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To command or blend? Designing in response to the landscape


In recent years, Scotland's most high-profile buildings have demonstrated the emergence of a highly-crafted romantic vernacular. The Glasgow Lighthouse by Page and Park, Simpson and Brown's Scottish Sea Bird Centre, pretty much anything by Richard Murphy, the Museum of Scotland by Benson and Forsyth, the Scottish Parliament building by Enric Miralles. . . the list could go on.

Bennetts Associates' pavilion on the banks of Loch Lomond, the subject of this week's building study, represents an alternative trend - a cooler low-key rigour.

Like Munkenbeck + Marshall's visitor centre on Bute, it is unassuming, tough, and rectilinear - determinedly rejecting the sculptural or organic. As if to emphasise contemporary Scottish architecture's schizophrenic tendencies, Bennetts'elegant structure sits opposite Page and Park's visitor attraction building, a massive construction reminiscent of an ancient Scottish castle.

Where the latter clearly derives from Scotland's architectural heritage, the former appears to ignore it, drawing on more universal Modernist precedents.While one building dominates the terrain, the other blends in with its surroundings, nestling quietly among the trees.

The two buildings represent contrasting attitudes to the landscape in a country which has long understood that its cultural identity is inextricably bound up with its landscape, and that its dramatic scenery is one of its strongest assets. Together, these two buildings are a physical manifestation of a dialogue at the forefront of architectural thinking. This stands in stark contrast to England, where rural architecture rarely makes headlines and architectural discourse is predominantly couched in terms of the urban debate. But rural architecture is likely to be a growth area. In the wake of the foot-and-mouth epidemic, many agricultural communities are having to consider alternative means of earning a living, which will, inevitably, call for new building types. It is an opportunity to create intelligent contemporary buildings which complement, rather than detract from, the natural beauty of our countryside.We could do well to look to Scotland, where the long tradition of designing buildings which respond to the landscape is clearly alive and well.

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