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Scottish architects launch yes campaign

A new campaign group of pro-independence architects is set to launch tomorrow (21 August)

More than 50 architects, including employees from Dualchas, 3DReid, Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands, and Cre8 Architecture, have signed up to a manifesto for independence issued by the campaign group Architects for Yes.

The group, which has been created to ‘help design and create the new Scotland that will come with Scottish independence’, believes independence holds ‘huge opportunities’ for architects.

It will officially launch on Thursday (21 August) at Calton Hill in Edinburgh, as part of a late push to win over undecided voters before the independence vote on 18 September.

Outlining the reasons for the group Edinburgh-based architect Malcolm Fraser said: ‘It feels that, in today’s Britain, my primary responsibility as an architect is to serve big business, and that the best I can aspire to is to build big, aggressive towers in London. But I believe, instead, that an architect’s primary responsibility is to society, building places where all of us can share in the wealth of Scotland’s built and natural environment, and that I share that care and concern with many.

The simplicity and self-reliance of independence would embolden us

‘I hope that this Architects for Yes initiative will resonate with our fellow Scottish architects and convince them that the simplicity and self-reliance of independence would embolden us to win a renewed focus on the social and environmental aspects of our craft. 

‘But I also hope that it will convince others, outside architecture, that the benefits of government close to us, focussed on the needs and potential of all of us, should have a major, and positive, impact on their built environment.’

Organiser of Architects for Yes, and partner at Dualchas Architects Alasdair Stephen added: ‘There is growing excitement within the profession in Scotland as to what a yes vote might mean. Firstly, there will be huge investment into our country and that should have a great impact on our industry. However, the real opportunity is the chance to help build a fairer, more equal society. I think architects are ideally placed to influence this process. Good housing, safe communities and a wonderful built environment is something we should all enjoy. We can help design a new, better Scotland.’

Edinburgh-based practice GRAS has also signed up to the campaign group. The practice had previously revealed designs for a pop-up scheme to promote engagement with the issue of Scottish independence.

Speaking as part of a yes campaign promotional event with Scottish finance secretary John Swinney, GRAS founder Gunnar Groves-Raines, said: ‘In a professional capacity I know independence is our only chance to stem the outward flow of Scotland’s most talented individuals who feel they need to seek professional opportunities elsewhere.

‘With a yes vote I believe we will see an explosion in the arts and the creative industries and an end to the ‘you have to be in London to make it’ psychology.’

But fellow yes voter and scottish architect Alan Dunlop has said he will not be joining the campaign group. Dunlop said: ‘I’ll be voting Yes and admire Malcolm and his work but I’m not a “joiner” so won’t be joining Architects for Yes. I considered myself as a Scottish architect working within a greater UK and European context. Not dependent nor subject to England but in partnership. However, since the issue of independence for Scotland has seriously arisen and we move toward September it has prompted an unbelievable amount of scare tactic stories from primarily Westminster politicians and business leaders warning that Scotland faces catastrophe if we vote for separation. These patronising tactics have had the reverse effect on me and I think others and as a consequence. 

‘As a consequence, now I think why not and consider independence could be of benefit to Scotland in helping us develop and nurture our own stronger, deeper cultural identity. One which centres on architecture and the arts generally. Particularly as Scotland has at present a significant number of talented architects and artists that can compare with any in the world, which has become clear to me in the past few years as I have developed contacts and travelled in the USA and in Europe. 

‘Although I also think that the nationalists have the most obviously competent politicians within the Scottish Parliament, I’m not an SNP supporter. We have a policy for architecture this has not led to an improvement in the quality of projects, with the same architects winning the same public projects with the same cookie cutter “hub” proposals and commissioned through a deeply flawed procurement system which eliminates the majority of very talented architects.’

Architects for Yes: a manifesto for a better built environment for Scotland

Our built environment is crucial to the wellbeing of the nation’s population. It affects the quality of people’s lives, the best examples providing a sense of community, security and pride and the worst offering only dislocation, isolation, lowered expectations and poorer health outcomes. Architects for Yes believe independence offers us the opportunity to invigorate discussion about the kind of built environment the Scotland of the 21st century needs and wants, a built environment considered not as a commodity to be bought and sold for excessive profit, but one that is responsive to the country’s aspirations towards a more equal and democratic society and which is delivered to the highest international standards of environmental responsibility.

