East Kilbride, Scotland: A modernist vision
My project addresses how new towns like East Kilbride in Scotland were
conceived as a one-stop solution for urban rejuvenation in the early 1950s.
These centers were driven by modernist concepts in urban development and
social planning. Unlike older urban developments, new towns offered defined
social spaces where neighbourhoods were gridded to accommodate schools
and shopping centres; where industries were clustered on the town' edge
estates; and where local road transportation systems were developed strategically
around neighbourhoods to enable safer commuter transit.
East Kilbride is an outstanding example of New Town architecture and
represents one of the most comprehensive modernist cities in the UK. Located
just 12 miles from Glasgow, it has retained the vision of High Modernist
architecture since its inception. Modernist architects sought to use new
methods of production and assembly to create dwellings which could serve
humanity but also act as a reflection of technological progression. In
East Kilbride the great juxtaposition of residential builidings and receding
row houses created dynamic gridded spaces that increased the visual impact
of the buildings to the surrounding greenspace and reduced the buildings'
appearance of being made from ready made materials.
While East Kilbride town planners followed high modernist strategies
rejecting all high decorative relief design in favour of emphasising materials
and geometrical forms, they also adopted particular architectural features
to accommodate the high annual rain fall. The school buildings' extended
porches supported upper floors, thereby, creating open shelters below
for students to assemble and take shelter from the rain.
While it is commonly assumed that post war Modernist architecture emphasized
building materiality in relation to earlier architectural works designed
by continental architects like Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier and others,
it is important to realise Scottish New Town planners also envisioned
themselves as modern visionaries who could mould a utopic society. Over
90% of the primary and secondary schools in East Kilbride have been strategically
located on hills and these buildings appear different from all vantages.
From a distance the buildings seem to be monolithic, but up close, the
structures seem light and airy with wide passages. Scottish New Town architects
created structures which acted both as public interfaces accommodating
daily needs while also designing their buildings as sculptures to be viewed
from all sides. The architects also placed the schools at the highest
vantage points throughout the New Town, thereby metaphorically, enlightening
their pupils and elevating them to view the entire cityscape that they
would soon occupy and rule.
The first secondary school built in East Kilbride, Duncanrig, opened
in 1956 and was designed by the well known Scottish architect Sir Basil
Urwin Spence (1907 - 1976.) Sir Spence's national work is best remembered
by his work on the Cathedral in Coventry, and for numerous other buildings
in the Modernist style throughout England and Glasgow. Sir Spence's work
was a modernist triumph, using post war building materials including steel,
aluminum forms, glass windowed corridors, terraces and solariums as well
as traditional brick to create well lit complementing the electrical lighting
schemes. Sir Spence also worked closely with mural artist William Crosbie,
a Scottish artist who studied and was influenced by French artists Fernand
Léger as well as Maillol, and completed a monumental 40 foot wide
by 18 feet tall school painting. Crosbie's wall mural at Duncanrig shows
strong links to his Leger witnessed in the strong bold features of the
animals and peoples depicted in this architectural feature.
Modernist architecture developed in East Kilbride was well considered
and was not what some would call built on the cheap. Indeed the opening
of Hunter Primary and Secondary schools in the early 1960s cost over £500
000 pounds and unlike current debates about the cost of the Scottish Parliament,
there was no review of costs but a further investment of budgets toppling
over a quarter million pounds for Canberra and each other primary school
being established at the time. Indeed it hard to imagine these costs today,
when one considers the average salary in the late 1950s was less than
18 pounds per week.
Even though Scottish New Town modernist architecture is less than a half
century old, only a few key contemporary buildings are surviving in Scotland
today, as most of them have been altered, allowed to fall into disrepair
or were redeveloped due to new civic regeneration needs. Remarkably East
Kilbride as a New Town has undergone extremely limited redevelopment over
the last 60 years and it is only until recent have large parcels of land
been assigned for new development. In re-accessing the lands elected for
development through the schools modernisation program, East Kilbride is
in the process of losing all of its original educational structures from
designs by Basil Spence, William Crosbie, Jack Coia and other key Scottish
urban planners and designers.
My documentation project is twofold. I am creating both an image archive
of a New Modernist Town landscape and a conceptual artwork wherein each
building under the threat of demolition will be photographed and later
remapped to form a large photo wall mural.