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Touring Exhibition Opens in Scotland's National Architecture Centre
The remains of Highhouse Colliery, one of many former Scottish mines captured by Laura Hainey in a series of black and white photographs.
GLASGOW.- Spaces of Labour (S.O.L.), which began its life as a series of mapping exercises with students at Strathclyde University’s Department of Architecture, has been developed into a touring exhibition, publication and website inviting a considered investigation of how capitalist work practices were organised spatially and of the architecture of the workplace. Alongside questioning historical memory and the architecture of work the project, crucially critiques the “ neo-liberal policies” that drive the capitalist agenda. S.O.L suggests that Scotland needs to think more creatively about new possibilities for transforming the built environment speculating on the types of industrial and agricultural production that could exploit the country’s abundant natural resources.

Unapologetically idealistic, S.O.L does not romanticise the industrial past. Rather it marks the extraordinary engineering, skill and craftsmanship of the shipyards, steel plants and the pits whilst raising serious issues for the future. It suggests that as an imperative Scotland should consider planning for futures that could see massive increases in labour costs in the BRIC economies and escalating transportation charges as fuel reserves dwindle; developing responses to the increasing demands of environmental imperatives and re-imagining the contribution of manufacturing industry could make to a stable future economy.

“Changes in economic policy can be planned democratically and with care and foresight as to potential long term advantages rather than what guides current policy which is pragmatic political expediency and short term profits,” writes Jonathan Charley in the S.O.L catalogue. “A simple shift in government policy can radically alter both industrial and environmental landscapes. Architecture has a crucially important role to play in terms of documentation, strategic planning and providing a visual language to accompany the possible new places of work and industrial production. Despite the bizarre claims about the nature of the knowledge economy and the miraculous cure all service sectors it is impossible to imagine a productive society and healthy economy without a vibrant manufacturing sector making useful things,”

Seven projects are presented in the touring exhibition and accompanying catalogue each of which shines a spotlight upon one of Scotland’s historically important industries. Some are primarily observational documenting the traces of vanishing lives, others are speculative aiming to envision transformations in Scotland’s agricultural and industrial landscapes.

“Arriving as it does during a time of adverse global economic conditions S.O.L, which explores the relationship between people, culture, places and the economy, could hardly be more fitting,” writes Iain Gilzean, Chief Architect for the Scottish Government, in the foreword of the S.O.L catalogue. “This demonstrates how mapping and documentation of important areas of our built heritage can act as a stimulus for new thinking and new approaches to development which go beyond more immediate short term concerns.”

The Pits
Laura Hainey grew up in an historic mining community, but by the time of her birth much of the infrastructure had already been demolished. It was only on visiting the Ruhr valley - where mines are now part of a publicly accessible network of former industrial sites - that she was truly able to understand the architecture that had been the workplace for her father, uncles and generations of local people. Through black and white photography Hainey has sought to uncover what is left of Scotland’s once vibrant coal industry and how its sits in the “post-production” landscape.

The demise of the coal industry in the 1980s led to the demolition of collieries, sale of machinery and transfer of land for other ventures. Against the odds a few former pit buildings survive. Over a seven-month period Hainey visited 22 former collieries in Ayrshire, Fife, Clackmannanshire and the Lothians with her father. With his help, and the memories of former miners, she was able to locate and document the majority of the pits she sought to find. Hainey captured the surviving buildings (some of which are now at risk or earmarked for demolition) in black and white 35mm film so as to provide direct comparisons with archive images.

Industrial Monuments
The idea for Thomas Booth’s project stemmed from a Diploma course exploration into the re-invigoration of a former fishing village. He has now expanded the scope of his research to take in the whole of the Eastern coast of Scotland recording harbours, piers and jetties in over 200 images, (a selection of which are featured in S.O.L). “The harbours are monumental, historical marvels of engineering which at the most basic level can be considered landscape architecture merging with the sea” writes Booth. During his journeys he encountered sites where old harbours were still operational, but with pleasure boats now dominating, or where industry and trade were to the fore (such as in Aberdeen and Leith). In some places Booth still found small creel boats – a reminder of the once vibrant industry – but many of former-fishing communities had literally been wiped from the map. Meanwhile, average sized fishing vessels were rarely to be seen, a consequence of their inability to compete with super trawlers. “What is evident from my journey is that whilst the super trawlers may be more efficient and economically viable they come at the expense not only of destroying the economic livelihood of small villages but also over-fishing the sea,’ adds Booth. “However, many of the harbours I visited could be redefined and reused with the reintroduction of small-scale coastal industries enabling their communities to thrive again.”

