Glasgow kicked off its year as City of Architecture and Design with great confidence. The opening show at the McLellan Galleries, aptly titled Winning and focusing on sport, has public appeal, through its content – some 400 items skilfully curated by Sue Andrew – and its striking design by Ron Arad with graphics by Javier Mariscal.
Meanwhile, in other parts of the city the builders are at work creating what Glasgow ’99 director Deyan Sudjic and his team see as the year’s legacy. On Glasgow Green, for example, the quirky housing development dubbed Homes for the Future is shaping up with designs that aren’t as forward-looking as the promotions suggest, but which break with local traditions, particularly in shying away from the city’s heavily gridded street pattern. And then there is The Lighthouse Project to convert Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s first major public building into the Centre for Architecture, Design and the City.
Due to open in June, the Lighthouse is Glasgow ’99’s flagship scheme. Given its prominence in the festivities, comparisons with the Millennium Dome at Greenwich are inevitable. Indeed, some see the entire Glasgow ’99 effort as a dummy run for the bigger cross-UK events planned for 2000. The differences though are significant. For a start, The Lighthouse is much smaller – funding for the conversion of the former offices of The Herald newspaper by local architect Page & Park is put at 12.25m, compared with the 750m being spent on the Dome.
More importantly, The Lighthouse is going ahead without direct Government involvement and the bureaucracy that entails. Above all, the project is born of a single creative vision by Sudjic that has been carried forward by Lighthouse director Stuart MacDonald. It is not obscured by the red tape and personality clashes that have beset the Dome, showing what can be done if passion is allowed to surface above the politics and there is clear direction.
Glasgow ’99 is not without its critics. Some maintain that the year should be used to showcase local creative talents. But this would deny Glasgow’s standing in Europe and possibly reduce the year’s attraction to visitors from outside the city.
As it is, Glasgow can look forward to a lively, and hopefully prosperous year, thanks to the intervention of design. The locals should be left with a sense of well-being and a few valuable reminders of 1999. If only we could be as confident that in 2001 the residents of Greenwich will see an equally positive outcome to the Dome.