Authenticity

/ Chris Simmonds / Places to live

We have always been interested in the idea of ‘authentic’ settlements, whether at the smallest rural scale or in and around our built up village, town and city settings. But what are the qualities that go to make up such ‘real’ places. One aspect we think is a sense of ‘neighbourliness’.

This is a question we broadly explored in our contribution to the ‘Home’ exhibition curated by Robin Webster at the Royal Scottish Academy which has just opened. A team led by Peter Smith conceived a theme of 'Life Beyond Building’ of our New Gorbals Housing Association projects. In a collaboration with photographer Luigi de Pascali, a series of portraits of current residents and documented conversations observed from a ‘house seat’, explore the personal question, "who is my neighbour’. It is not realistic nor necessarily desirable to want neighbours in and out of each others lives, but what is important is creating an ambience that supports comfortable and civil interaction.

At the other extreme two housing projects, one just completed on the Isle of Bute and the other a study in the Borders explore that idea at the rural scale. The first at Ambismore, is a group of five affordable houses to rent, built on the site of an old steading or as they were originally called, ‘ferm touns’ with a retained converted barn at the heart facing an access lane. The Borders study is on the other hand an extension to a small village conceived in the spirit of the original typology of the village, a loose assembly of houses edging and set back to a new lane extension of the original main street. Each in their own way explore the idea of a neighbourly relationship between the houses, rooted in a comfortable historical typology but cognisant of contemporary needs.

What characterises the two housing typologies of the ‘ferm toun’ and the village is the assembly of typically two building types, the conventional house and the outbuildings or barns. It is in the historical juxtaposition of the two types that a rich as opposed to a mono-cultural ambience is developed. Design guides for Argyll and Bute and for the Borders emphasise that diversity of resulting building form as a fruitful starting point for creating settlements rooted in the character of the locale, but at the same time supporting the contemporary exploration of a variety of settings for domestic life.

A recent exhibition at the Tramway explored the ‘value’ being added to ‘refurbished’ Le Corbusier furniture simply by being transported around the globe from their original setting in the Parliament at Chandigargh to the auction houses of New York. It was observed that in the same way we are part of a process of transforming the seemingly modest historical lessons into contemporary settings for new neighbourly communities. We are not naïve enough to deny that we have to justify a value uplift to enable the project to happen, the difference is that the aim, not the by product of each transformation, is to make that a more comfortable and neighbourly setting for future residents.

HOME installation