Regeneration in Dumfries


How we can create confidence in our future”

The lessons we can learn from Glasgow and Edinburgh

How parts of the town centre look today

Mid-Steeple and the High Street
Friars Vennel
The North end of the High Street with Burns statue

Dumfries town centre has a mix of building styles, ages and types. Some re-developed buildings have a modern appearance, while others are more traditional.   A varied streetscape is created from buildings with a mixed appearance. Some individual buildings and vistas are pleasing, distinctive and make a strong contribution to the identity of the town. Property maintenance standards vary. Efforts have been made to improve the quality of public spaces, to improve the ground surfaces and to provide appropriate street furniture.
The businesses are a fairly typical retail mix. Towards either end of the High Street are two department stores. They are located in re-developed, modern buildings. These bigger shops and the Loreburne Centre act as  anchors and contain the main retail shopping area. The Loreburne Centre has a covered, indoor shopping arcade and shops which face directly onto the High Street.

Southergate Centre

Re-development is proposed at the Southergate Centre.

Problem or opportunity?
UK shopping has changed. While this is reflected in a changed business mix, empty retail shops are more commonplace in many towns.
Despite several recent expensive efforts to improve things, parts of Dumfries town centre in and around the High Street continue to look neglected. There is a perception that some nearby towns have been able to manage things better. Amid expressions of concern, there is a wish for clarity on the best way to improve things.

If people no longer wish to use the town centre so much for retail shopping, what else could the area be used for? Who should control and regulate the use of this space – government, property owners, the public or a balanced mix? Should the town centre be re-purposed? What other town changes might also be necessary, and how should any new projects be balanced and managed? How would it be a better place for local people to use? What part should tourism and visitor attraction play? Crucially, how do we build agreement and make progress? Lastly and most important, who should pay for all this?
As an artist, and interested in visual things, I also hope for a solution which looks good and works well.

Other considerations
There is little housing in the town centre but a lot to the south and west. The Georgian town houses are now mostly offices. Near the town centre there are many Victorian buildings and a good deal of later, in-fill development. There has also been plenty of new housing in the suburbs. Lots of people clearly want to live in Dumfries.

There are two Scottish Tourist Board 3-star hotels close to the High Street and others a little further out. Dumfries has a profusion of other hotels and Guest Houses.
Close to the town centre are two cinemas, a refurbished theatre and a leisure centre. There are also a primary and secondary school at the northern edge.
While the town Centre is fairly busy during the day, at night, apart from the town centre pubs and night clubs, it is mostly unused.
Now lets compare Dumfries’s situation with that of Glasgow and Edinburgh.

How Glasgow has Changed
Glasgow was once a great manufacturing city. Now the shipyards are few, and the docks, steelworks, railway works and similar manufacturing industries have gone.
Thousands of workers jobs were lost.
When Glasgow lost these jobs, it also lost some of its self confidence and the city faced an uncertain future. Today a different and prosperous Glasgow is being made, perhaps symbolised by buildings such as the Armadillo, the Hydro and the tall new offices and hotels rising over the city centre. People may argue about how to continue to change Glasgow for the better, but I suspect there are not many who would argue that a corner has been turned in Glasgow’s history. Its a city which has acknowledged that some old industries and some of the old ways have gone. The past has, to some extent, been let go. Treasured bits are cherished and remembered, that’s an important thing to do. We shouldn’t deny the past, we acknowledge it.
Glasgow signalled its intention to move forward in a key event, the Garden Festival of 1988, and then won the City of Culture award in 1990. The garden festival was a strange experience. It was more a garden of curiosities, some of which had links to Glasgow’s past.

festival gateway
gateway, exhibit and housing






1930’s autogyro

Many exotic structures- a tower, a roller coaster, giant teapots and others, posed alongside Shona Kinloch’s witty sculptures of Glasgow Dogs.

wee fat dug
sniffing dug

The festival was a great success.

Now Glasgow is facing the future not the past, and is a shopping, event and tourist destination.


Buchanan Street shoppers

Its also still a busy place, and a place to do business. Glasgow is still a manufacturing centre. The riverside, so long derelict, is transforming, and some of the business and work focus of Glaswegians has moved to new places in the city or around it.
Now many people from Dumfries use Glasgow in preference to their own town for weekend shopping, such is the attraction. Crucially, Glasgow is now an all year round tourist destination.
Change in Edinburgh
Similarly in Edinburgh we see a year-round tourist industry which has become so successful that it almost swamps the city.

shoppers on Princes Street

Efforts are already in place to spin-off some of this tourism into other parts of Scotland. So how do we move forward in Dumfries?

