Coast to coast
Some years ago my wife and I travelled in our now deceased Mini around the edge of Scotland - a journey that took us from the western coast of Argyll to the eastern coast of Fife by way of John o'Groats. En route we paused at Loch Ewe and discovered the crumbling concrete coastal defences that protected this haven of the North Atlantic fleet during the Second World War.
'6,000 Miles' - the title refers to the approximate length of the Scottish coastline - examines this ever-changing landscape, modified by mankind's activity and the erosion caused by the weather. This investigation is timely, because landscape research and practice is gathering new intelligence and creating interesting solutions in the field of the built environment.
The exhibition is constructed around five invited practices' examinations of different themes and their relation to the coast, namely:
energy and environment, leisure and consumption, production and transportation, weather and time and work and habitation.
These 'speculations', as they are referred to in the catalogue, range from the polemic to the strategic.
Gross Max, for instance, proposes the use of Torness Power Station to create a nuclearpowered iceberg. 'Pyrotechnic Peonies', by Wiszniewski Thomson Architects, is a new landscaping and lighting strategy for Portobello based on firework trajectories in the night sky. Graven Images, under the banner of work and habitation, has a project for a sashimi machine at Tarlair Lido in Banff, fusing both the Scottish and Japanese culinary traditions in the consumption of fish. In the context of Scotland's growing tradition of 'foodie' holidays, the combination of fish, view and architecture seems most enticing.
The design of the exhibition is dramatic, operating much like an art installation. It creates impact for the visitor through the blackout of the space and the almost sacred hosting of the individual proposals, all of which are carefully lit and positioned along a boardwalk.
On entering the space, a horizontal light box at eye level displays the defences, pleasure piers, docks, lighthouses and other phenomena to be found along the coast.
Their location and history is documented by Geoffrey Snell in the accompanying book, which will become a valuable resource for future researchers. Time-lapse photographic pieces (large projected images) called 'Petrolia', by artist Emily Richardson, are visually entrancing. To stand and observe the movement of oil rigs, the changing coastal sky and weather, takes the viewer into the heart of the subject matter.
These projections also do not avoid the truth that the coastline is exploited by mankind. Beneath the abstracted beauty of these film pieces lies the challenge: to bring environmental balance to these robust, yet delicate, places.
Ian Alexander is an architect in Glasgow