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Former Lighthouse director Stuart MacDonald dies

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The ‘inspirational’ former director of arts venue The Lighthouse in Glasgow, Stuart MacDonald, has died aged 67

The founder of Scotland’s national architecture and design centre suffered a heart attack and died in Glasgow following a board meeting with the artist studio group Wasps last Thursday night (2 June).

MacDonald worked as a senior art and design educational advisor with Strathclyde Regional Council before leading The Lighthouse - housed in Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s former Glasgow Herald building - from 1998 until his departure in 2006.

He went on to become the head of Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen for three years until his retirement. He later became the emeritus professor of creative industries at Robert Gordon University.

MacDonald continued to write books on design and the built environment, became a visiting fellow for architecture at the University of Strathclyde and worked as a consultant for a number of creative industry organisations around Europe.

In 2014 he also jointly penned Shaping Scotland,  the strategy for this year’s RIAS-backed Festival of Architecture, with Eleanor McAllister.  

Neil Baxter, RIAS secretary and treasurer said: ’Stuart was a great friend to the architecture profession and drove the creation of The Lighthouse.’

David Page of Page\Park described MacDonald as ’instrumental in skilfully guiding the [Lighthouse’s] programme and management, through an at times challenging birth as an organisation.’

Page added: ’He maintained a focus on the power of design to shape our lives, through exhibitions, an energetic education programme, working with government bodies and building a broader community of support for design.

’He will be remembered for anchoring design as a significant contributor to our cultural well-being but crucially reinforcing its role in a healthy economy.’

Glasgow-based architect Alan Dunlop paid tribute to Macdonald’s ’passion for art and architecture’. He said: ’Architects in Glasgow and Scotland benefited greatly from his time as director of The Lighthouse and he was a major influence in getting them better known internationally and finally represented at the Venice Biennale.

’He was an educator, straightforward and direct with a keen intellect. I enjoyed his company and pass on my condolences to his family. He will be missed.’

Johnny Rodger, professor of Urban Literature at the Glasgow School of Art, said: ’The sudden death of Stuart has been a great shock to the art, architecture and design communities across Scotland. Stuart was a great mentor to me personally and for many of my generation. He was not only influential in art education in Scotland - involved in rewriting the Art Higher examinations in schools in the 1980s, for example - but he was a tireless supporter, promoter and critic of the arts, especially architecture, in Scotland.

Rodger added: ’In many ways The Lighthouse under Stuart provided a haven and a tactical headquarters from which a global campaign to assert the importance of good design could be launched. If the RIAS is the headquarters of the sacred ‘profession’ in the royal capital of Edinburgh, then The Lighthouse, in the biggest and most bustling industrial city, was the social and creative powerhouse for working designers and architects.’

’That feeling of purpose, unity, direction and positivity that he brought to The Lighthouse has never returned’

He concluded: ’Since he left The Lighthouse in 2006 that feeling of purpose, unity, direction and positivity that he brought has never returned. His cheerful cynicism inspired boldness and optimism in all who met him, and his influence in the disciplines and practice of art, design and architecture in this country cannot be overestimated. He’ll be very sadly missed.’

It is understood MacDonald, ’with his wife and partner in life’ Catherine, were planning to split their lives between Glasgow and their new house and painting studio in France.


Gordon Murray, director of Ryder Architecture

I first met Stuart on his appointment to the role of director of The Lighthouse in 1998 when we did some work together for Glasgow 1999 City of Architecture and Design.

Over the years we became friends working on various projects together particularly in during my role as a board member of the Lighthouse when Janice Kirkpatrick was chair.

Later Alan Pert and I him invited him to chair development of a funded arts research strategy for the Dept. of Architecture at University of Strathclyde. I doubt anyone knew the delicate topography of arts project funding better that Stuart. He was master in it and his level of enthusiasm for a project was a good indicator of its likely lifespan.

As such at the centre of making things happen culturally in Scotland; and in Glasgow in particular. Indeed, much of the early work on the post-devolution Policy for Architecture and how that could impact on Scottish design culture was influenced both by his initiatives and by his involvement of a wide circle of contacts in arts institutes across Europe and beyond that were second to none.

’Stuart was a major player in enabling the direction of travel of Scottish cultural life in the visual arts’

He could make things happen and tended to move where he thought he could make most impact. Hence his involvement in Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen which also took him closer to his home territory of Dundee. And gave him an opportunity to spend more time painting. His original craft.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that he was a major player in enabling the direction of travel of Scottish cultural life in the visual arts, particularly product design, which he was a passionate about. He did believe design could change lives. He will be missed but his legacy continues.

Gerry Grams of Glasgow-based StudioGRAMS Design Consultancy

Stuart was a tireless ambassador for architecture, urbanism and the creative industries with a particular time passion for the city of Glasgow. His energy and insight will be hugely missed.

Ian Elder, economic development manager, The Lighthouse

I have had the privilege of working in The Lighthouse for the last few years and while I did not spend a great deal of time working with Stuart we did work together on a few projects. It is testament to his qualities as a person and as an advocate for Design that he made such a big impression on me.

From the statements and tributes that have already been made I was not the only one to appreciate the vision he had for the role that Design and the Creative Industries could play across all parts of society. The idea behind The Lighthouse, that it should exist to promote the positive impact of Design, is even more relevant.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Stuart was a good friend to me when I started out in journalism. My first job was as assistant editor of Project Scotland, a construction title and I approached Stuart on the off chance he might write something for it. I wanted the mag to have design credibility too, and Stuart was very much the writer to do that. We got on so well he ended up penning a monthly column - exclusively on architecture and design - for the mag. As Johnny says, the Lighthouse has never been as good as it was when Stuart was in charge. I'll miss him.

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