Bringing change to Dumfries using History, Heritage and Archaeology
Our possible way forward may be to capitalise on the history of the town, on figures such as Bruce, Burns and Barrie. Their lives are interwoven with Dumfries’s past. They already have a presence here and we can build on that.




The Moat House where JM Barrie played as a child, the inspiration for Peter Pan

History and walking tours might be added to fixed museum or visitor type presentations. The Whitesands leading to the Burns centre at the Millhouse and Camera Obscura lend themselves to this kind of experience.  We could develop High Street visitor centres to interpret each of their stories, and use these centres to refer to whatever existing structures can be found in the town. Perhaps we could offer re-enactments and re-interpretation in place of hard historical or archaeological structures. Such events as the passing presence of Bonnie Prince Charlie and an interpretation of the Georgian architectural area, or the John Paul Jones Story could add variety and depth to the perception of the town and also offers the chance to link to existing visitor centres locally and elsewhere in Scotland.

We know from visitor surveys that Scotland’s history attracts and motivates almost a third of Scotland’s tourists. Fifty million people across the world now claim Scots ancestry. In an uncertain world Scotland is a safe visitor destination. Let’s not forget our European neighbours either. Scotland’s profile is high at the moment. We are in favour. If we refurbish our town centre and present carefully to all our visitors, we should do well.

Private sector investment is the key ingredient to all this. Private funding would be needed to help create a tourist friendly infrastructure such as good new central hotels and amenities, restaurants and suitable entertainment and a cafe culture and/or night life. A new core could exist alongside existing businesses. Shopping would need to be re-purposed to reflect both tourist and local needs. To what extent can we re-use the existing building stock and involve local businesses?

As Edinburgh and Glasgow have shown, tourism is now an all-year event. If just a few more of those visiting Edinburgh or Glasgow could be coaxed into visiting Dumfries for a few nights then that would make quite a change. Let’s also not forget that Edinburgh is booming. It is a great business centre. If we were successful down here with more tourism, what sort of people and businesses would we attract?
We could also add to other growth initiatives already in place.

We might signal this change to others and to ourselves just as Glasgow did. A one-off iconic festival on a Dumfries theme might precede and pave the way for change. We could manage this fairly soon and it might help with drawing business interest in redevelopment.

Lets face the future with confidence.


Transports of delights D

Leipzig Hauptbanhof and “Bach im Leipziger Banhof” (the annual Bach Festival)
Leipzig itself, is an attractive place. It has been ranked as the most liveable and the most attractive city in Germany. It has a very high quality of living. It is also noted as a centre for shopping and food. The city is a thousand years old. It has a 15th Century university that is the students favourite, and since the 1490s, the city has been famous for its trade fairs. The older city centre dating from the 16th century attracts many visitors and is charming to walk through.
City reconstruction began after wartime damage as part of East Germany. After reunification it continued. The collapse of many of the city’s traditional businesses and activities led to economic decline. The population shrank, but has now stabilised at about half a million. Since then, the city’s fortunes have revived and now Leipzig is seen as something of a magnet city, attracting jobs and investment.
Today Leipzig is a growing, thriving and ambitious city of just over half a million people, noted for its lively arts scene. It is also a major transport hub, integrating air, train, tram and bus. This is interesting for a Scot, who is frequently exhorted to use public transport more and the car less. Leipzig station has 120,000 users per day, about the same as both of Glasgow’s stations combined, but twice that of Edinburgh, although the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh are roughly the same size as Leipzig. The huge city tram network is 92 miles long. This is where Leipzig stands out.
It also has a very well developed cycle network which adds to its popularity. If we are serious about growing a greener economy and increasing prosperity in Scotland, we need the attitude and commitment shown in places like Leipzig.
Among its former famous inhabitants are the philosophers Karl Wittgenstein and Gottfried Leibnitz, together with the painter Max Beckmann, the poet and philosopher Goethe and Mendelssohn, the composer. Then of course there’s Bach. JS Bach worked in Leipzig between 1723 and 1750.
Leipzig has an annual “Bachfest Leipzig” music festival. This celebrates the work of one of the world’s greatest composers and perhaps the city’s best known inhabitant. I’m sure its also very good for tourism.
The station

Leipzig Hauptbahnhof is one of the world’s largest railway stations. It has 19 platforms and a spectacular facade which is 298 metres long.
It is also a much changed place with a complicated history. It was begun in 1909 and finished in1915, but during WW2 bombing, the concourse roof collapsed and the western entrance hall was destroyed. Full restoration took until in 1965. Following German reunification, the station was modernised and a shopping mall and two basement levels were added.


