This is an exhibition supported by the Community Council and ABC (and probably lots of other people I’ve just offended by not mentioning) in which twelve groups of students from the Mackintosh School of Architecture, in Glasgow have re-imagined Helensburgh in a variety of interesting ways.
You should go see it. It’s thought provoking and there are some very good ideas in there. There are also some howlers, but that’s the way it goes I suppose. Most importantly, the exhibition closes on 31st March, so I would get a move on if I were you.
The groups presented their ideas on a series of large posters.
Obligatory numbered list of critical observations:–
There is no website. The exhibition will close on 31 March, and we won’t be able to see these exciting ideas any more. I think that’s a shame. A person in full time work in Glasgow won’t be able to see these things at all, and that’s half the working population of the town.
The spelling is awful. Sorry to be pedantic, it doesn’t really detract from the exhibition as a whole, but it distracted and surprised me. Pretty much every poster had a really stunning error somewhere on it. There were also little things like local place names being spelt wrong, or not being used at all. There were also some stunningly egregious uses of the English language. Consider the “The new centrality nod of Helensburgh”, or this strange paragraph about Kidson Park:–.
Beginning the journey east towards Helensburgh or concluding the westward promenade from the town is Kidson Park. With panoramic views of Loch Gare, Rhu mariner and back to Helensburgh pier, the park offers a children’s playground and family picnic area as well as a pavilion building incorporating a café and a bike hire/drop-off point. Local information on further walks and cycle routes into the National Park is displayed at an orientation point providing details of the surrounding landscape. To take a more leisurely meander back to Helensburgh, visit the donkey ride point to enjoy the seaside air at a slower pace.”
The problem here is not the ideas described. I like them. But I get the distinct feeling the author of this paragraph isn’t very comfortable with written English. Update: Doh! Kathleen Siddle, that tireless worker for the voluntary sector wrote to me and said:–
Re grammar and spelling, approximately half of the students are from other countries, many of whom do not have English as their first language.
Of course I should have realised that and been a little more forgiving. Spelling in a foreign language is difficult.
You cannae change the laws of physics. I guess this one isn’t so much about this exhibition specifically, but the way young architecture students are taught to represent the world in their drawings.
The drawings are not realistic representations of space. The perspectives they present are interesting and sometime informative, but these windows into the imagination don’t reflect what would be seen by real people in these spaces if they were really built. The perspectives tend to be too wide, as if shot through a wide len, as if the observer was still a child.
There are significant distortions of scale, where open areas and buildings are represented as being much larger than they really are. In some cases existing physical features are moved around arbitraily, as in an image of a re-imagined Helensburgh Upper station, showing the railway line at 45 degrees to its present orientation.
I guess this sort of presentation is conventional in architecture drawings, but I have to question whether it should be. If any of these concepts were built, they would look quite different in real life. What is merely an artistic affection here can be actively misleading in the context of a genuine proposal to erect a new
supermarket, ahem, building.
Similarly, but more vaguely, I got the impression that many of these young architects-in-waiting weren’t all that aware of the qualities of the materials they were proposing to use. How you actually make stuff is important, and in my view, the best architects are the ones who are aware of the technological and engineering aspects of their work, and exploit them to an artistic end. For instance, Calatrava’s work in concrete.
Climate. It’s all very well being pretty in the spring sunshine, but none of the groups seemed to have considered what Helensburgh is like in the grip of winter, or what happens when a storm comes. Possibly, just possibly the reason the pier and sea-front aren’t used more already is because a lot of the time they are windswept and bleak. Also, every poster in the gallery seemed to be imagining Helensburgh on the bestest sunny day. I’d like to see some of these ideas rendered under more mundane skies.
- Climate Change. I was actually quite surprised about this. None of the groups seemed to have considered the impact of climate change on their projects. Most obviously, this will involve significant sea level change which will impact the front. It might also involve (counter-intuitively) significantly more rain and/or colder winters.
Building over the beach. Several of the groups propose reconstructing the Front, by which I mean the stretch of sea-wall, promenade and beach that runs between the pier and Kidston Park. This generally involves massive backfilling of the existing beach. I dislike the term “land reclaimation“, as if the sea was some worthless zone that fresh new land should be wrestled from at every opportunity.
The gigantic hat building. One proposal is for a gigantic, oval building on the front, containing all sorts of things, car parks, restaurants, exhibitions. The concept is sound, and expressed in different ways on different groups’ posters, but I think this particular concept would be out of scale compared to the rest of the town centre. And I personally don’t believe there’s enough Henry Bell and John Logie Baird material to make a compelling, Helensburgh-centric exhibition on a scale to match that building!
OK, Mackenzie, we get the picture. Now, is there anything you actually liked?
Plenty! Of course, the idea of exercises like this is not to be boringly accurate or practical, but to be imaginative, to bring ideas into people’s minds, and to make new ways of looking at things.
Ideas which I liked:–
There were a couple of treatments of the idea of creating a new promenade along to the East Bay. This is a really good–though not a new–idea and would add a lot to the town.
I don’t personally want to make the promenade to the west any wider, but I like the notion of reconfiguring the sea wall in interesting and attractive ways, and bringing back the sea-front pavilions, in a new and very modernist way.
There are better uses for a car park than being a car park. Several groups suggested reusing the pier and Sinclair Street car parks for other things. I’ve always liked that idea. The students as a whole seemed to recognise that there are too many cars in the town centre. More importantly they seemed to clock that to solve that problem there have to be fewer cars!
Also, a couple of treatments of Colquhoun Street, creating a walking route all the way from the Square to the Hill House via a new footbridge over Upper Station. I naturally like this idea because I’ve been having it myself for years, especially when walking down Colquhoun Street past the Upper Station!
I particularly like the idea of opening up the watercourses in Helensburgh and making them public spaces. I don’t ever see it happening for various reasons, but it’s an appealing idea.
Poster number one, ironically the last one I came to. I really liked this one, entitled “Helensburgh: Secret Garden of Scotland”. It had some very intelligent suggestions for ways to use the green space in the town more creatively. I have doubts about the utility of the observatory at the skating pond; but it’s a great idea! This was also the only group to “show their working” in the form of a small book attached to the poster containing some discussion of how they came to the ideas they did, and some (mainly online) sources.
…it’s well worth going to see Poetics of Place. The idea of the exhibition clearly isn’t to put forward some clear, practical designs for the future of Helensburgh. Just the opposite, it’s a flight of fancy. But that is its strength. It provides food for though and helps define the space within which we can think about (at last) modernising Helensburgh.