Deyan Sudjic knew it would be a tough job when he took on Glasgow’s 1999 effort (see feature, page 14). It’s a challenge to put any city on the international design map, but the fact that his job involves a British city, and one of Scotland’s two rival centres, makes it all the harder.
Glasgow has a reputation for lifting itself up – witness the Glasgow’s Miles Better campaign and similar initiatives. And its heritage in design and architecture is formidable. But it’s a city fraught with politics, and beating its old rival Edinburgh to the 1999 City of Architecture and Design title left it without emotional support from its wealthier neighbour. Indeed, so high ran the feelings that the Edinburgh crew boycotted an ill-timed but unrelated soiree planned by the Glasgow-based Scottish Design a day or so after the result was announced.
But how can any city make the splash we’d expect Sudjic to go for without strong government backing? Everyone, including Terence Conran, who helped pick Glasgow over Edinburgh and Liverpool, cites Barcelona’s stylish surge to global greatness through the 1992 Olympics as the one to emulate. But the 400 000 prize money that came with the 1999 title will have to be matched by massive sponsorship, with all the conditions that might carry, to achieve anything as lasting.
Other European countries seem to put a higher value on design – the scale of work by Continental architects showing at London’s RIBA Architecture Centre illustrates that. Our young hopefuls can only pray that millennium funding is matched by enough private cash to create tomorrow’s cultural buildings and monuments, while their European cousins have the chance to win plum jobs through regular competitions, and in some countries may even receive fees upfront to help them do the job.
If Britain is to lay any claim to design supremacy in future, we’d better start looking to our neighbours’ methods and learn fast. Otherwise that claim could ring ever more hollow.