Much of our work focuses on the city - the city shapes what we do and it then shapes us. It does that through compactness and proximity of form, interconnectivity and mobility, variety of use and promotion of activity at ground level. The scale of our projects and contribution has largely been about repair and relative to the city stage we operate on, the insertions are relatively modest.
Some of our more recent work however has engaged with a different scale of historical intervention in the city – the bold modernist interventions of the mid 20th century. Interestingly and discussed elsewhere it was also the theme of our and Glasgow’s contribution to the Venice Biennale this year. The modernist idea that the repair and renewal of the city might be reconceived as a singular or small number of large interventions transformed many of our urban settings. Nick-named mega-structures their 20th century origins is found in the early rhetoric of Sant’Elia, Hugh Ferris’s Metropolis and le Corbusier‘s Plan Voisin, and post war, Geoffrey Jellicoe’s Motopia and visions for Tokyo Bay by the Japanese metabolists amongst others.
Closer to home Cumbernauld’s valley crossing and the rebuilding of the Anderston area of Glasgow represented that dramatic strain of thought and action, echoed in London by Robin Hood Gardens, a megastructure of landscaping and hidden cars, an idea explored further in the Barbican’s connected courtyards.
At the outset it has been a struggle to find many with an affection for this era of thinking. In that respect the Edinburgh University George Square masterplan and development led by Basil Spence at one level confirms that perspective - the Georgian Society formed as a result of that demolition and rebuild strategy. Spin forward 50 years and this huge redevelopment is now largely listed and undergone and undergoing significant refurbishment.
Our work spreading over 10 years in one corner of this masterplan and dealing with the work in particular of the practice of Robert Mathew, seeks to iron out the defects of the current situation through the opening up of the congested corridors, rooms and linking internal and external spaces as well as addressing the detail erosion you would expect over the length of the building lives.
And that is where there is a surprise. The bold and assertive articulations of the large scale, find echo in the the similarly expressive detailing of the building skins and interiors. Detail seen as constructed form, not decoration reasserts the structural aspect of this mega thinking.
Many thought this strand of thought would be consigned to the dustbin of failed urban ideas, in small but ‘big’ in size terms, at the Barbican and George Square, these mega structures have bucked the ‘disillusioned with’ trend to find another generation of use if not yet admiration.
Even for a mega project, it is a sign of success to reach your first refurbishment, and in our refitting of these buildings we have found new value in their original mega intentions.