Issue 5Perspectives on Glasgow

Tom Jarman, Partner, describes a fun encounter with Mackintosh, Holl and Hadid on a walk through contemporary Glasgow

Tom Jarman, Partner, describes a fun encounter with Mackintosh, Holl and Hadid on a walk through contemporary Glasgow

Each year we run a practice Awayday where we descend en masse on a chosen city whose character closely informs the theme and content of proceedings. This year we spent the weekend in Glasgow, which happened to coincide with Burns Night. We spent the days drawing, discussing and exploring and spent the evening dancing the Ceilidh.

Glasgow provided a fascinating context for us, asserting a powerful sway on the nature of our conversations and debates during the weekend and beyond. I am reminded of how previous Awaydays to Paris and Berlin served to define, either overtly or subconsciously, a set of reference points that influenced our subsequent thinking and work as a practice.

We were delighted to have been invited to use the studios in Glasgow School of Art as a base for our weekend’s activity. The main event of the weekend involved using the much-loved analogue of charcoals and pastels as a means of exploring new ideas and re-awakening the neglected techniques of our college days.

As a practice we are concerned with architecture at all scales. From the macro-urban, through the midi of buildings into the micro scale of construction details (not to mention the supra macro geo-political issues at play in Scotlandright now), our activities touched on a range of fascinating points of critical importance to our work today.

Early on Saturday we had a double tour of GSA old and new with a fabulous opportunity to experience and contrast the brave dialectic of Mackintosh’s original art school with the gutsy and powerful response by Holl in the recently completed Reid building opposite.  The new building very much divided opinions but few would doubt its impact on the physical and architectural landscape of the Art School.

On Saturday afternoon we were treated to a lecture on Glasgow’s urban phases by GSA’s brilliant Mark Bains. As we walked the city on Sunday, we were able to see for ourselves the extraordinary effect of a grid plan draped over a powerfully undulating terrain that Mark had described the day before.

Those of us who were sufficiently recovered from the previous night’s Ceilidh  embarked on an ambitious, and rather wet, walking tour of the city centre, with the objective of seeing as much as we could of architectural note in a few short hours before our return south that afternoon.

The work of Alexander Greek Thomson dominated much of the discussion on the walking tour, and held great interest for many within the practice, especially those with a fondness for this mode of classical invention. Fans of the contemporary stripped ordering seen in the work of of Dudler, Markli, Chipperfield et al were delighted by the denseness, rhythm and brooding intensity of this work. I was left wondering whether, rather like an expensive old whisky, it was something of an acquired taste.

For me, the wonderful Transport Museum on the Clydeby Zaha Hadid was a real highlight of the weekend. Despite its distance from the centre of town, the museum was packed with families. We were given a very informative tour by project architect Electra Mikelides and were struck by the beautiful relationship created between container, object and city. The slightly cartoonish section profile that meets you on entry belies the extraordinary rigour of the building’s detailed execution, and the sense of fluidity and movement, so much the signature of Hadid’s work, is never more appropriately applied than to the language and form of transport and movement. The building is pulled off with extraordinary elegance and attention to detail.

Visiting places together that provoke different feelings and responses in us as individuals is a very valuable means of understanding our own identities and testing collective values as a practice. Through the conversations, the fun and the debates that arise we are continually testing and challenging our own perspectives as we learn and work together.

Tom Jarman