Architects for Yes believe good architecture and design are essential elements in making people’s lives better and that Scotland’s architects can make a positive and significant contribution to the way in which environmental improvement is conceived and manifested and, in doing so, can deliver substantial added value to the nation’s economic and social well-being.  

Architects for Yes wish to see to our rural and urban environments improved to the benefit of all Scotland’s citizens. The provision of substantial numbers of new and affordable homes lies at the heart of this ambition to create a new and visibly better Scotland. As architects we frequently see the impacts of inequality and unfairness and understand the effect poor housing and buildings has on too many in our society. We believe the right to good housing should be enshrined in a written constitution and delivered through positive collaboration between communities and the public and private sectors. Community Right to Buy has shown how local empowerment can have an enabling effect on people’s lives, providing the circumstances needed to sustain and enrich local economies throughout Scotland. It is not the only tool we have to deliver societal and economic benefit.

Architects for Yes recognise that a better built environment in Scotland will not be achieved through new and higher quality housing alone: the design of our schools and healthcare facilities has a profound effect on people’s lives: done well these resources can improve the wellbeing and vitality of the nation but done badly they become a drain on the country’s economy and an impediment to people achieving their full potential. These are public resources that demand wider consideration of their value to society than simply that of lowest economic denominator: for good reasons we do not buy and sell our schools and hospitals and consequently their design should be focused upon providing a better environment for learning and improved health rather than be conceived purely in response to financial imperatives.

Architects for Yes believe the nation’s economic wellbeing is strongly dependent upon the quality of environment that people work within. Nowadays much of this economy is service sector focused, but too many of the buildings used for this purpose are energy hungry and poor in internal environmental quality. Poor quality workspace design is inefficient and not conducive to employee satisfaction or productivity. Architects for Yes believe an independent Scotland can look beyond conventional building types to different forms of architecture that are fully integrated with the country’s renewables strategy: well constructed and insulated low carbon buildings that in their daily use produce considerable levels of heat that can be transformed into power and exported into the grid for wider community benefit. This existing, deliverable technology can ensure our commercial environment becomes a producer rather than a consumer of energy and allows us to reconceive our workspaces to better and more humane effect.

Architects for Yes also believe that rethinking the way we construct our built environment can provide a significant contribution to the re-industrialisation of Scotland: new approaches to building design will require alternative materials and products and the development of both can bring fresh stimulus to our manufacturing sector. These new paradigms can In turn support an export strategy that, led by architectural services, can take our manufacturing and construction sectors into new international markets.

Architects for Yes believe Scotland’s rich resource of architectural talent can provide much of the vision and energy needed to create the better built environment envisaged here but the opportunity to deliver it requires the country to have full control over its own decision making, fiscal arrangements, resources and welfare system. Only independence can provide us with these essential components.

