Mackintosh School of Architecture Review by Rory Olcayto

Healing the Wound – Martha Duncan, Architecture Stage 5


Glasgow, like towns and cities the world over, has been utterly changed by Covid. Where we work, how we travel, how and where we socialise – it’s different now. The pandemic has made us wonder: what are cities for? Who are they for? And are the buildings we took for granted yesterday, the ones we’ll need tomorrow?

Yet these are questions outliers have been asking for a while now and when the time comes to pen the Covid long view, the systemic shock of this deadly virus will be seen, more likely, as a brutal herald: of a transformation underway for more than 30 years, led by the space-time collapsing power of the internet and the awesome nature of global heating.

We can begin to understand this rupture, using Raymond Williams’ theory that says every historical period has its own ‘structure of feeling’. Williams argued that each period, whether the chivalry of the Middle Ages or the industrial pomp of the Victorians, had a distinct way of organizing basic human emotions into an overarching cultural system that gave form to each era’s specific way of experiencing being alive. We however, refused to move on from the post-war ‘structure’, despite Google, despite acid rain, despite longer lifespans for ordinary people, until Covid forced our hand.

Clearly this chance to rethink our cities is long overdue. The final year students at the Mackintosh School of Architecture sense this. As their projects – centred on the notion of the ‘ethical city’ – show, when faced with the fundamental questions of people and place Glasgow can inspire new architecture and urban design to suit. Taken together they suggest a blueprint for a post-pandemic structure of feeling.


Floating Islands – Máté Géhberger, Architecture Stage 5


Some, like Georgios Kazantzis’s Urban Hybrid reimagines the classic Glasgow gridiron block as a mixed-use blender whose buildings fashion unexpected – but welcome – social encounters. Others like Martha Duncan’s Healing the Wound seek to mend, by reinstating the New City Road sliced in two by the M8 (‘a long-lasting wound’ she rightly calls it) or, as in Máté Géhberger’s powerful thesis, by proposing new dialogues between people and place by suggesting radical futures. In this case, that means flooding the riverside heritage infrastructure of Govan’s Graving Docks. It’s a bold move, one that signals almost frightening change by walking Glasgow away from a sentimental view of its shipbuilding past, whose history, he says, is ‘tainted with both human and nonhuman objectification and exploitation.’

Tainted history is something of a theme this year, and admirably unpicked. Instead of mindlessly peacocking its ‘Second City of Empire’ status Yik Yeong Look’s idea offers new perspectives on Glasgow’s role in the transatlantic slave trade proposing contemplation spaces set within abandoned railway tunnels beneath the city’s plantation-funded streets. Connor Doyle, treading similar ground, transforms the GoMA (originally a tobacco lord’s mansion) into a Rachel Whiteread-style memorial sculpture, tackling the wilfully ignorant ‘wisnae us’ mentality head on.

The care and depth of respect the work on display has for Glasgow shines through. As a slew of Twitter accounts posting images of the city’s amazing Victorian (and sometimes older) townscape proliferate, more of us are beginning to realise what has been lost: the consistency, the solidity, the sheer there-ness of 19th century Glasgow looks like one of world architecture’s city-making high points. Evidently the MSA students are alive to this growing awareness.


It Wisnae Us – Connor Doyle, Architecture Stage 5


Abandoned, wrecked buildings are brought back to life. In Maisie Tudge’s Atlas of the North, a monument and museum marking the mass demolitions that scarred post-war Glasgow, a reborn Springburn Winter Gardens sits alongside an Aalto-like newbuild built using salvaged material from nearby derelict sites. In Fredrik Frendin’s exquisite drawings – in black, white and orange – we see how the ruins of a mental hospital could be transformed ‘into a therapeutic garden using the healing forces of nature to mend physical and mental ills.’ And, as if in recognition of the anguish that the hasty demolition and relocation programmes in post-war Glasgow caused, Frendin’s proposal “establishes an attitude to architecture similar to that of a gardener; a long-term vision composed of smaller continual interventions intended to slowly alter the building rather than using grand all-encompassing gestures. Care and maintenance are the lead principles.”

Elsewhere Timothy Khoo’s Commonplace keys into Glasgow’s inherent compassion for the weary and lost, creating an intimate architecture ‘in contrast to dominant and imposing civic forms’ for asylum seeker and refugee communities facing a new life in the city. Other projects, like Gabriella Togni’s plan to transform Dundashill and the Forth & Clyde Canal into a landscape that captures, treats and exports water, evoke the sheer heft of Glasgow’s heavy engineering and industrial past.


Commonplace – Timothy Khoo, Architecture Stage 5


What all these projects share is an understanding that Glasgow is at its most alluring when it dreams of being a better version of itself. Their proposals – whether Emma Hargreaves’ motorway reborn as a wild-rapids river, Nichole Ann Samson’s Buchanan Street forest or Siripat Rojnirun’s Urban Mantlepiece laid across the city’s downtown grid – seem unafraid, welcoming even, of what is yet to come.

There is much Glasgow – and Scotland – can make use of here. This is thoughtful, bold, ambitious stuff. These projects eschew a penchant for cheap thrills, a common trait among the city’s stymied civic leaders, one of whom, in 2014, thought dynamiting vacant high-rise housing – live – for a worldwide audience, to kick off the Commonwealth Games, was, ‘a wonderful thing to do’. That was in the end-days of an era defined by spectacle, of starchitects on the Clyde, and the idea status could be gained by maxing the public credit card on dashed-off icons. That era is over now, thankfully. This year’s show is proof of that. The graduates’ work here speaks to an underlying truth: that Scotland without Glasgow, even when much of it has been so carelessly lost, would have no worldly dimension. Find a way to hold on to them: they will serve the city well.


The Urban Mantelpiece – Siripat Rojnirun, Architecture Stage 5


Rory Olcayto is an architecture writer and critic currently with Pollard Thomas Edwards. He was previously assistant editor of Project Scotland, senior reporter with Building Design, editor of the Architects Journal and Chief Executive of Open-City.