Defining Place: Architecture in Scotland 2004-2006 At The Lighthouse, Glasgow, until 5 June
What is really refreshing about this exhibition is the rejection of the traditional showcase format for exhibiting the best architectural projects the country has produced over the past year or two. It's a kinetic exhibition: the work is shown on TV monitors on a loop, giving a really comprehensive explanation of each piece, backed up by a commissioned soundscape and voice over.
Still more refreshing is that the exhibition challenges visitors to enter into an important debate that is central to the current situation of contemporary architecture;
urbanism - and in this case, suburbanism. It is not a local debate but a universal one.
As an exhibition, 'De-ning Place' is as much about de-ning 'non-place' as it is about de-ning a 'good place' and, more to the point, it asks whether the featured projects really offer an answer to the questions it raises. They're deliberately intended to be a catalyst for debate, rather than necessarily a selection of the best architecture Scotland has produced in the last two years. (Perhaps they are both? ) It's notable that not one of the chosen schemes is located in a Scottish city. The nearest we get to that is Clydebank, an industrial town on the edge of Glasgow - shipbuilding country.
The selection includes projects for single family dwelling in Longniddry (Paterson Architects); private housing in a rural setting at Bo'ness (Malcolm Fraser Architects);
an 'environmental animation' at The Storr, Isle of Skye (by NVA); an arts centre, not yet completed, in Stromness, Orkney (Reiach and Hall); a children's hospice near Balloch (Gareth Hoskins Architects); an 'urban' scaled social housing project in Rothesay with an environmental agenda (Gokay Deveci); and some workshops near Clydebank (GM+AD Architects).
So it's a diverse range of building types, most located in a rural context or by the sea. The odd ones out are GM+AD's workshops in Clydebank (if not a 'non-place' then clearly an unremarkable one) and NVA's 'animation' in Skye. Apart from the workshops, I would argue that all the other projects are set in established places - their individual contexts are already 'good places'.
I want to stay away from making any quality judgements about the content of the exhibition, but can't resist suggesting that the Clydebank workshops highlight the issue of 'place-making' in an unpromising context. Through its design qualities - its empathy for both the context and the building programme - this project has now become a 'place' (AJ 02.02.06).
The work is not strident either aesthetically or formally, its programme is modest, yet the design solution is referenced to the location and its history.
It provides a workplace of distinction and, as a little collection of buildings, is aiding the rebranding of Clydebank, where Clydebank Rebuilt is currently commissioning good architects in the vanguard of a major urban regeneration of the town.
As exhibitions go, this is quite sophisticated - it presents contemporary Scottish architecture in a non-provincial way. The Lighthouse is very good at this. The design of the exhibition, by Nord/ISO, is clear and distinctive, including a really engaging wall of text.
The accompanying publication is very attractive, and for me sets up the real polemical arguments about place-making more than most of the chosen works - the exceptions being the workshops and the animation project (which would need an article of its own in terms of this debate).
The entire ensemble has been brought together with great clarity and vision by Moriag Bain of The Lighthouse. If you're in Scotland don't miss this one.