity, and communities stagnate where no alternatives can be found.

The geographic relationship between former industrial communities and areas of deprivation was referred to by Craig McLaren (Head of the Scottish Centre for Regeneration), in the context of tackling poverty and inequality. Sustainable communities need to be complex and resilient structures. They also need to build on existing assets; the case study of Neilston, where a town charter has been produced by the local community, was described in the context of the ‘ABCD’ method of ‘Asset Based Community Development’. Joost Bunderman (Architecture 00) noted that industry and manufacturing remain an important part of the economy, accounting for almost a quarter of the UK’s GDP. There needs to be a better understanding of economic structures that enable new business start up, and conditions that permit a new community of users and entrepreneurs. Business incubators and membership models based on ‘right to use’ were described that provide access to technology and support. Building typologies could be challenged; for instance, horizontal production methods that foster large footprint sheds (‘cheap box off the motorway’) might revert to vertical forms that more easily incorporate mixed use elements. However, a major stumbling block appears to be that the development industry is reluctant to change. Linking the social with the physical, the question was posed: what is the form of street design that will aid business start up conditions?

Conclusion

Challenging economic conditions are changing the way we think about making places. Scotland’s future should not be reliant upon ‘big’ fixes. Scope for ‘large’ regeneration has faded; dependence on a single source of employment does not ensure resilient places; infrastructure provision financed through developer contributions can no longer be relied upon; sustainable communities need to be more diverse and complex.

New models and ‘ways of doing’ are sought that foster creative social entrepreneurship. A vision of the future appears to be driven by ‘lots of small’ community initiatives that stimulate local action; encouraging local responsibility and ownership. A focus will be on the citizen; their life, and their wellbeing.