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Furious Scottish architects complain about 'embarrassing' RIAS pop-up

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Architects in Scotland have slammed an RIAS-backed pop-up installation in Glasgow Central station, branding it ‘embarrassing’, ‘clumsy’ and ‘offensive to the profession’ 

Originally covered in grey foam, the small structure showcasing 100 of the best ‘one-off houses or housing developments built in Scotland since 2000’, received widespread criticism and prompted a number of the practices featured on the house-shaped lightbox to write official complaints to the RIAS.

Helen Lucas of Edinburgh-based Helen Lucas Architects described the installation as a ’horror’, adding: ’[The installation] is a completely embarrassing representation of our profession, demonstrating no design skill, execution or construction skill.’

The schemes featured as ‘tiles’ on the roof of the cartoon-like house were chosen from projects submitted earlier this year by practices hoping to be included in a major exhibition and a ‘240-page publication’ as part of Scotland’s Festival of Architecture 2017.

Lucas added: ‘We were invited to pay [£200] for being part of a ‘glossy’ publication and exhibition; no mention was made of anything on a station platform as terrible as this.’

Jude Barber of Glasgow-based Collective Architecture said: ‘As an architect and RIAS member I was deeply embarrassed that such a poorly conceived and executed structure was being showcased in such a public way.

‘I was furious when I realised that our studio’s work was contained within it.’

Barber, who has complained to both the RIAS president and secretary, added: ‘Locating an exhibit to architecture within a busy train station is a great idea. It capitalises on natural footfall and provides an opportunity to meaningfully engage beyond formal institutional boundaries.

’So, for the RIAS to allow our collective work to be initially presented in public in such a crude way – unfinished, ill-conceived, poorly executed – is damaging to everyone’s reputation.

’As a membership organisation, the RIAS should be the wind at our back, not a storm in our face.’

‘The RIAS should be the wind at our back, not a storm in our face’

Andy Summers, a design tutor at Edinburgh College of Art and a co-producer of the Architecture Fringe agreed. He said: ‘The level of care, commitment and skill shown in so many of the houses featured is not reciprocated by this installation, where the apparent hurried thinking, clumsy detailing and poor overall presentation in such a public venue is actually pretty offensive to the profession and public alike.

‘A public-facing opportunity like this could have been offered to an emerging practice, which would have no doubt applied a level of attention and seriousness befitting the work being displayed.’

House of horrors in glasgow central by helen lucas

House of horrors in glasgow central by helen lucas

Yesterday (17 September) the RIAS agreed to remove the foam cladding, including the chimney and gable ends, with RIAS secretary Neil Baxter admitting the cladding hadn’t worked ‘practically or aesthetically’.

However he said a ‘stripped-down version’ of the lightbox would return to the station later this week.

Baxter, whose name appeared on the side of the house, had previously defended the installation (see below) saying that many people had only seen the it before it had been fully completed and that the ’little, supposedly light-hearted, ‘pop-up’ exhibition [was] simply a taster for the new RIAS publication 2020 Visions:Home’.

He added: ’The intention was not that it should be perceived as a house. It is a lightbox with an angled roof. Putting the end elevations on with windows and a door and adding the wee chimney was intended to be just a bit of fun. Also it engages with the public, our intended audience. Hopefully if anyone looks in the windows, which contain cartoon images, they will get the humour.’

Lee Ivett of emerging Glasgow-based practice Baxendale said the fiasco was ‘more proof’ that the RIAS had become ‘increasingly irrelevant to many architects’ in Scotland.

He told the AJ: ’I’ve never been a member of RIAS because I have never seen any evidence that they can be trusted to represent the interests of the profession in a manner that is creative, aspirational and progressive.

This display is a visible manifestation of all that is wrong with RIAS

‘It appears very much a closed shop run in a centralised and myopic way. This display is a visible manifestation of all that is wrong with RIAS and how it no longer understands the needs and desires of the Scottish architecture community or what it takes to develop and create an architectural culture that connects practice with common society.

He added: ‘I can’t understand how any architect currently practising in Scotland would put their money into such an organisation and, until the RIAS undergoes root and branch reform, it deserves to lose membership and patronage from the Scottish architectural community.’    

Response from Neil Baxter, secretary and treasurer of the RIAS (16 September)

’It was unfortunate that, because of difficulties with the electrical connection [the installation] remained in a partially built and unlit state for a couple of days. That was what some who saw it judged it upon. In retrospect we should have put up big “to be completed” or “work in progress” signs.

’The intention was not that it should be perceived as a house. It is a lightbox with an angled roof. Putting the end elevations on with windows and a door and adding the wee chimney was intended to be just a bit of fun. Also it engages with the public, our intended audience. Hopefully, if anyone looks in the windows, which contain cartoon images, they will get the humour.

’Using foam was because of the location – to ensure that if anyone, particularly children, bumped or fell against it they would not get hurt. That saved us from putting a fence around it, as it’s on the busy station concourse with 180,000 travellers passing per day.

’The public reaction has been very positive. They seem to be appreciating the humour of it. I understand they are viewing in large numbers and are also commenting positively on the work that is on display.

‘I propose to write on Tuesday (19 September) to all those whose work is featured to ask if they wish their “roof tile” blanked out. Happy to do that if some of those featured still have issues once the structure is complete. The graphic design lends itself to removing some of the work from display without it looking unintended. Some of the roof tiles are already not images, but simply grey.

’This little, supposedly light-hearted, ‘pop-up’ exhibition is simply a taster for the RIAS new publication 2020 Visions:Home. That demonstrates the fantastic work being undertaken by our members and reflects on the first two decades of the current century. It is 190 pages long and a truly superb demonstration of great work.’

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