RIAS Quarterly - Common Ground

Recently our practice, Page\Park, curated a Pecha Kucha event on the theme of 'cultural architecture'. The event was organised by the arts organisation Taktal and held at the Whisky Bond, a studio complex in the Speirs Wharf area of Glasgow. We invited eight arts organisations and architects to present their thoughts on this broad subject in relation to their own work. These organisations represent a broad spectrum of the arts in Scotland, in the interest of hearing diverse views on the subject and the possibility of finding common ground within this wide theme.

Chris Coleman-Smith of Hoskins Architects started things off with a presentation on the new home they have built for the National Theatre of Scotland (NTS), called Rockvilla, fittingly enough next door to our host venue the Whisky Bond. There they have repurposed an existing warehouse, formerly a cash-and-carry, to provide NTS with a new centralised hub for everything that they do. A cultural engine room, the facility is arranged around a social atrium through which each department must pass and from which much that NTS do can be seen, necessitating an overall awareness of one another's work and affording the opportunity for chance encounters and cross-disciplinary engagement.

From the permanent re-use of one building to the temporary re-use of another, the artist Toby Paterson and Jenny Jamieson from Scottish Ensemble gave a presentation on their 2014 collaboration, '20th Century Perspectives', in which visitors were conducted through a series of spaces in the Anderston Centre populated by artworks by Toby Paterson and groups of performers from Scottish Ensemble playing an array of recognisable and obscure 20th century classical repertoire. A conventional linear programme of music was eschewed in favour allowing the audience to wander through the repopulated spaces, allowing chance encounters with the artworks, the music, and one another.

Re-use was also a prevalent theme in the next presentation, on the refurbished home of the Glasgow Woman's Library, by Cathy Houston of Collective Architecture. Occupying a former public library in Bridgeton, the Glasgow Woman's Library sought to flip the atmosphere of distrust in the existing branch library by removing all of its physical indicators – the white plastic security portal through which you enter, the turnstiles, and the convex mirrors in the corners of the rooms. It has replaced this atmosphere of paranoia with one in which its members are trusted and welcomed, even with a cup of tea.

From a focus on works of architecture and moments of art and music, the focus was turned on to the environment in which these material and ephemeral phenomena are designed and considered – the studio. Karen Nugent of Page\Park spoke of the painter Gustave Courbet, who invited the world into his studio, the studio occupying the position of a lens or filter through which things pass to be translated into other things – a clear and lucid reminder of its role as a place where ideas, constraints and wishes are synthesised into legible artist outputs, be it a painting, building or any other medium.

The next speaker was Alex Reedijk of Scottish Opera, who spoke about the transformational project to turn Glasgow's Theatre Royal from a 'place of mysterious ritual' to a transparent, democratic institution and building to welcome all of Glasgow. As noted by others, theatres and cultural institutions hold an important role in an increasingly secular society as places of common ground and a shared culture around which people gather. Simultaneously, as public space is increasingly privatised and regulated, cultural and public institutions are an increasingly important provider of it, and Theatre Royal is now home to a new public roof terrace in Glasgow, from which it is possible to see the Campsie Fells.

Returning to the theme of the artist's studio as an essential mediator, our next speaker was Catrin Kemp of Cove Park, an arts organisation located on the Roseneath Peninsula, about one hour down the Clyde from Glasgow. The organisation runs an educational outreach programme and hosts artists residencies; the studios in their rural setting afford artists the time and space to work individually and as a group to make new work and find new ways of working. As Courbet noted, the artist's studio is an essential lens through which we can see ourselves re-configured in alternate forms, and Cove Park provides environments in which this can happen.

As Cove Park has added creative vitality to its rural setting, Alison Fullerton from Wasps described some of the projects in which they have done so in urban environments, such as in Glasgow's Merchant City where Wasps run two large studio facilities. As the organisation has grown, Alison explained how it has become more financially resilient, due in part to expanding its offer beyond its traditional art base to include spaces for the creative industries. This, along with the growth in understanding of the creative economy and the role of creative institutions in urban regeneration and placemaking, is enabling Wasps to effect significant change in the cities and environments in which they work.

While architects can help provide the physical infrastructure for the arts to develop, inevitably it is down to artists and arts organisations to colonise and breathe life into these static environments, as described by Francis McKee of the Centre for Contemporary Arts (CCA), Glasgow. It takes time for the inhabitation and resettling of new facilities to take effect, and at the CCA it required the making of the new building 'crappier' – less polished, less nice – for people to feel comfortable in it. As well as the reworking of the building, this required the reworking of the economy of the building, including the outsourcing of the café and bar and the conversion of the streetfront gallery into a shop.

It was fitting that the evening's discussion took place at Speirs Locks, as an area of Glasgow within a 10-minute walk from the city centre yet in recent times culturally dislocated from it. It is through the cultural renaissance of this neighbourhood that this area is being reconnected to the city, through projects such as the National Theatre of Scotland's new home in Rockvilla. Despite the diverse nature of the speakers and discussions, two constants stood out; firstly, the role of the creatively empowered individual, working alone or in an organisation, as a transformational actor in the life of the city; and secondly of the importance of the studio environment as a place to synthesise complex issues into clear ideas and material outputs, a synecdoche for the role of the arts, which help provide meaning through our shared culture; our common ground.

Karen Nugent of Page\Park