We take Civic Life for granted, but what is it, who invests in it and how should architects contribute? Civic Architecture emerged in a popular sense in mid 19th century settlements in the form of administrative offices, assembly rooms and later Libraries, Museums and Art Galleries. It is to that legacy that contemporary councils, community preservation trusts, individual philanthropists, third sector interests and architects are looking to act as a new foundation for serving community need. The complexity of these client organisations and their often aggregated briefs should not be under-estimated nor the inevitably fragmentary nature of the procurement process. In this complex process the architect’s role and skills can make a major contribution to these initiatives, at a grass roots or visionary level by enabling, filtering, persuading and facilitating fresh approaches to this civic provision.
Four current projects exemplify these issues;
> the remarkable John McAslan Family Trust purchase and vision for Dunoon Burgh Hall, through its functional reinvention as a festival exhibition and community facility
> the Clydebank Civic Heart project for West Dunbartonshire Council improving the performance of the main assembly spaces, their technical support spaces and opening out of the circulation system by introducing the museum art gallery function.
> the historic Kelvingrove Bandstand, Glasgow’s Victorian gathering space re-imagined again by Glasgow Life for new civic functions
> the continuing transformation of the Cambo Estate by the family to provide significant public access and benefits
> A number of qualities emerged in discussion as being necessary to contributing to these projects. Three stood out:
> Firstly, an awareness of the potential within the development process, manifest in being open to community ambitions.
> Secondly, a willingness to help the community re-invent itself in relationship to their built heritage, being particularly aware of the subtleties of any historical roots.
> Finally and foremost, embedded within the idea of community, the ability to communicate at all levels.