Critical Dialogues: Scotland + Venice 2012

Jonathan Charley

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Alberto Campo Baeza writing in the catalogue, Young Spanish Architecture, an Ark Monograph of 1985, talks about, ‘’a world riddled with noise and yet paradoxically mute, creatively speaking, a group of young Spanish architects
are playing a very engaging song, their own song, the most beautiful song.’’
Twenty-seven years later that Spanish song has grown in quality and projection
as subsequent architects took their lead from this earlier generation
resulting in a Spanish architectural culture of great stature and depth.
New voices are occasionally heard, often emanating from the architectural
edge, such as Pascal Flammer and Raphael Zuber’s work in Switzerland and
Alejandro Aravena’s Elemental Housing in Chile. Some of the most beautiful
and poignant songs have emerged from China in Atelier Archmixing’s Twin Trees
Pavilion and Amateur Architecture Studio’s early Ceramic House, projects
that can be heard through the din of the architectural circus that travels the globe,
a circus with an increasingly desperate and cynical appetite. For a song to
become engaging and powerful, three components are critical: personality,
passion and technique. Scotland’s presence in Venice 2012 is about the
recognition of four voices that are on the verge of making themselves heard.
Scotland lies on the periphery of Europe, nascent both politically and
in contemporary terms architecturally. Yet once its architects stood shoulder to
shoulder with the best in Europe and many claim that Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s sublime Glasgow School of Art 1899-1909 heralded modernism not just in the UK but also in Europe. In the post-Second World War period Gillespie Kidd and Coia in the West and Morris and Steedman in the East helped propel Scottish architecture in new directions, the former becoming part of a west coast figurative culture that explored a phenomenological sense of section and atmosphere, the latter by an east coast sense of abstraction, detachment and refinement. It seems to me there has always been this kind of architectural watershed that splits Scotland in two. The west possesses a character like its fractured romantic coastline that is passionate about layers, complexity and conversation, whilst the east with its more austere coastline nurtures a more ascetic, reflective, emotionless and silent quality in both its art and architecture.
More recently the architectural scene seems to have lost this sense of split
personality that came out of place. The new architecture has a tendency
towards an image of rediscovered modernism albeit executed with a new
graphic material suaveness that could equally be seen anywhere in the UK.
The years from the 1970’s have seen a gradual dissolution in the architect’s
role. It is a situation that has been greatly exacerbated by the current recession in which many architects have lost not just their voice, but their ability to make architecture altogether. The four architectural practices represented in Venice are all based in Glasgow; they all share a concern for people, the ordinary, and the street. They all have passion and an emerging personality even though their technique has had little opportunity to develop. The critical word that connects these architects is architectural practice. They explore the act of practicing as an
architect in a marginal situation, politically, socially, professionally and culturally.
Their approach is primarily concerned with conversation and engagement. Venice itself is a city on the edge. Once the edge of Europe and a portal to a far
eastern imagination, a city barely founded on land or sea, a mirage. The Scottish
contribution to the Venice Biennale itself is a marginal act, emerging, hopeful,
outside the main event. Four Northern figures flit amongst southern shadows.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationGlasgow
Number of pages64
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • Venice
  • biennale
  • Scotland
  • scottish architecture
  • scottish architects


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  • Critical Dialogues

    Charley, J.


    Project: Research

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