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Lingering legacy?

Pauline McLean | 18:04 UK time, Friday, 9 January 2009

Ten years on from Glasgow being crowned the UK City of Architecture and Design in 1999, it was interesting to get the original pitch on VHS from the Mitchell Library.

The 12-minute film, narrated by Kirsty Young before she decamped to London, is an enthusiastic race round the city's key historical and modern buildings.

To the fore of many of their shots of the cityscape is the newly built Science Tower - which subsequently proved to be less than practical in its design and is now nicknamed the Hypodermic by the locals.

But it was also interesting to note the projects that didn't happen at all.

Like the Sandy Stoddart idea to make a massive monument at Glasgow Cross to Robert Adam and Giovanni Battista Piranesi.

Or the massive retail experiment which promised new designs alongside the museum artefacts which inspired them.

Long overdue

Admittedly, Glasgow landed one of the most challenging topics of the somewhat flawed Arts 2000 project, which encouraged UK cities to compete to showcase different artforms.

Architecture - in the days before wall-to-wall DIY programmes - wasn't ever going to bring in the crowds, although an exhibition devoted to the much-neglected Alexander "Greek" Thomson was both long overdue and popular.

Design, in some ways, was an easier sell.

From Graeme Obree's washing machine-part bicycle to high fashion, there were some entertaining exhibitions.

Lots of design companies got a break with a special fund which allowed their new ideas to get off the drawing board, everything from carrot cakes to steel baths were lauded as design classics.

But what was its legacy?

An independent report published a year later suggested the murmurs of "elitism" weren't far off the mark.

Substantial boost

It hadn't secured record numbers of visitors, many of those surveyed said their perception of Glasgow hadn't changed at all, and only a handful of jobs were created as a result of the year.

Then again, it did provide a substantial boost to the economy and continued the regeneration started when Glasgow was named European City of Culture in 1990.

Today, the only structural legacy of Glasgow 1999 is the Homes for the Future enclave off Glasgow Green (its second phase never completed because of problems over acquiring the land rights - with the credit crunch in full swing, it's unlikely to happen) and The Lighthouse.

The latter - Scotland's first centre for architecture and design - has never really mastered that tricky balance of commercial activity (its conferences and private hire generate a substantial amount of its income) with its public exhibitions and events.

It's not helped that its prime city centre location is down an alleyway, although I'm told new signage on Buchanan Street is coming soon.

The profile of architecture and design has certainly risen since 1999, along with the confidence of its architects and designers.

Whether that would have happened with or without a year-long festival is anyone's guess.


  • Comment number 1.


    Lingering legacy? yes for an people that live in Glasgow and for the cultural icons of Scotland and its heritage....

    ~Dennis Junior~

  • Comment number 2.


    [Substantial boost]

    That is very true, in the revenue of money and also, tourism [people visiting] Scotland....Which is a very important thing!

    ~Dennis Junior~

  • Comment number 3.

    So many architectural and arty promotions are dreamed up as political hype - to create a "feel good" factor or to distract from present critical realities.

    Any project should a assessed as to whether it is "fit for purpose".

    The two main criteria are :
    will it wash it's face financially, based on measurable (not rhetorical "hoped for") returns
    is the exhibition worthy of its subject.

    If either of these criteria are not met, the project in a non-starter.

    This is not a dig at Glasgow's efforts in the 90's, but are both criteria met with the benefit of hindsight?



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