There are critical moments in every generation that, having lived through them, cannot help but shape our attitude toward life and work. The context in which Alistair embarked upon his professional career was defined by a changing attitude toward housing, history and how architects should respond to the city.
As Britain emerged from the 1979-81 recession it bore the scars of a failing modernist vision, ill-conceived and misinterpreted. The Bruce Plan sought to obliterate the past with its aesthetic ideal and communities paid the price, displaced to make way for an expansive redevelopment programme. Poorly specified system-built blocks, poorly managed by local authorities, left a bitter taste in the mouths of the country’s planners, architects and councils.
Thatcher’s government was in the process of dismantling the institutions that had sustained the country from war. The building of council housing was coming to a standstill as policy shifted toward the ‘property-owning democracy’. The modern movement had run out of steam.
The emergence of the Housing Association movement was an essential part of this decentralisation and an antidote for communities set adrift. Pragmatic at its core but so much more than that, it was built on the notion that every life is of value and the right to decent housing inseparable from a person’s own sense of worth; it is fundamental.
This new community-based initiative helped to re-evaluate the traditional Glasgow tenement in a European context; a high-density, social solution to housing that is distinctly urban in character. For the Associations and their architects, these buildings provided both a framework for re-habitation and a template for the future, to be imagined anew for future generations; a revolutionary sustainable ethos that saw existing stone buildings as a relevant asset, far removed from the ‘demolish and rebuild’ culture of the mid-20th Century.
It was a formative time in the practice of young architects, working toward a more civic and inclusive future, with a real understanding of the implications of ill-conceived ‘regeneration’. Place as their priority and care as their mantra. It is an ethos that permeates Alistair’s work, from housing for the homeless in Grangemouth to a new, more coherent, heart at Glasgow Caledonian University.