There are remarkably over three hundred museums and galleries in Scotland. We have been fortunate to have worked on and thought about a number of them, at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, The McManus in Dundee, the National Museum of Rural Life at East Kilbride, Rosslyn Chapel and more recently thinking about the Cambo estate in Fife, and the Kelvinhall in Glasgow. This immense cultural collection, together with the collection of commemorative settings, memorials, mausoleums, viewpoints, walks, taken as a whole provide a remarkable cultural platform from which we can look at ourselves and share with others. We are in that interesting position both as a participant in shaping how that cultural setting is seen, and in our private moments as sightseer’s too.
Sightseeing however seems a rather trivial way of describing that leisurely activity, but historically it disguises a deeper appreciation. The idea of framing a view or taking in a view lay at the heart of the experience of the 18th Century Grand Tour of mostly southern European sites. For many architects this journey over an extended period was a coming of age, the equivalent of our university education, that gave them the skills to be an Architect.
Measured drawings, plans and perspectives became the means by which they recorded, and these were often later published, sharing what had been experienced. It was sightseeing with a purpose, an intense involvement feeding future ambition, technique and vision. Hand, eye and thought merged.
Our contemporary mode of sightseeing is different. For most the camera is now our lens, not our eyes. We travel to places quickly not through extended journeys and prolonged stays. The camera lets us record what we see, but if we are honest gives us less understanding. The pencil and pen needed to negotiate every line and plane of what was in front of us, the journey to and from the site of appreciation, time to anticipate and reflect on what was going to be and then what had been seen is bypassed. The camera short cuts that understanding and speedier travel truncates the thinking time, probably leaving us slightly more detached from what is seen.
But technology's great virtue is it opens up to a broader audience. The participants in the Grand Tour operated in a rarified atmosphere of privilege. The camera and the associated development of interpretative techniques and media, widen access, sharing the potential benefits of knowledgeable sightseeing.
One of the most remarkable strategic achievements of a truly accessible sight seeing experience is César Manrique's contribution to the tourist economy of the island of Lanzarote. In a bid to reposition the island on the tourism map Manrique advocated and developed a seven part programme of sightseeing sites. From the glass enclosed eyrie at the north of the island - the Mirador del Rio, an heroically revealed subterranean lava bubble; the exploitation of an old quarry as a setting for a world collection of cacti, the amazing volcano setting of Timanfaya, the island fort re-conceptualised as a gallery of modern art and a populist celebration of the farm life complete with heroic monument - there is something for everyone.
Science, history, nature and society are all intermixed and explained in a myriad of ways but what remains unsurpassed is the aesthetic, special attention to detail and the artistic overlay across each sites appreciation. Notable amongst so many is the blinding white plaster against the shadowed black rock, the gyrating mobiles echoing the swaying palm fronds in Lanzarote's omnipresent sea breeze, line drawings that decorate and elaborate each of the buildings, and amusingly, iron frying pans as lamp shades up on the volcano mountain.
What Manrique reminds us is that even in our age of technology, the human hand and mind are irreplaceable in making the most empathetic connection the places we visit, admire and view.