Saturday, 14 July 2018

The Devil is in the Detail. Urban Artworks in a Different Dimension.

                                                ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN.
An impressive war memorial/monument I've always liked is this one in Paisley's town centre. I thought at first, many years ago, it might represent William Wallace who was reputedly born in the nearby village/ hamlet/ estate of Elderslie but before the popularity of films like Braveheart that would have been far too controversial and populist in the 1920s when it was erected on its high granite platform, elevated enough to deter most intruders from attempting to touch it.
Instead it portrays a battle hardened crusader knight surrounded by four period foot soldiers from the First World War. As war memorials go this is one of the most impressive and instantly memorable I've seen.
William Wallace of course was a 'Scottish Freedom Fighter' to some but not all Scots and also a feared 'Terrorist' and 'Traitor' in most of England. Even in Scotland opinions were split. For major battles Lowland Scots didn't fight in kilts, or so I've read, anymore than modern Scots in cities today stride around wearing kilts in every day life (apart from weddings and football internationals that is, where you may see more) I'm sure many Lowland Scots hated WW and Robert The Bruce with a passion as starving out advancing armies by burning the land in front of them wherever it occurred, in England or Scotland, was a desperate but common practice then so many borderland Scots joined the English Army to protect their own interests and so forth.  History is often a murky confused place to visit so it's often simplified in an attempt to clear things up. After all, you can't have a film where both armies dress the same... and it's often not so clear cut as simply Scots against English... more every variation under the sun in-between those two separate poles apart. Similar in many ways to the recent Brexit Referendum vote and the in-fighting going on in the present Conservative Party with traditional opposition, the Labour Party, nowhere to be seen. If you made a film of that with such a tangled web of confusion going on and a shifting kaleidoscope of different views and alliances, both political and at street level, opinions often changing month by month, well... you would need to tidy things up a bit to have any chance of understanding it over a two hour slice of entertainment.
Art Deco former Rubber Factory near Renfrew- now a beautifully restored collective of small businesses inside.  Architect. Thomas Wallis. Built 1930s.
Impressive but obscure bridge spanning a small gorge in  Helensburgh.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh's Hill House. Not too bad from the front elevation but side on I'm not that keen on this exterior view. Just as well he's 'a certified genius' as it reminds me more of growing up next to a notorious deck access estate and failed dreams of concrete utopian family living eight levels up in drafty open plan corridors - the  'Streets in the Sky' housing projects popular in the 1960/1970s. Divis Flats in Belfast being a famous example.
Hill House from the front. A better looking building from this angle but as I toured the interior some years ago I thought- would I really like to live here?... and the answer was... No. It just seemed a cold, austere place and I didn't like the surrounding garden layout much either. I'd be depressed coming home to this monstrosity every day :)
By contrast I did like William Leiper's magnificent Morar House which sits directly opposite Hill House, an easy stone's throw away.
 You couldn't have a greater contrast in two grand buildings and each architects differing fortunes over time sitting side by side than this. Perfectly illustrated in this link. Worth a read.

 I've walked and cycled around the Clyde Estuary for decades- Paisley, Dumbarton, Helensburgh, Rhu, Garelochhead etc and in this area most of the buildings that really captured my attention with the 'wow' factor had very different names attached, none ending in Mackintosh. Nothing against CRM except for the way vast sums of money get continually thrown at his modest output whereas other notable past architects have a less certain outcome if their buildings lie empty for any length of time. The front view of arts and crafts style Morar House is even more impressive but it had some stuff dumped in front of it on my last visit so no photograph. Hopefully, this empty property may be turned into luxury flats so it might be safe from demolition. It is an A listed building... which doesn't really mean much. Meanwhile a giant transparent cage is being proposed to go over Hill House next door to fix major structural defects to the exterior as money is never an issue there seemingly.
Not so lucky perhaps for this other William Leiper designed property- Red Towers-  situated in Helensburgh a few streets away. You can easily imagine Morticia and Gomez Addams happily living here. This may well be demolished however at some point as few folk want to live in such a large building anymore with modern maintenance costs and heating bills. Pity it's not a Mackintosh- then it might be saved for future generations. It always fills me with both wonder and regret when I see a photo or read of a fantastic building that is no longer there- like an exotic, recently extinct species just out of reach or a long ago glimpse of a roaring dinosaur- only one set in stone. Wonder doesn't come often in hectic modern life but great buildings can evoke it.( Helensburgh residents may well think differently as this building has been used for various purposes over the years.)
 Any time on past cycle rides however when I've stopped suddenly - captured by a truly magnificent building appearing round a corner, or one viewed from a distance... CRM has had nothing to do with it...
Dunselma at Strone Point. The Coats family sailing lodge. Architects Rennison and Scott.
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. One of the world's great buildings. Architects J W Simpson and E J Milner Allen. Never heard of them? Neither have I ... and that's exactly my point. In Scottish architecture there is but one god at the moment.  CRM exhibition inside here as you can see. I wash my face with CRM soap and sleep under a CRM duvet with CRM pillows to match. And like any true patriot I wear CRM shoes on my feet without really questioning it. Bet you wish you had a pair too.  If he hadn't been quoted as an influence on prolific American architect Frank Lloyd Wright would he be as well known and respected worldwide as he is now? I doubt it. Before the 1950s he was just another semi unknown architect- largely forgotten and invisible outside Glasgow except in professional informed circles. Like writer Muriel Spark he left Glasgow to live elsewhere later in life so was not around to protect or develop any legacy left here as he aged or acknowledge any city father plaudits.
William Leiper. Architect. A name that arguably should be just as well known to ordinary punters in the street in Scotland as CRM as he designed famous buildings as well.. and numerous grand mansions.
Including this one. The former Templeton's Carpet Factory on Glasgow Green...and the lavish golden interior of the Banqueting Hall in Glasgow's City Chambers... also the arresting and mysterious Auchenbothie House that I've passed countless times on Renfrewshire cycle rides.
 Incidentally, 29 girls killed in a weaving shed here when an early version of this vast outer wall collapsed on top of them. W.L. managed to skillfully sidestep responsibility for the accident on that occasion. A high stakes profession.Maybe WL should have had a middle initial for lasting gravitas?

