Scotland’s democratic culture and identity

Dec 14th, 2012 | By | Category: Book News

Disasters, pandemics, the War on Terror, iPlayers/Pods/Pads/ Phones, American Idol, the rise of social media or the international banking crisis? Whatever your abiding memories of the Noughties, this was also to some extent a Scottish decade. With devolution, emergent self-government and (for much of the Noughties) a booming economy, a shift took place in Scottish culture with the Scottish Parliament opening in July 1999. However, whether attributable to devolution itself or unforeseen global events, there was something different about this decade.

The early Noughties were characterised by anxiety – cynicism even – and in Scotland the escalating costs of the new Parliament building, which opened in 2004, didn’t help. At first, Enrique Miralles’ design with its poetic interweaving of internationalism and aspiration seemed un-Scottish even though the architect had attempted to create not a building but a landscape into which he could embody the complexity and romanticism of Scottish identity. Its overflow of imagery, iconography, symbolism and metaphor needed time to be absorbed. It’s a picture of Scotland that was hard to recognise at first, but now we seem to have grown into it. In many ways, perhaps to the amazement of its critics, the building’s seemingly crazy, idiosyncratic, beautiful forms have emerged to shape us, and quite literally, given Scotland a place in the world of architecture. For a time, design, politics and identity appeared to coalesce.

As a controversial manifestation of Noughties’ design, the prize-winning Scottish Parliament was at the extreme end of the emblematic scale. But this was also the era of Creative and Cultural Industries, of radical swings in cultural policy and the influence of design on new fields. Design thinking appeared in the curricula of business schools and design became a strategic problem-solving tool and a new discipline – service design –emerged. Not unconnected with this was the growth of ‘prosumption’ and changing economic behaviours, and the widespread rise of user-participation and co-creativity and codesign.

As well, a growing worldwide interest in applying design methods and design thinking to social and public policy challenges attracted the attention of politicians. So, as well as highlighting a greater demand generally for people to be more involved in decision-making – for greater democracy – and to be the authors of their own narratives, these innovations also heralded an important move to address the interconnected or systemic issues that face modern society; environment, health, welfare, housing, globalisation. But much of this was under the radar and at best of transient interest to the mainstream media, certainly in Scotland. Nonetheless, things happened. The evidence of design-led initiatives, projects, examples, case studies and innovations suggests a different Scotland to one characterised by cynicism or apprehension.

At the same time as unveiling the Scottish Parliament the Queen opened The Lighthouse, Scotland’s Centre for Architecture, Design and the City, the flagship project of Glasgow 1999 UK City of Architecture and Design. And, shortly afterwards the Scottish Executive (now Scottish Government) published the first architecture policy in the UK. Thus, the scene was set, giving design in Scotland a platform that it never had before, as well as providing the starting point for this collection of writings. The collective focus of these essays is the role of design in the democratisation of Scots’ lives and experiences; how they can take greater control of and transform their environment, education, homes, health or the services and products they use. They are also about the role of Scottish Government policy and the country’s Creative and Cultural Industries’ strategy and how these abet or hinder human wellbeing and prosperity. Simultaneously, this decade-long history of architecture and design post-devolution also distils a narrative about the Lighthouse, the establishment of its democratising mission, the evolution of its transformational strategy and the development of its international programme covering the period of my directorship from 1998 to 2006.

Whilst there are studies of architecture in Scotland postdevolution, corresponding writings on design, beyond the lifestyle sections or newspapers and magazines, are largely nonexistent.

This collection of essays seeks to fill that gap and ranges over the debates concerning architecture, urbanism, design and the Creative and Cultural Industries and the policies, people and places that stimulate and animate them. Not surprisingly, Miralles’ Scottish Parliament building permeates these essays, but not to the exclusion of smaller (and much less expensive) projects right across Scotland. As well as showcasing the spectrum of new architecture from schools to housing to cultural buildings to office spaces, contemporary issues relating to public art, regeneration, heritage and conservation, internationalisation, young architects, and place-making are also featured.

Alongside these attention is also drawn to how architects and other people think and talk about buildings and the environment and the attendant social, economic and educational debates.

Creative Industries, closely identified with New Labour, developed in the Noughties into a global phenomenon. Because of their ideological origins Creative Industries are not without their sceptics, but they did nonetheless permit a coherent way of looking at those activities, which trade in creative assets and sit at the crossroads of creativity, business and technology. How Scotland can develop a sustainable and competitive economy and how Creative Industries insert themselves into the debate about architecture and design, weaves its way through these essays. Crucial in this sense was the interdisciplinary character of much of the Lighthouse’s work and the way in which projects transected architecture, design, urbanism and art. The changing context for this work is also discussed and embraces shifts in contemporary culture and creativity from craft to digital design to the creative class itself.

The thread that interconnects these essays is the issue of participation and the democratisation of design and imaginative ways of making this happen. This weaves its way through the essays from innovations in exhibition making pioneered by the Lighthouse involving co-production and co-creation, to usercentred approaches in design education and public engagement.

Importantly, these essays also tell a story about Scotland’s creative practitioners – about the people behind the anonymous Government analyses and statistics that are typical of the sector: where they work; the difficulties they encounter; and how their ideas and what they create and design contribute to Scotland’s democratic culture and identity.

Introduction of Designs on Democracy by Stuart MacDonald

ISBN: 978-1-78099-638-7, $19.95 / £11.99, paperback, 172pp

EISBN: 978-1-78099-639-4, $9.99 / £6.99, eBook


Author Bio: Professor Stuart MacDonald OBE was born and brought up in Scotland where he trained as a fine artist. He is the director of Creative Frontline, his consultancy specializing in creativity, design and innovation. He has wide experience in creative education, cultural regeneration and promoting the creative industries. 

He is currently a Distinguished Visiting Fellow in the Department of Architecture, University of Strathclyde, Emeritus Professor of Creative Industries at the Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen and prior to that he was Head of Gray’s School of Art, Aberdeen. He was founding director of The Lighthouse, Scotland’s National Centre for Architecture, Design and the City and was Education Director for Glasgow UK City of Architecture and Design 1999 and Glasgow’s 1996 International Festival of Design.

As Director of the Lighthouse he was a key figure in the promotion of Scotland’s architecture & creative industries policies, including setting up the Creative Entrepreneurs’ Club – one of the largest networks of its kind – as well as initiating the 2007 Six Cities Design Festival. He was closely involved with several major European creative, design and heritage networks including being President of the Reseau Art Nouveau Network.

He has served as a trustee of the UK Design Council, was a founding director of the Creative and Cultural Industries Sector Skills Council, sat on the UK Creative Apprenticeships Taskforce and was on NESTA’s Creative Pioneer Programme Committee. He was also a member of the British Council’s Design Review Group and a member of the Ministerial Working Group on the Creative Industries in Scotland. He has written and lectured widely on art, design, architecture, education and the creative industries. In 2006 he was awarded an OBE for services to architecture and design and in 2003 was voted on to Design Week’s “Hot 50”; people who had made a significant contribution to design.

He lives in Glasgow, Scotland.

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