Re-imagining a productive Landscape
The partnership of Liam Madden and Iain Thomson had already investigated the history and fate of textiles in the Cumbernauld area. They had proposed the creation of for a 21st century textile mill and associated dye production research centre using renewable energy to power a plant that would produce commodities and made put of indigenous Scottish materials. Expanding this research for S.O.L they speculate on the application of this thinking to the whole Scottish economy - how might a new manufacturing and energy-producing sector be created that would use purely Scottish resources? Taking a strip across Scotland from the Ardnamurchan Peninsular to Fife Madden and Thomson mapped the natural resources and what they might be transformed into. From this a series of maps were produced showing new networks and infrastructure and imaginary views of a landscape now devoted to the production of energy and manufacturing goods

From the Gallery Wall to the Village Hall
James Tait’s project investigates the potential of seaweed, a natural fertiliser, sale of which historically supported many communities in Scotland. There is already a body of research into future uses of seaweed from bio-fuel to food additive, and as Tait discovered for Scotland this is a potentially important industry. Whilst Scotland hosts 20% of Europe’s total seaweed biomass, currently it only harvests 2% of this. As 50% of the stocks are located in the North West Highlands Tait’s project naturally focused on this geographic area as the location for a potential new seaweed industry. Starting out as an academic proposition Tait then expanded his research to build in local reaction to the proposal (not particularly positive); the strictures of the planning regulations (discouraging to everything other than traditional development) and the cost of working with organisations such as the Crown Estates. The consequent proposals offer three contrasting scenarios – the Utopian, the Dystopian and the dialectic alternative. “These will serve to illustrate the contrast between the lofty ideals of the designer and the wariness of communities, and how in some cases resistance to change could affect the future survival of rural villages.” By taking an imagined proposition and interrogating the realities of its development Tait has discovered the need for architects and students of architecture to resist a tendency towards Utopianism, for the planning system to become more open to designs that do not subscribe to “a false notion of history”, and for rural communities to accept that if they do not adapt they face extinction.

The Islands that Roofed the World
In this project Fiona Beveridge examines the possibility of re-introducing the slate industry on the west coast of Scotland. In the research phase of the project Beveridge established that even now around 40% of Scotland’s housing stock is roofed in slate, but that with no indigenous slate industry dwindling quantities reclaimed stock was being used for repairs (unsustainable) whilst foreign imports (particularly cheap imports from China, India and Brazil) for replacements (inappropriate). Beveridge proposes the introduction of an initially mobile quarrying strategy centred on the islands of Luing, Easdale, Seil and Belnahua which would allow the industry to develop gradually in a manner which is sensitive to context. A vital, integral part of the project was to identify a number of ways in which the slate waste could be utilised to increase the economic potential of the industry. “The re-establishment of a slate quarrying industry in Scotland would be of significant value particularly in preserving the distinctive characteristics of indigenous buildings,” says Cox. And although perhaps more expensive in the first place than cheap foreign imports, given the significantly stronger durability of Scottish slate, it would prove a much better investment in the long run – a well maintained Scottish slate roof should last between 200 and 300 years.

Grey Matter
In Grey Matter Lynne Cox imagines a new manufacturing landscape for Scotland based on innovative reuse of waste products. The impact of instability in the international markets for waste paper has been illustrated clearly in the last 18 months, and so looking to the domestic market offers a more sustainable way forward. “Imagine,” says Cox, “an era when oil prices have reached unprecedented heights, shipment of goods is necessarily curtailed and production of new petrochemical products is no longer the cheaper alternative. At this point Scotland will be compelled to re-examine its timber industry and rescue paper mills from terminal decline. Within this context it is vital that alternative use are found for waste paper.”

Cox’s starting point was Papercrete – a product that combines paper waster within concrete, but set in the context of the green agenda it was important to find a substitute for cement. Working together with Laura Hainey, Cox has produced and tested a new composite material combining paper and a substance derived from a renewable source. Mass production of this substance offers significant opportunities for supporting the “zero carbon” ethos in construction. The product is now patent pending.

Rolling out the manufacture of the product would, Cox asserts, offer a new focus to local recycling schemes. The efficiency of many public recycling schemes hinges on good intentions of households and their trust that their carefully sorted refuse will actually be re-used. By establishing a local industry founded on reuses of waste products not only will it offer local employment opportunities, but people will see tangible results of their commitment to recycling. Cox has already identified one of the last functioning docks on the River Clyde - King George V dock in Glasgow - and the surrounding area in Shieldhall as a potential location for a new manufacturing facility that could double as a hub for civic amenities.

Glasgow’s Industrial Ambition
Drawing on research into Glasgow’s industrial heritage, Angus Black imagines a city of the future, which has once again become an industrial powerhouse self-sufficient in both food and energy. Glasgow has always had a “can do” mentality – how else would a post-industrial wasteland ever have thought it possible to become European City of Culture? Black takes this mentality and maps it on to a future where the city has a richly textured landscape packed with workshops, small factories, farms and energy plants. The arteries of the city are new transport links integrating trams with a re-invigorated canal system and newly constructed skylines. Black asks us to look forward and imagine what Glasgow could be like if it were to look to a future of self-sufficiency.

National Architecture Centre | Spaces of Labour | Extraordinary Engineering |


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