Preach to the masses, not to the converted

You have to hand it to the Glasgow 1999 team. They certainly know how to get things moving. Halfway through the city’s year of celebrating architecture and design and already it has created a stunning legacy.

The Lighthouse design complex – the conversion of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Herald Building – is virtually complete and open for business; the first phase of Homes of the Future, featuring real, affordable contemporary homes by innovative architects, is up for show, with a visitor’s centre created by Ben Kelly; and the Glasgow Collection of products created by local talent is being readied for a public airing in October.

Add to these a series of exhibitions on topics as varied as sport, food and quirky African coffins and input by international design stars such as Javier Mariscal and Ron Arad and you have a recipe for success.

One of the key achievements of Glasgow 1999 director Deyan Sudjic and his team is that they haven’t started from scratch; by championing existing initiatives such as The Lighthouse conversion and the Glasgow Collection, they’ve enabled them to thrive. Why invent something when it’s already there and it has the backing of a political force like the Glasgow Development Agency?

They’ve also gone for the best design, casting their nets wide – putting up the backs of some local designers who thought the year would inevitably bring them a load of work. You have to admire that stance.

But while the results are very exciting to the design community, there’s still a major PR job to be done locally. Staff in some local bars and the occasional Glasgow cabbie still don’t know what it’s all about, purporting never to have heard of The Lighthouse, despite last week’s royal opening, and never to have sampled the events.

You can’t make people get involved in design, but you can try to explain how it informs their heritage or can improve the quality of their lives. While the design world continues to fête Glasgow 1999 for the big events, it is smaller, neighbourhood projects such as Five Spaces – an initiative with various housing associations to transform wasteland sites into well-tended community spaces – that will leave the strongest impression locally.

If the Glasgow 1999 team is to do more than put the city on the global design trail and ensure that their good work continues into the future, they must engage local interest. Throwing The Lighthouse’s Mackintosh Interpretation Centre open to locals for free, instead of charging them to appreciate the city’s design master, would be a good start.

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