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gm + ad: Curious Rationalism Edited by Penny Lewis. Carynx Group, 2006. 152pp. £24.95


As an exercise in photographic narrative, the opening image of gm + ad's monograph is hard to beat. The two partners, Gordon Murray and Alan Dunlop, are hunched over a drawing board. A sheet of tracing paper is taped over a measured drawing of Glasgow Harbour. The architects are evidently relishing the business of sketching over the top in brazen thick black marks.

While only partly legible, it is immediately apparent that the drawing itself is exquisite - a meticulous pen-and-ink recording which is oldfashioned both in its careful attention to detail and in the courtesy it extends to its subject.

It suggests, correctly, that for all its gutsy exuberance, the practice's work is directly informed by a profound respect for context and for the city it seeks to enrich. The scene is set not to impress or distort or persuade, but to establish a framework which allows them - or anyone else - to make genuine assessments of particular proposals for particular sites.

Where computer visualisations blur the distinction between exploratory work and end result, gm + ad's line drawings are sufficiently ambiguous to encourage evolution. Thanks to some deft editorial decisions, it is possible to trace the way the initial line drawings give way to different exploratory techniques - models, facade studies, sketch details - all of which share the directness which appears to be the practice's guiding principle but are clearly by different hands. Allowing such latitude, and acknowledging the skill of those who exploit it, is an intelligent way to nurture talent and let each project take on a life of its own.

Certainly, the buildings are always surprising. The visual chronology of works at the end of the book charts an architectural expansiveness which takes in the feistily extrovert Radisson hotel, the richly tactile Hazelwood School, and the arresting patterned polychromy of the JKS workshops at Clydebank.

Against the backdrop of Hugh Pearman's introduction, Penny Lewis' cogent attempt to define the gm + ad oeuvre, and two mercifully unpompous interviews with the partners, the book simultaneously conveys the practice's solid theoretical roots and the astonishing pace at which it is breaking new ground.

In the short period of time since the book's publication, gm + ad has, to my knowledge, produced designs for at least two outstanding buildings:

wonderfully theatrical offices for Dundee City Council, and a headquarters building for Shell in Aberdeen - a low-slung composition of long stone walls reminiscent of lvaro Siza.

The fact that both projects have been pipped at the post by less adventurous schemes makes you wonder whether Scotland has the client base to support such architectural chutzpah beyond the boundaries of cosmopolitan Glasgow. But the client who lets gm + ad slip through its fingers is missing a trick.

The practice has gained a momentum which suggests that, for all its many achievements, the best is yet to come.

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