Writing in defence of the retail building Keppie Design has designed for Cumbernauld, the practice's managing director, David Stark, points out the difficulty of creating attractive civic spaces when there is no historic fabric to 'knit back into', adding that Cumbernauld town centre never had 'an acceptable sense of place or style' (see page 25). 'Acceptable' or otherwise, Cumbernauld certainly has a sense of place.
Perhaps more than any other British town, its architecture and civic identity are inherently intertwined. Ignoring its Modernist legacy is the easy option. It allows for quick decisions to be made about stand-alone buildings. It sidesteps the difficulty of liaising with the public and private bodies who have an interest in the town.
It obviates the need for any overarching ambition regarding the quality of the urban realm.
Fortunately, Cumbernauld's residents appear to be more interested in the town's strategic development than in the instant thrill of added retail space. On Saturday, 60 or 70 local residents attended the Cumbernauld Community Forum workshop on the future of the town centre, where they scrutinised design proposals presented by Gordon Murray and put together by students at the University of Strathclyde, and explored the potential to engage with, develop, and improve on the existing architecture, and to unlock the potential of what has long been written off as an unworkable site.
It is, however, hard to know whether the day will prompt any real results, since the decision-makers were conspicuous by their absence. The councillors and planners from North Lanarkshire Council stayed away, as did the private companies that collectively account for the ownership of the majority of the towncentre land. Architecture and Design Scotland also failed to attend. Cumbernauld has been let down by its decision-makers in the past. Why is it happening again?