Scotland + Venice 2014: Land Works

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This article appears in the newspaper Land Works. This group explores Highlands and Islands as part of the Scotland + Venice 2014 project Past + Future. To read the full text with images please click here.

An event including a discussion with Matzine will take place in Venice on Friday 17th October.

Find out more about the Scotland + Venice project here.


A series of reconnaissance exercises undertaken to observe three site-specific concrete structures of the Scottish landscape within a triptych framework of:


The fieldwork studies are mapping works in progress; on-going development along various lines of enquiry into the adapted modernism of infrastructure and architecture as a visual language used in the Scottish Highlands during the 1950s. The projects selected provide comparative case studies in the use of form, scale, materials, space and passage of time. In parallel with our fieldwork studies the ideas and influences of the progressive Scottish generalist tradition, advocated by Patrick Geddes (1854 – 1932), are acknowledged as a preamble to the evolving modernism of the 1950s.


The ‘Fundamentals’ examined here are not individual components of the building fabric: wall, floor, window. Instead accumulated notations: drawings, photography and text, acknowledge essential considerations in relation to the articulation and composition of object and space. We call this
architecture. The three structures selected share a common material: concrete. As objects of the land they share a common purpose, engaged in the containment, distribution and collection of a natural resource: water. When viewed in the landscape, these are incongruous objects, anomalies; but at the same time they seem oddly familiar, possessing a sense of belonging to this place.
All three originate from a period in which both building type [facilitating new industry] and building material [concrete] were still to establish recognised traditions and aesthetics.

While they are indeed buildings of utility, these structures illustrate a marriage of form and function, in a conscious development of an architectural language.

Now, these Modern buildings present to us a kind of industrial archaeology. Those which are redundant appear as industrial follies. In examining the modern we discover and reveal our traditions. Can we use this understanding to contribute towards a meaningful and relevant Scottish architecture?


There is a long-standing relationship between the particular landscape of Scotland and those who dwell in it. The positioning of objects in this ground has been a means of understanding one’s environment and an expression of belonging to the land. On sites where folk have erected stones or built cairns they have connected the present to the past, the living to their ancestors and the dead with the soil. In ancient times, places and elements in and ‘of’ a place, were often considered as gateways to other worlds.

Through myths and legends, ‘place’ and protagonist were connected and so connected past with present.

This tradition still exists, although now it is generally considered an ‘artistic’ gesture as opposed to one which is essentially to do with being. Placing the object in the ‘field’ creates another reading of the landscape; viewing the scene gives an underlying sense of continuity and common purpose.

“I think all of these things are to do with composing. What you compose with is neither here nor there, you compose with words, or you compose with stone plants and trees, or you compose with events;
[…], or whatever. It is all a matter of composing and ‘order’.”
Ian Hamilton Finlay


Concrete is an emotive thing. Its deeprooted associations are undeniable: mass industry; warfare; the unforgiving language of brutalism and the ‘failed’ urban experiments of the mid-20th century. To consider this material as independent from such affiliations can be challenging.

Concrete is a contradictory material. It bears resemblance to stone – solid, resilient – yet, conversely, it is fluid; plastic. Stone seems reliable – concrete unpredictable. It is a material ‘of the ground’; the principal ingredient is stone quarried from the earth. Nevertheless, it is considered an artificial substance.

Ground to a powder and combined with water and gravel – along with a certain alchemy – this new creation imitates its original stone-like state. When compared with more traditional building materials: stone or timber; concrete lacks a ‘past’. This was a most desirable characteristic in a post-war era where the past was better forgotten. Concrete lent itself to the emerging building styles of the time, which rejected the conventions of the past and promised a new, ‘modern’ way of living. Whilst having been used widely over the last century in all sectors of construction, there remains a sense that, beyond industrial use, concrete has no established tradition or accepted language. In Scotland, concrete as an aesthetic has never really been absorbed. Left in its naked state, it is still seen as an unfriendly surface.

Meanwhile, the architectural community sees concrete as the ‘marble of the 20th century’.
“the reasons why architects like concrete – material honesty, minimalism, abstraction, asceticism, etc. – are terms taken from discourse among the already initiated”
Falk Jaeger, ‘The Trouble with Concrete’

Image by Rory Cavanagh.

LAND WORKS Newspaper is credited to the following contributors and guests
Fergus Purdie,RSA (Elect), Architect at Fergus Purdie Architects, Part-time Studio Tutor School of the Environment, University of Dundee
Rowan Mackinnon-Pryde,Architect at Reiach and Hall Architects, Associate AE FoundationAssociate, Editor of Matzine
Ashley Tosh,Scott Sutherland School of Architecture & Built Environment, Robert Gordon University
William Purdie,University of Strathclyde
Jamie Bell,Graphic Designer, Jamie Bell Design
Rory Cavanagh,Photographer
Seán McAlister,Director, Seán & Stephen ltd, Editor of Matzine
Stephen Mackie,Director, Seán & Stephen ltd, Editor of Matzine

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