So the big stone arches which support the roof now cover a multi-level concourse.


The modified station building was inaugurated in 1997, then two underground railway platforms were added in 2013 and a billion Euros has recently been spent on the Leipzig city tunnel.
This will integrate into the larger new rapid transit network, Berlin–Leipzig–Nuremberg–Munich, a very ambitious infrastructure project.  Link here
Today however, on the outside, the facade is once again grand, stately and rather beautiful.
A diversion-The cake
The interior is just an amazing space to explore.


As you can see, we did and we eventually found the cake shop- all it takes is a little persistence!



Our verdict?  Well yeah- OK, it’s not Mendls “Courtesan au chocolat” but it was very, very seriously good none the less.

To me this whole redevelopment is a successful hi-tec intervention which matched the scale of this grand old building.


Throughout our visit we had the feeling that this was a renovation which has “been properly done”. The ambition of the design and quality of the work speaks for itself. It was also sensitive to the feel and history of the building and the wishes of Leipzigers.
The Music- Bach im Banhof


On the left of the picture below, you can see the performance area, with the concourse above. Anyone passing by can see the players and hear the music.

Right in the heart of all these new works, down in the multi level concourse, in June 2016, was the “Bach im Leipziger Bahnhof” music programme. The station’s own programme of free events as its contribution to the city’s annual Bach festival.
Perhaps you might think it strange that a railway station would be home to a concert programme, but “Bach im Bahnhof” perfectly complemented the railway station. A well organised and free daily music programme of took place quite matter-of-factly in the very heart of one of the busiest railway stations in Germany. 120,000 users pass through each day, roughly the same as Glasgow’s two railway stations combined, (yes! imagine if you had this railway station in Glasgow). It offered travellers a brush with culture during the hustle of a journey, and so culture had a chance to engage with daily life. The programme was also good enough to attract visitors to the station.
On the day I visited, beginners classes in violin and cello were showing everyone what they could do. For the kids it was a great showcase in a huge venue.

Learning violin isn’t easy, and these kids were great! I would guess that they were only about seven or eight years old, yet they held it together really well.
Why does that matter? Because acquiring that level of skill at such an early age is empowering. Having the opportunity to successfully perform in public, in a place like that will, I’m sure, will be remembered long after the event.
Also, learning good things about what we can do as we grow up, helps us to become confident adults. Its just such a social good.
Something you notice when you’re abroad is that Europeans have a seriousness about music, about its importance and value. Casual event performances (for example the bands at a summertime Bavarian open air fête day with fireworks in the evening) often have a much higher technical skill than you can casually find here, and the range of instruments is usually broader as well.

We toured in and around Leipzig. It was a revelation to see how much infrastructure investment is flowing into German transportation links. With its airport, three motorways surrounding the city-borders and several high-speed railway links to all major cities in Germany, Leipzig is an easy-access city. The billion Euro rail tunnel is only a fragment of a much wider scheme to upgrade the Central German Regional Railway Network, and improve connectivity in Central Europe. (ERDF) is underpinning the EU Central Europe programme. Scottish infrastructure spending, so long choked off by the UK government, is just beginning to transform Scotland and some of this is contingent on ERDF funding. The Scottish Government currently has 6 billion Pounds worth of infrastructure being constructed in Scotland today. That includes our new local hospital in Dumfries (£200million), the Queensferry Crossing (£1.4billion) the Shieldhall tunnel in Glasgow (£250million), the M9 upgrade(£450million).
The Scottish Government also has future infrastructure plans which would depend in part on getting ERDF funding.
This is the sort of investment which Brexit will put at risk.
In Leipzig as in Scotland, If your government really cares about your country’s future, it shows. Actions speak louder than words.

M emigrant/immigrant

One of the pieces on my gallery page is my Emigrant book.
I had never made anything like this before, but in 2012, something happened as a result of the economic downturn.
Our daughter, her husband and our two grandchildren, “emigrated” to Australia, or in other words, had to leave to find work.
I’ve been fortunate. I’m the recipient of a good free education, I’ve had a professional career, I never had to face leaving Scotland from necessity. But I never thought my own children would need to either, as professionals. A scientist and an engineer, lost to Scotland.
That was shocking and I would ask anyone to think about it for a bit.

I reckon there are many households in Scotland who are living with the same kind of absence.
It got me thinking about Scotland’s history of emigration and separation. It’s an old story, but one that is constantly repeating itself.

mary-teresaOn both sides of my family, people left for America and Australia, starting in the late 1880s. A few came back, but many never did. There were no good prospects to come home to. In the early years of the 20thC, more left home and in the mid fifties, still more. And here we are in the 21stC.
I am lucky, I can text, phone, Skype my family, everything but touch them.


