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RIAS Conference round-up: Kelpies, Holl and shining Scandinavians

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A quartet of reports from this year’s RIAS Conference in Glasgow

Last week more than 120 people attended the annual RIAS Convention, the second day of which was held in the new £50million Stephen Holl-designed Glasgow School of Art.

With the Commonwealth Games coming to Glasgow this summer, highlights included a speech from the CEO of Glasgow 2014, David Grevemberg, Alessandro Zoppini of Milan-based Studio Zoppini which has worked on a number of high-profile stadium projects, and Tom Jones of London 2012 stadium-designer Populous.

While the Glaswegian sculptor Andy Scott discussed the recently completed high-profile Scottish Kelpies project – two 30m-tall giant steel horse heads in Falkirk – which RIAS secretary Neil Baxter described as ‘an artistic and engineering triumph’.

Four perspectives on the RIAS Convention

Neil Baxter, RIAS secretary

‘You get the programme out early, juggle logistics of venues, catering, travel,  rooming lists, a plethora of AV (embedded film clips are a bloody nightmare) and you book the jazz singer for Friday’s party. She was, incidentally, brilliant.Then you pray that the speakers, and delegates, will make magic. They did.

‘The UIA Sports Group were a superb curtain raiser for the Glasgow Games - architectural prestidigitation a recurring theme. Who knew that quite so many contemporary stadia are like mega-scale transformers, starting out huge for an Olympics then contracting their capacity for a sustainable after life?

‘The Scandinavians shone. Pernilla Ohrstedt’s clouds and responsive structures, redefine what architects do. Charismatic Danish academic Rene Kural, channelled his compatriot, Victor Borge. 

‘Gently unassuming, Paris based, Hugh Dutton weaves airy magic out of glass and steel. Closer to home, sculptor, Andy Scott’s Kelpies are an artistic and engineering triumph. Charles Anderson, grand old man of architectural art, was lauded. Ric Russell proved that all that is needed to keep Dundee on the architectural map is, well, Professor Russell.

Angela Brady is a national treasure

‘The consensus was that our final speaker, Angela Brady is a national treasure.  As RIBA president she tirelessly fought for recognition and rights, broke the Olympic embargo (she included a moving filmic tribute to the late Kathryn Findlay in her presentation) promoted sensible public procurement, internationalised the institute and engaged inspiringly with politicians and new audiences. Nice to finish with a national hero - and on a high!’

Angela Brady, past-president RIBA

‘The first day of the RIAS convention emphasised energising sports architecture with presentations including Populous, Studio Zoppini, and Rene Kural. I liked the one by Hugh Dutton speaking about his research for taming the wind direction route through his project ‘to give the feeling of fresh air touching your face’. 

‘Another highlight for me was by Pernilla Ohrstedt, best known for her Beat Box collaboration with Asif Khan on the Olympic Park. She amazed us with her artistic gems of genius, such as the ‘cloud installation’ using soap foam bubbles and helium gas, and her hoola hoop ball design for a temporary pavilion demonstrating imaginative use of reusable materials.

‘Day two was held in Holl’s new Reid Building at Glasgow School of Art, the speakers included three of Scotland’s internationally known artists including Turner Prize-winner Martin Boyce who worked with Holl on the angular flat green glass art installation over the entrance. His lightweight flat trees are suspended from the ceiling and were inspired by a heavy angular Brutalistic concrete tree sculptures from the sixties.

‘It was a joy to listen to Charles Anderson speaking about his experience as a mural artist working on many distinctive sculpted walls, made of in situ concrete from hand crafted polystyrene moulds. These distinctive panels adorned many shopping centres, offices and schools in the sixties and seventies. Many were rescued via intervention by the 20th Century Society, but sadly others were lost by building demolitions.

‘The highlight for me was the story of the creation of the Kelpies, the two 30m-tall, giant horse heads in Falkirk, by Glaswegian sculptor Andy Scott, which are made from 36,000 metal components, combining dexterity with contemporary fabrication techniques. This ambitious and tremendous feat, on a mammoth scale was brought to life following eight years of continuous and relentless creativity. 

