Saturday, 28 August 2010

Scottish Housing Expo 2010 Inverness

 The planned but so far not executed 'garden' of one of Malcolm Fraser Architects designs for the 2010 Scottish Housing Expo, Inverness. 'Minimalist'? Certainly is! Doesn't so far exist... although the accompanying houses do. Not all houses at the Expo are completed or even as yet built. Plots 22 and 27, which, while not perfect,  are at least amongst those which could actually sensibly be lived in by real people, and be attractive to 'volume' developers,  although without the architectural pretension of some.  The unfinished garden is a victim of, and possibly a metaphor for, the Expo problems.  Click pics to enlarge... a second click will enlarge even further, but use the 'back' button to get back to the page or you will lose the post.



This week, I visited the Scottish Housing Expo, aka the Highland Housing Expo, Inverness.  It was a bizarre experience. I have no doubt in years to come it all will be Listed by Historic Scotland, and visited as Portmerion is as something slightly surreal. Certainly it is a very unsettlingly strange place indeed. What is worrying is that some think it all a great success, and are considering repeating this all over Scotland. It's no way to plan for the future...

I would love to take a number of the architects involved through their buildings, and point out exactly what would make them difficult/impossible/improbable/greenwashery /unsustainable to live in. If I really had to, there is only a handful of houses I would be willing move into. Maybe I will blog more when it isn't so raw and immediate and actually, upsetting. Next week possibly...  I might be a little more coherent about it then. And by then some architects might have realised that a house where a scaffold tower is needed to change a lightbulb isn't really very practical. One 'grand gesture' house, with its upstairs all-in-one kitchen/dining/living area, too small to sensibly accommodate the number of people a four bedroomed house will require, appeared to have nowhere to put a washing machine. There were kitchens without enough workspace to sensibly prepare a meal and some which would have been dangerous to work in. From the macro to the micro level, so much could have been better.

I so wanted to find this a positive experience. I didn't. I do appreciate all the problems, the delays caused by the market downturn, the terrible winter, and all the rest.  How I wish I could get a group of non-architect folk to sit with  some of the architects and developers and discuss what makes a home for normal families which isn't 'wanky wilful shapemaking' to paraphrase one involved, what is a decent amount of space in which to live, and what makes for an affordable, sustainable future. I would love to talk to the  Scottish Housing Minister  and do likewise. I do appreciate that architects had a brief to which to work, and that all have constraints. But hey, couldn't we all learn from this?

I'd also love to be able to write about it all in the architectural press, but alas I doubt anyone will ask me.  So far very little attention has been paid, apart from Building Design, and of that, well, it's been a little banal and focused not really on the diverse and important issues this has raised. 

A few architects, from the renowned to the 'local', showed they had some idea. However, from the possibly internationally known to the emerging and thrusting, and the small and established but not nationally known, too few understood what makes a home, as opposed to an architectural gesture, and what is really sensibly, affordably sustainable.

And then there were the Rabbit Hutches...  it seems the less well off don't deserve decent living space. An atrium and a mezzanine may give the illusion of space, but don't compensate for tiny rooms, especially bedrooms.

Parker-Morris, we need you now.

Large areas of glass, too, featured in rooms which were overlooked... as one visitor remarked,  "Some of these architects must have shares in a curtain factory!"

Anyhow, the Expo ends at the end of August. Wish I had taken two days to visit as there wasn't enough time in one. The cake in the marquee was wonderful. The Portaloos were clean and more than adequate.

But it's Scotland, so really, in the wider world, no-one gives a fuck. The architectural press is all off at the Venice Biennale, and that's much more exciting and important than global warming and the future of housing, isn't it? Had this taken place in the south of England, so much would have been written about it, but it was Inverness, and beyond Nottingham Contemporary all is a barren waste, it seems, where none dare to venture.

Meanwhile, some views on youtube of the exteriors of some, and very odd bunch they are, lumped together, but let's face it: we mostly live in interiors. And there lies much of the problem.

The first tranche of houses for sale prices:

For private sale plots: 2, 5, 6, 7, 9, 11, 14, 16, 17, 18, 19, 21, 22, 23, 25, 26, 27 contact

Rettie & Co on tel: 0845 220 6565 or email:

or visit

Plot 7 – Guide Price £ 300,000

Plot 9.2 – Guide Price £ 220,000

Plot 17 – Offers Over £ 300,000

Plot 18 – Offers Over £ 350,000

Plot 26.1 – Guide Price £ 230,000

 I leave the reader to work out how affordable this is to many, and if this Expo served the needs of the public and a sustainable future, or was more about the architects and developers.  It's certainly going to be a 'mixed' community, when and if the houses and flats are eventually fully occupied; it remains to be seen if it ever becomes a genuine community.

(movies by Abbozzo Architects)


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Gardenbeet said...

right well i look forward to your review - very glad to hear others become to raw to write after site visits - i grew up in architect designed house - in the 70s - Alistar Knox - we had cathedral celings and guess what? the light globes never got changed - we use to wander around in semi-darkness

Douglas Dalgleish said...

You didn't like the EXPO? To see why I did like it, and how the ideas and buildings shown at the EXPO could be relevant across Scotland, see my EXPO pages at

Nemesis said...

No, I didn't, on the whole. I hope if it is repeated then it will be in a different format. There are many reasons why, and I haven't finished yet, but time has been short this week. I found it an unsettling experience, and I do wonder how much of it will in fact have wider relevance in the long term. Too much architectural fantasy and greenwash, and I gather from an urban designer I know (this is NOT my area of expertise but I'm listening...) that the Masterplan wasn't all it could have been either.

Of course so much is subjective and down to individual opinion regarding both architecture and what makes for sutainability.

The following comment was posted too, although for some reason it pinged into my Inbox and didn't post on the blog. I do intend to consider the points raised further, but again, need time to consider.

caw rock

Hi Nem

I admire you trying and really managing to say the truth while circumnavigating the obvious which, as in most cases, would include addressing the ones responsible for the disaster. At the same time I doubt whether this helps to improve things, to get better, to learn and train people from craftsmen to architects, engineers to customers per se and in the end to solve problems that we – all and together - need to deal with so desperately.

Not daring to say the truth, being afraid of criticism or merely to may be violate any kind of suppositious law, i.e. a discrimination act or similar – and I am not accusing you, Nem, of any of this – will not help us achieve anything and in the end puts even more responsibility on those hiding behind such excuses as on those not seeing and/or not understanding the real problems.

Tomorrow we will read how great a success it was, all aims achieved, visitors in loads and progress all over, may be next time we add some fireworks; no worries, life goes on and the Affordables will be affordable from now on.

Mind you, it is Scotland; so really, at least the Scottish should give a f***.


Anonymous said...

The rabbit hutches looked awful from the outside, I noticed nothing adjoining or beside the houses which indicates creating power from the wind or sun, but did notice power hungry air con units in strange places (Middle of gardens by the fences).

What an awful expo.

Nemesis said...

Air source heat pumps?