Kelvingrove rooftops again. 7 letters in total. JWS EJMA. Not as catchy. Was Bonnie Prince Charlie as bonnie as Bonnybridge? I sincerely hope not.

Coats Memorial Church in Paisley. A glorious structure. Architect Hippolyte Blanc. Never heard of him? With a name like that you would certainly remember it.
St Vincent Street Free Church. Architect -Alexander 'Greek' Thomson. Like CRM another Glasgow based architect working at a slightly earlier period in the city. ( CRM received a travel scholarship set up after AT's death to study classical buildings and designs abroad.) A sideways view this time as I couldn't get much detail in otherwise. Despite being religious and heavenward looking AT often specialized in underwater scenes for some reason- all waving fronds, ferns, giant clams, deep oceans, shorelines and shell motifs but other styles as well.
The right way up this time next to the old habitat building. Like Mackintosh, until recent decades, Thomson's work was largely ignored, knocked down if in the way of anything progressive or left standing empty.. a bare shell inside. It's only in recent times he's enjoying something of a revival with what remains of his legacy getting some publicity and attention if not actual money thrown at it. 
Seemingly forever doomed to live in CRM's shadow  a 1990s retrospective of his work summed him up as 'The Unknown Genius.' Only in the last 40 years is he gaining belated recognition, again through being a supposed influence on Frank Lloyd Wright. Fashionable thing Art and Architecture- who is currently 'in' or 'out' changes frequently. Sometimes, very little to do with... 'is it any good?'
Everyone has different opinions on any given subject of course. All I can say with truth is that most of the objects, art, or details I've really enjoyed had an unknown name behind them, like here, above, until I looked it up. No famous name necessary- still a great work. Most of the grand houses, castles, and villas I've liked around the Clyde Coastal resorts- the ones that really stood out, usually had Leiper or Thomson credits when I looked them up later. That is really how I got to know them both decades ago- no advance hype at all just a growing personal recognition.
CRM, for all his current fame, has never been an 'OMG! Would you look at that!' architect for me from the outside, looking at his buildings for the first time. The interiors I do like but they were a joint venture with his wife usually who is also normally underrated as an artist of equal merit. From the outside I've never thought of CRM's buildings as being particularly beautiful or elegant- especially the concrete ones.
Pavilion Theatre. Another well known Glasgow building that comes alive with light. Architect- Bertie Crewe, built in 1904, who specialized in theaters and music hall design across the UK. Elaborate interiors. Ever heard of him? No.  A prolific dynamo though. Responsible or in partnership for dozens of theatres and cinemas in every corner of Britain. He didn't have time for long windows or uncomfortable high back chairs. He just got stuck in and got on with it. As a result most UK cities have had a BC building at some time in their history.
Beautiful artwork in stone on a Greenock building. Honorable additional extras. Architects James Thomson for Dumbarton's Municipal Buildings- the red sandstone confection rising in splendour at the town roundabout. James Smith for Overtoun House above the same town and visible from Dumbarton Castle, its gothic towers just poking above its surrounding woodland estate.
The new look square in Helensburgh. A modern design layout.
The landscaped grounds of Maxim Office Park situated on bare open moorland near Chapelhall and Airdrie in the Scottish upland 'desert' between Glasgow and Edinburgh. As much a lush mirage in the otherwise barren surroundings as Las Vegas.
The former Beresford Hotel building often cited as Glasgow's first skyscraper- built in 1938. Architect and original owner. William Beresford Inglis. ( being the owner you get your name in the title- a rare bonus for any architect) So this post is for all the other Scottish architects, craftspeople, artists and designers who are not Charles Rennie ********** Mackintosh. :o)

And a quick look at modern skyscrapers around the world as of 2017. Most of these will be unfamiliar as well. But fascinating. Some have already been overtaken. With modern methods, materials and computer technology London's 95 floor, 300metre, 1000 foot high, Shard will soon be eclipsed as latest projects developing around the world top 1000 metres, 3300 feet, for the first time- an almost unbelievable distance into the air. Skyscraper gardens and high level parks linking multiple towers together are also on the drawing board so it's exciting times we live in. Greater London alone has proposals for another 200 plus skyscrapers yet Glasgow already tried that for family living with the highest residential flats in Europe in the 1960s at 31 floors high and they are all gone now so maybe the new social divide will be upwards, leaving the crime ridden city streets to the ordinary masses with children stuck below. Time will tell.


