All about Glasgow
Johnny Rodger's new book is a companion to Charles McKean's Central Glasgow guide. It is not very useable on a walking tour - there are none of Pevsner's 'perambulations' - but it covers all recent buildings of any significance in the city with decent photographs and drawings, and informed and entertaining evaluations. The Buchanan Galleries shopping centre, for example, is described in full and then dismissed as 'a triumph of barbarism, vulgarity, ineptitude' (quoting Private Eye).
In giving as much space to the mediocre but prominent, such as the extension to Glasgow University Library, as to the jewel-like but easily overlooked - an office lobby by Richard Murphy, for instance - the book is as much of a survey of recent work as a guidebook. The arrangement is by district, these geographical zones roughly coinciding with building types: quirky commercial architecture for an affluent audience in the Merchant City, straightforward corporate office blocks around Blythswood Square.
Glasgow's recent buildings often refer closely to the city's Victorian architecture; they raise few questions about how one might live, work or shop. In this, Glasgow's celebration of architecture is closer to Barcelona's in Olympic year than to Berlin's during the iba. Indeed Glasgow appears to want to emulate Barcelona, as well it might, although economically only its promotional budget is comparable.
The book has an educative intent - 'this is good design, that isn't' - which it shares with the Glasgow 1999 festival, and with most attempts to interest the public in architecture. This assumes that the idea of 'good design' is identifiable and fixed. For Rodger this is largely a question of form, unrelated to any questioning of programme.
He is sceptical of the Homes for the Future project, quoting those who have called it 'an architectural zoo'. Given its nature, this project should surely be investigated in terms of its programme. Whether or not it is a zoo of forms is less important than its ambition to create a mixed- income neighbourhood in a poor part of the city, while challenging assumptions about how living accommodation can be arranged.
Architects generally believe that the public ought to be better informed about architecture. This type of book will help to make them so, and an increased discussion of form may lead to a wider architectural debate - one which is not based purely on form.
Gerry McLean is an architect in London