By Chris Dobson
I came to the ArchiFringe as an interested observer, having been aware of the inaugural 2016 planning meetings but unable to attend and with an initial degree of scepticism that it may simply be architectural events, for other architects. One of life’s less appetising prospects.
What I discovered, however, was that it was something far beyond that. Well constituted, well directed and with an agenda that sought the widest public engagement.
It arrives at an interesting time in Scottish Architecture. Set in the context of Lee Ivett’s recent piece in the Architectural Review, ArchiFringe 2016, to me, represented an encapsulation of the pertinent discussion points raised in the column. Building from grassroots level, the events contained within this year’s programme effectively demonstrated the presence of a passion and strongly rooted social agenda amongst a new generation of architects who are seeking, against much resistance, to find a voice and a place in a world mired with obstructive pre-qualification questionnaires and paralysing risk aversion. Multi-disciplinary work was also frequently in evidence, the aloof isolation of the traditional architectural mindset being pleasingly dismantled.
The events that I attended were shorn of pretension, neatly straddling the interests of those directly involved within the profession and those who engaged to learn more.
The constituent parts of the show held at Gayfield Creative Spaces were a good reflection of this. From the tangible, in the form of the tactile output of ‘Modern Ornament’ and the collected models of ‘The Macquette’ - a pertinent reminder that, in our increasingly digital world, a card hewn manifestation of the design process is invaluable, for both Architect and Client – to the more ethereal, expressed via the delicate linework of Tamsin Cunnigham’s ‘Peripheries & Outlines’.
Sitting somewhere between the two, Robb Mcrae’s photographic study of well-loved and cherished homes, existing on the periphery of Edinburgh was an entirely sneer-free study of suburbia. So often derided in design circles, yet so often representative of the aspirations of those seeking a family home, in which to grow old, it was a perfect example of what I perceived (rightly, or wrongly) to be the ArchiFringe remit.
Moving beyond the gallery environment, in acquainting myself with the volumetric realities of how much found rubble it takes to fill a gabion cage (a, literal, tonne), I also had the pleasure of satisfying a desire to design and build, relinquished of bureaucracy, thanks to Here&Now’s Space To Sit event.
That this previous paragraph highlights an underlying selfishness, in terms of my own personal gain, is undeniable and, arguably, a common thread running through any such initiative – made evident by the overriding prevalence of groups constituted by ‘creatives’ that tend to assemble to participate in such things. The true engagement of the community is a difficult goal to achieve. In this instance, the considerable legwork undertaken, by Here&Now, in rehoming the various benches, across the city, ensures that the project leaves as broad a legacy as possible. A demonstration of the determination to reach out to as many as possible, as opposed to simply offering the few an opportunity to scratch an itch that’s often unreachable.
If the trajectory of 2016’s events is continued in 2017, we are in safe hands.
Government bodies, local authorities and those organisations that set out to represent the profession should seek to engage in their fullest capacities - those who wish to build a better future are already here, as the dismantling of existing entry barriers will reveal.
Chris Dobson is an architect based in Edinburgh