Rosemary said...

I really like the Templetons Carpet Factory design inspired by the Doge's Palace in Venice. Thank goodness Glasgow had the good sense to keep it and not knock it down unlike so many other buildings.
I remember visiting Hill House many, many years ago, which I seem to recall was built for the wealthy publisher Blackie. At the time I was really struck by Mackintosh's designs, but as to living in it, then I think that you are probably right.

Mark said...

It's a wonder that any architects are famous names, in general I don't think people are often interested, and I also think it's generally case that there's a kind of 'head-of-steam' affect where the work of one artists can become venerated to the exclusion of all else often without any real justification. We could probably come up with lots of examples if we tried - I'll start us of - How many people have a Bob Marley and the Wailers Album (fair enough) but don't know Toots and the Maytals, or Lee Perry, or The Mighty Diamonds, the Abyssinians, Gregory Isaacs, etc. etc. People have room for one reggae band in their life in the same way they can cope with appreciating one 'officially approved' architect.

Anabel Marsh said...

Interesting selection.

Linda W. said...

I liked your architecture tour through Scotland. Lots of different styles, that's for sure! I work in a building designed by Michael Graves and it's ugly as sin (google "Portland Building" and you'll see why)

Carol said...

Isn't it crazy that skyscrapers are even eclipsing Munros in height nowadays! Maybe we should start to bag those?

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Rosemary,
Yep, Lovely building TCF. I found CRM interior art interesting 30 years ago but don't really get all the continuing fuss today. You couldn't really relax properly on that furniture, even with cushions- sitting rigid and bolt upright for hours on those tall chairs. Maybe they are not meant to be sat on though full time but just for meals. Interiors are stylish but exteriors never as striking/good IMHO.
Enjoyed documentary last night on BBC4 Frank Lloyd Wright: The Man who Built America. Excellent and interesting life story.

blueskyscotland said...

Very true Mark.
Cracking intro to This is England Film featured Toots and The Maytals '54 46 was my number' song used to great effect along with images. A fine example of music perfectly matched to enhance a storyline.

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Anabel.
Twas the easiest collection of appropriate buildings I had to hand in my photo archives. Still took me hours to write and put together though. I keep promising myself to do posts quicker but then my own stupidity gets in the way.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Linda.
I've seen that building. As you don't post many urban photos I had an image tour of Portland a while ago just out of curiosity. A lovely city and the river really adds to it with an extra sparkle. Roughly the same size as Glasgow and a similar population in the wider surrounding area of around 2 million.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol,
I thought of that as well. Very different though looking vertically down anything as I'm always impressed by the exposure on Salisbury Crags on Arthur's Seat despite being a mere 500 foot drop to the city below. It always feels far higher so 1000 metres is mind boggling. Look up 'Oakwood Timber Tower' proposed for London, an 80 floor thin skyscraper made of wood, is on the drawing board. Imagine that!
'Raffles City Sky Bridge' is another amazing structure- currently the highest elevated bridge in the world at 400 metres, 1,300 feet connecting several different towers together in Singapore. Bioshock's floating Sky City is fast becoming a reality as the super rich depart into the heavens leaving the rest of us far below.

Carol said...

Not sure whether I'd have a go at the 'sky bridge' or not but I wouldn't be keen on the narrow, wooden skyscraper!

Andy said...

Some great pictures there and over the past year since my city tours I've become fascinated with urban architecture of all sorts. You're right that the whole debate of whats good and what's not seems to to down to the whim of others. And, I haven't spent a more fascinated 10 minutes in a while watching the video of tall buildings. Some of which I've never heard of some and some architecturally quite breathtaking. I was particularly taken aback by the one in North Korea, a bizarre structure befitting a very bizarre country

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Andy,
I suppose that's what it boils down to for this post is that we are almost being told what we should like, appreciate and save, art and architecture wise, and I'm a contrary bugger. I do admire CRM's interiors but why should the taxpayer fork out untold millions to restore one building when so many other things need fixing first. And even when it's restored it will not be an original work by the architect yet there's never any money for anything else that might actually benefit ordinary punters locally. I suppose its because it earns the most money in tourist revenue.

Similar idea to 'Dispatches:Getting Rich from the Housing Crisis' a recent TV prog about large UK housing associations selling off local stock to the highest bidders, mainly overseas investors or as potential holiday homes, for max profit instead of keeping them for local essential workers who have to rent forever as they can't find affordable housing to buy. A problem that could be solved if the will was there to do so.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol,
Although in reality, they are supposed to be very fire resistant,( try burning a log with just matches or a camping stove ) after Grenfell Tower, it might be a hard sell to convince people to live happily in hi-rise wooden tower blocks. Urban perception against facts.