The full list of signatories

  • Dorian Wiszniewski, architect and academic
  • Honor Thomson, architect
  • Iain Malcolmson, partner
  • Crichton Wood, architect and academic
  • Bruce Danraj, architect
  • Jill Andrews, architect
  • Graham Hogg, architectural designer
  • Michal Scieszka, architectural assistant
  • Gordon Smith, sole-practitioner
  • Rory Wilson, landscape architect
  • Ruth Arlenne Mclennan, architect
  • Margot Stoddart, architect
  • Christine Graham, student
  • Gary Paterson, practice owner
  • Declan Hendrie, architectural assistant
  • Jordan Byrne, student
  • Felicity Coleman, architect
  • Ruairidh Moir, part 2 architectural assistant
  • Jonathan Mennie, part 2 architectural assistant
  • Sally Ruel, architect
  • Sue Manning, partner
  • Richard Thompson, architect
  • I. Duncan Porteous, architect
  • Charles Strang, consultant architect and planner
  • Graeme Ditchburn, architect
  • Patrick J Cronin, partner
  • Rory Flyn, architect
  • Andrew Squire, architect
  • Philip McLean, architect
  • Alasdair Stephen, partner, Dualchas Architects
  • Neil Stephen, partner, Dualchas Architects
  • Laura Stephen, part 2 architectural assistant, Dualchas Architects
  • Peter Wilson, director, Wood Studio, Institute for Sustainable Construction, Edinburgh Napier University
  • Mark Williams, director, HRI Architects
  • Bruce Newlands, director, Kraft Architecture + Research
  • Roger Emmerson, senior architect, 3DReid
  • Nick Domminney, architect
  • Stephen Riley, architect
  • Andrew Douglas, apprentice architectural technician
  • David Somerville, director, David Somerville Architects
  • Tom Sneddon, architect
  • Liam O’Shea, part 2 architectural assistant
  • Ann Nisbet, architect
  • Peter Caunt, architect
  • Sandy Anderson, principal, block 9 architects
  • Archie MacAlister, architect
  • Ian Parsons, principal, Ian Parsons Architects
  • Harman Scott, principal, Harman Scott Architecture
  • Roland Reid, architect
  • Gail Halvorsen, principal architect
  • Ross Aitchison, part 2 architectural assistant
  • Peter Bowman, partner, Cre8 Architecture
  • Richard Heggie, director, Urban Animation
  • Neil Sutherland, managing director, Makar
  • Willie Miller, principal, Willie Miller Urban Design
  • Suzanne  McIntosh, director, Suzanne McIntosh Planning
  • Robin Livingstone, associate, 7N Architects
  • Duncan Gammie, architectural assistant, Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands Architects
  • Euan McLaren, associate director, 3DReid
  • Calum Duncan, architect
  • Michael Laurie, architect
  • Clare Armstrong, architect
  • Helen Lucas, principal, Helen Lucas Architects
  • Malcolm Fraser, principal, Malcolm Fraser Architects
  • William Smith, architect
  • Gunnar Grove-Raines, principal, GRAS
  • Jonathan Charley, academic

Postscript 27.08.14

Speaking after last Thursday’s event, prominent Edinburgh architect and organiser Malcolm Fraser said devolution had already exposed clear political differences between Holyrood and Westminster.

He said: ‘I don’t want to over-emphasise differences or get misty-eyed, but I do think we [in Scotland] care a bit more for people and care less to demonise the poor and the disadvantaged.

‘We care a bit more about the NHS and things like that […] As an independent country we also couldn’t invade other countries or maintain an  independent nuclear deterrent.’

Asked why a dedicated campaign group for architects was needed, he replied: ‘I think we should all do what we can if we think change can assist the built environment.’

Readers' comments (5)

  • What on earth is the point of rebuilding Hadrian's Wall and putting up a barrier between England and Scotland. Architects should be dismantling barriers not building them. The unnecessary cost and effort needed to replicate organisations and systems in Edinburgh is crazy. Please think again guys - an independent Scotland is lunacy - everyone will lose out north and south of the border.

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  • Have you had a look at the SNP's procurement policy? In what way can this be said to support Architecture?

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  • I think some people will always view this debate from a negative perspective, only seeing loss and division as a consequence. Its about progression for all concerned within the UK, not just Scotland. Why political control should remain in Westminster is a mystery to me. This is an opportunity to progress as a nation and as a profession, its up to us to make it work.

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  • Independence is perhaps the silliest idea to come out of Scotland since the Darien Scheme. Pandora's Box, or a can of worms, either way it goes. It'll take us decades to recover from the wedge that's been artificially driven into our society (Scotland, UK and Europe). Architecture is a global Lingua Franca; we should be ignoring artificial borders based on historically confused romantic notions..."Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel"

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  • Who could disagree with these ambitions, but what has an independent Scotland got to do with it. Just take out the 'for yes' and 'Scotland' and you have the kind of idealist manifesto which could apply to any country anywhere. Scotland having 'full control' over its own decision making doesn't mean that the Scottish government will engage with this utopian vision, far less deliver it. They'll be far too busy trying to steady the economy. Dream on.

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