The Architecture Centre Network (ACN) was an independent organisation representing centres of architecture and the built environment in the UK. ACN commissioned Atoll to prepare a series of retrospective case studies on the work on the network centres. Below is featured the third of six articles prepared in August 2006:
3. 6000 Miles
Scotland’s coastline, measures six thousand miles along its length, and whilst the human settlements along it have remained over the centuries, this has largely been achieved through a difficult coexistence with their isolated surroundings. Here, repercussions of the 18th century Highland Clearances are still felt – where imposed clearances forced highlanders onto unproductive coastal belts, a fact that still contributes to their economic and social situation today. Indeed, a ‘Coastal Socio-Economic Scoping Study’ produced by the University of Aberdeen in 2002,1 reported that the remote coastal regions of Scotland remain faced with many socio-economic pressures, ranging from low income, high unemployment and multiple deprivations, through to many problems associated with ‘‘in’ and ‘out’ migrating populations.
To help engage with the complex issues of coastal communities, a touring exhibition and education programme called 6000 miles 2 was curated in May 2005 by The Lighthouse – Scotland’s first national centre for architecture and design.3 The programme reinterpreted the story of the evolving Scottish coastal landscape – investigating how a human relationship with it was forged, and might best develop in the future. As part of the programme, five invited design practices examined the changing nature of this relationship, through each working under a different theme to highlight issues. Funded through the Scottish Executive’s National Programme, and informed by their Policy on Architecture,4 after an initial 6-week installation at the Lighthouse, the exhibition then toured throughout Scotland.
An important component of the programme was the education outreach element, designed by Tassy Thompson, which complemented the exhibition, and used artists rather than designers, to explore central themes. The project worked through the Cultural Coordination Network to target remote coastal primary schools, eventually focusing on 4 schools – a selection that both mirrored the artists chosen, as well as highlighted regional differences. Prior to the initiation of the programme, digital artist Caroline Campbell, also developed a website, and carried out research on aspects of the area and community having most potential. From this, she designed an individual brief and process for each school – setting homework on the geography, history and culture of each place, before visiting each school to run workshops. For example, Musselburgh School’s brief was to consider a model bridge for the future – and included its design, location, selection of materials and structure – as well as its overall use and name. To conclude this project, pupils constructed final bridge models that were displayed and photographed against a projected backdrop of the local map.
Unquestionably, this creative project provided a unique opportunity for primary children to explore their own landscape and life – facilitated by working alongside a select peer group of artists and designers drawn from across a wider Scotland. The side-effect of the process also engaged with their own teachers and parents, as well as with the wider community (both local and online), helping all to address many of the negative issues associated with coastal communities. Undoubtedly, tiny programmes like 6000 Miles can never solve such massive social and economic problems in isolation. However, they can if implemented as part of sustained holistic programmes, contribute to increased self-evaluation and externalised awareness-raising – thereby building public pride, profile and demand for ever more creative and collaborative regeneration practices.
Design Practices involved in the main exhibition were: block architecture, gm + ad architects, Graven Images, GROSS. MAX. Landscape Architects, and Wiszniewski Thomson Architects.
Primary schools chosen to participate in the educational outreach programme were based in Mallaig, Musselburgh, Tayport and Sandhead/Kirkcolm.
On completion, 10 representatives from each school were invited to tour The Lighthouse, to see the final exhibition and to meet the children from other participating schools in a final workshop.
Feedback on what its like to live in each schools area of coastline was presented through a series of postcards from the coast. As well as the website, a Lighthouse publication and DVD accompanied the exhibition.
Key curators for the educational programme were: Education Project Artist: Caroline Campbell; Education Project Coordinator: Tassy Thompson; and Education Project Assistant: Christopher Kane.