Clone City: Crisis and Renewal in Contemporary Scottish Architecture
by Miles Glendinning and David Page. Polygon,1999. 248pp. £11.99
Clone City is a far from straightforward book, writes Brian Edwards. It takes the view that Scotland's crisis of identity is found not so much in a few symbolic national monuments but in its everyday buildings. The thesis presented by two accomplished commentators - one a prolific historian with the rcahms, the other a distinguished architect-practitioner - is that the Scottish city reflects Post-Modernism's loss of cultural space.
It is an argument which hinges upon two key concepts: first that cultural identity is space-related and essentially desirable, and second that glaring polarisations between order and chaos are themselves some of the defining characteristics of Scottish identity.
Though this book uses description and sharp, pertinent photographs, it is about ideas and values. Although one could dismiss the originality of the argument by reference to Foucault and Baudrillard, there is still much freshness in the way that edge and centre, old and new, real and mirrored, ordered and fragmented are made to to represent generations of the Scottish urban crisis.
Scotland has for nearly three centuries been dominated, not just by the English, but by a sense that being at the edge of Europe is not the place to be. You see it in the Classical terraces of eighteenth-century Scottish cities (all evoking a central European ideal), the Haussmann-like streets of Glasgow (a city which preferred to be Paris rather than Edinburgh in the mid-nineteenth century), the Secessionist tendency of Mackintosh, the adoption of Le Corbusier as the twentieth-century saviour, and much more.
What Clone City seeks is not a resolution between the global and local but a wider understanding of the role of building design in expressing national ideals. Scotland has a long tradition of enlightened thought and political democracy. Some would argue that both have been the seed of the destruction of all that is truly Scottish. The debate about the form of the new Scottish Parliament touches upon the symbolic and romantic, as against the rational. If nothing else, the design by Miralles confirms the authors' view that Post-Modernity offers liberation for those architects with the courage to firmly grasp its prickles.
The title Clone City refers to the danger implicit in the creation by Edinburgh scientists of 'Dolly the Sheep'. The authors warn of a similar repetitive state of urban anarchy, indifferent to place, culture and climate. The culprits are developers (mainly international), bureaucrats and even architects themselves. This book is a scattergun of thoughts by two respected figures: you may not like the argument, or agree with the polemical style but they have something important to say.
Brian Edwards is professor at the University of Huddersfield