IN OCTOBER 1994 the Arts Council of Great Britain chose Glasgow as United Kingdom City of Architecture and Design 1999. The judges announced that Glasgow had won the year-long festival because it offered to “promote the public appreciation of architecture and design through education, communication, innovation, participation and by example”.
It was a hot contest between Glasgow and the two other shortlisted cities, Liverpool and Edinburgh. Press attention fuelled talk about which city was most worthy, most beautiful and which would build the best architecture centre. Publicity magnified the socio-economic impact of the 400 000 prize to stratospheric dimensions.
However, Sir Richard Rogers’ televised announcement of the lucky winner was not anticipated by the press. Edinburgh stormed from the Royal Academy, Liverpool enjoyed a night on the town and Glasgow entered a dark age of political re-organisation.
Strangely, Glasgow’s first act was to disband the 1999 Steering Group which had spent two years consulting with local organisations in the successful bid. The following 18 months were spent fighting over who should control 1999.
Meanwhile, city boundaries were redrawn, Glasgow’s tax base was slashed and its ability to support the cultural activities which precipitated its renaissance was eroded. It was against this stormy backdrop in freezing February that Deyan Sudjic was approached by Glasgow to direct and deliver the first festival of architecture and design in the world.
After another media circus Sudjic was stealthily appointed to the 65k position in opposition to the democratic ethos of the bid. Glasgow’s rightly pissed-off proletariat greeted the press announcement with relief and some surprise. Relief that Glaswegian bureaucrats had selected a candidate with globally acknowledged credentials, and surprise that a Londoner would move to Glasgow. What could have motivated this committed and taciturn metropolitan man to come to Clydeside?
Sudjic is a man of considerable design pedigree. He qualified in architecture from Edinburgh University in 1976 and has curated numerous exhibitions. He helped to establish Blueprint, Eye, Tate and Design Review magazines and commissioned and published several monographs on architects and designers. He is the sharp and incisive thinker who has been assistant news editor at Architects Journal, features editor of Building Design, deputy editor of Design magazine and architectural correspondent for The Sunday Times. He was, until recently, visiting professor in design theory at Hochschule fur Angewandte Kunst, Vienna and is currently the Guardian’s architectural critic.
In the past few years I have often talked to Sudjic but never truly discovered what motivates him. Colleagues of the 43-year-old could give little insight and people who encountered him found him serious and aloof. I find him to be an accomplished poker player who doesn’t sport the convivial style of many local politicians who smile and stab you in the back. However, a Lee Van Cleef demeanour could be Sudjic’s downfall as Glaswegians expect to be fully involved in the festival won by their city.
Over lunch, dim sum to start, Deyan assures me he is not fleeing from London but intends to use his experience to strengthen associations between the two cities. Thankfully, he has the erudition to value cultural differences and does not advocate wholesale transplantation of alien cultural solutions to Glaswegian territory. Deyan feels his move is a natural progression from unfulfilled architectural practitioner to itinerant editor, publisher, critic, teacher and theorist to strategist. One thing does puzzle me – why did he publicly support Liverpool’s bid for 1999 rather than Edinburgh, the city of his student days, or the city he came to work for?
“Superficially, Liverpool appeared to be the underdog, the city which would seem to have benefitted most from architecture and design. The festival could have proved to be the catalyst to initiate the process of repairing its urban structure… Liverpool was Britain’s emotional and popular winner because Glasgow had transcended its industrial slag and was well along the road to revitalisation… but it took time to understand there was little design infrastructure in Liverpool to allow the 1999 festival to take place,” he responds.
Over the main course, haddock, scrambled eggs and smoked salmon, we talked about cities, the value of cultural identity and the vital energy which Sudjic believes Glasgow has in abundance. From the Trades House and Western Baths to the community housing associations, all provide social structures which could play a part in the festival. He is equally fascinated by different types of built form and their roles in the Glaswegian urban context: the airport, the station and the public square – what do they mean and how should they be expressed? All are questions relevant to many similar cities: Helsinki, Bilbao and even Prague; cities he may focus on for a project centred around “the home”. This project may involve famous and local architects and housing associations. The outcome will be mixed-use housing available for rent and sale.
I point out that it’s almost two years since the bid was won and the festival begins in two years. Why is so little happening? Sudjic replies that first he must deal with the 1996 mini festival, a sub-event of Glasgow’s Year of Visual Arts (see page 16) which he “inherited with the job”, and to which he is adding depth and detail. He has appointed Ben Kelly to design the Objects of Desire exhibition, to run concurrently with the Paul Smith, True Brit exhibition which moves to Glasgow from London’s Design Museum. Sudjic hopes to produce a Glasgow Collection of products in which Glasgow designers and manufacturers are paired with international players. Meanwhile, Richard Sapper will run a “rubber-powered grand prix” in the city’s Kelvingrove Park.
Before I leave, Sudjic repeats his commitment to Glasgow and to the slow process of building a team which includes initiatives director Pauline Gallagher, who does much of the community liaison, education director Stuart Macdonald and assistant director Nicole
Bellamy, whose remit is to make Sudjic’s life easier. They are joined by Sarah Gaventa, who moves from the Royal Institute of Architects’ press office to manage communications, and Andrew Gill who will raise sponsorship. The team are on the top floor of Princes Square, Glasgow’s exclusive shopping mall, an ivory tower which Sudjic hopes will soon be replaced by The Lighthouse, Glasgow’s centre for architecture and design.
Deyan is doubtless making slow but thoughtful progress amid parsimonious bureaucrats and I wish him luck because he’ll need it. More urgently I hope he can inspire the Glasgow design mafia to support him in evangelising the cause. Because if he can’t no one else will.