Sylvia Grace Borda - A Fine Artist
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East Kilbride, Scotland: A modernist vision
Project Overview

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.