‘There is clearly something special about the Scott’s sense of pride and humour as experienced in Glasgow which larger cities can’t deliver. The RIAS’ jovial CEO even managed to extract a couple of grand for ABS charity auction in ten minutes, by earlier requesting guest speakers do a postcard sketch. 

‘On leaving I asked my taxi driver his thoughts on the new art building and he said ‘It’s clear to me that Lego was the choice of toy for Holl, with all that angular squareness – Clearly our Mackintosh hadn’t got square toys. At least the new glass building that reflects the Mac’s Arts & Crafts splendour, giving you a choice to set your focus on’.’

Michael Hall, partner, FaulknerBrowns

‘I, along with three fellow members of the UIA Sports and Leisure Group, Tom Jones, Alessandro Zoppini and Rene Kural, had been invited to speak at the RIAS conference under the theme ‘The Main Event’. The conference also provided an opportunity for our group to visit some of the facilities that will be used during the Commonwealth Games this summer.

‘It is clear that there has been much careful and prudent thinking in developing appropriate briefs and facilities planning for the Games. The solution for athletics at Hampden Park is a particularly clever and appropriate solution for this kind of event.

‘Yes, some of the facilities are lacking the crisp execution and architectural quality we have seen at recent Games such as London 2012, but the facilities in Glasgow have been delivered cost effectively and there is a genuine sense that they are on loan to the Games’ organisers and will be re-purposed by the people of Glasgow as a strong and effective working legacy.

‘In such sporting events, it is the athletes who should be the stars of the show. With the possible exception of the SSE Hydro arena by Foster + Partners, it is unlikely to be the sporting facilities and, indeed, some of the non-sporting facilities such as the athletes village by RMJM, may well be the actual architectural stars.

‘Glasgow has put a lot of effort into getting it right and its careful legacy-orientated approach will no doubt be known as the Glasgow way. Notwithstanding some quality issues on some of the venues, they should be applauded for their approach.’

Tom Jones, principal, Populous

‘The invitation to members of the UIA Sports and Leisure Group to join the annual RIAS Convention in Glasgow, was a timely opportunity to engage in a discussion around the latest global trends in sports architecture, as well as exploring the venues that are being prepared for the upcoming Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.   Set against the question of how architecture interacts with the requirements of ‘a main event’, it gave us a chance to explore the social, environmental and legacy factors that influence the development of sports venues and events.

‘It was a privilege to be invited to give a keynote presentation at the RIAS Convention and to share some reflections on the way in which sports and entertainment venues are evolving, particularly in the context of the upcoming Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.  Being involved in the design of the London 2012 Olympic Stadium and the temporary overlay venues for those Games has given us a chance to explore new and more sustainable methods for designing and delivering sports venues for major events and so it was interesting to see the way in which the organisers of the Glasgow 2014 Games have followed that up in their own efforts.

‘In a talk titled ‘Back to the future: designing for the main event…and beyond’, I looked at the evolution of stadia as a building type and the factors that have influenced their form and scale, as well as at how Olympic Stadia – as high-profile examples of sports architecture – have become increasingly visible parts in the urban fabric of a host city.  Mike Hall of FaulknerBrowns reflected on the social aspect of sports buildings and how these can be key design drivers, while Alessandro Zoppini touched on the evolving nature of speed-skating ovals.  Rene Kural completed the session with an analysis of the civic importance of indoor arenas across Scandanavia.

‘The UIA group were then treated to a tour of the key venues that will host the Commonwealth Games - including the new Athletes Village by RMJM, Foster + Partners’ SSE Hydro, Emirates Arena by Sports Concepts/3D Reid, the Tolcross International Swimming Centre by GCC and Hampden Park, where an innovative temporary athletics platform has been inserted into the existing football stadium.

‘The convention brought together a wide range of interesting speakers, who had perspectives and examples of work that contributed to a fascinating dialogue about the nature of designing for a ‘main event’. There were a number of emerging themes around social, environmental and legacy challenges that seem certain to remain at the forefront of the design debate for the foreseeable future. The collaboration between the RIAS and the UIA Sports & Leisure Group also facilitated a broad exchange around the latest trends in global design practice and was hopefully a positive experience for everyone who attended.’

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