How could those left behind in the 1800s and well into the 1900s, bear the separation? Six weeks at least on the boat out to Australia and then as many again for the first letters to come home with news. Nor was there any likelihood of the young sons and daughters being able to make a visit home. All the rites of passage, marriages, children, deaths, happening thousands of miles apart. It must have been a sore, cheerless existence for the old folk left behind.

nobodys-childI started my book with the words ‘nobody’s child’. I think it applies to all newly arrived immigrants. Arriving in an alien environment, cut off from your culture and family support, is a bit like being an orphan. No history, no back story in the new place, just your own small nucleus, trying to find its way. Everything around you is different.
None of my immediate family had language barriers, nor were they refugees fleeing war zones and persecution. They just didn’t have a good future here for their children.
Maybe Scotland understands very well what it is to be an outsider. All the signals of uncertainty, confusion and isolation resonate somehow across cultural boundaries.
Scotland can’t feel like home yet to newly arrived refugees but kinship is wider than race, religion or language and it costs us nothing to offer it.
In the current climate of restrictions, bans and deportations, remember the folk that sailed from the Broomielaw, or who now fly from Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Don’t allow inward looking isolationism any houseroom.
Scotland is bigger than this in heart and mind and it’s a precious thing – in the real sense of that word.

But in the meantime, if we want our children and grandchildren to grow and flourish in Scotland and if we want to see our country able to support them and future generations, then change is necessary.

The first step is to recognise that no change means no change and that in 50 or 100 years time, someone else will still be lamenting the lack of opportunity that has gifted other countries the benefit of our young people.
It’s in all our interests to have confidence in our ability to govern ourselves and to make decisions for ourselves. So what should we do about it?

We need to be able to grow our economy and improve all our people’s life chances here, to give everyone the right to a normal life, so that starting a new life in another country is a choice, not a necessity.
Better opportunities and better employment prospects will only come when we have control of our own resources and manage them for the benefit of Scotland and her people.

For the last 160 years the United Kingdom has served my family ill. The stark choice was to stay disadvantaged and disempowered or to make the decision to leave.

Brexit is the single greatest threat to Scotland’s prosperity since the Great depression years.
The case for an independent Scotland is to allow Scots to make all the decisions that affect our lives and to make them well. We have been diminished by neglect, by rule from afar, and by the absolute contempt of the ‘ruling class’ for ordinary people and their hopes.

Adventures and experiences abroad should be a matter of choice, a rich aspect of our own personalities as confident, worldly Scots. They shouldn’t be the last best hope, where there is none to be had at home.

Emigrant is a book about loss. Let’s make sure it becomes history, and let’s plan instead for a better future, that builds on our aspirations and supports us to realise them.

The Luxembourg Gardens, stress free Paris D

Our first visit had been in late September. It was a warm, dry day and began with a challenging morning, navigating across Paris to see Le Corbusier’s studio. The tourist directions were imprecise. Several streets and half an hour later, we were climbing the seven flights of stone stairs to see the apartment on 24 Rue Nungesser et Coli, near the western edge of the Peripherique.

It was worth the climb, as we and about 40 Chinese architecture students, discovered. Not much was being said, but everyone was looking really hard, judging, evaluating, admiring and remembering it all.

We remembered features like that little grey spiral staircase that leads to the roof terrace or the huge asymmetric pivoting room dividers. A very special place.

Back in the centre of Paris, we had had a quick lunch. Then, for the first time, we went into the Luxembourg gardens by the gate on the Boulevard Saint-Michel.

The gardens sit close to the Sorbonne on one side and Montparnasse on the other.We walked, surrounded by people both coming and going, down a broad avenue under a canopy of tall trees whose leaves were beginning to go brown. You could have been in a painting by Renoirpark-cafe

Originally built for Marie de Medici in the 16th century, and in Italian style, what was once only for royalty is now free for everyone. People have made this space their own, for this park has been much altered, changed, and added to.

It is a place with a great sense of space, elegance and style. People go there to take a break from shopping, business or study and to relax and to enjoy the company of others. Its a great place to people watch.

It is very much a planned park with an axial layout from the pond and Senate building to the north down to the Observatory gate to the south. It has many individual, even quirky features including an “English Garden” with broad, curved gravel paths and glimpsed vistas in the South-West corner.

There are touches of formality which mingle with informality, for groups can sit on patches of grass on the long axis to south, near the children’s play area. Otherwise there is no walking or sitting on grass here.

Instead, this Paris garden has something better to offer, chairs! Chairs in profusion, of different shapes for sitting up, for reclining and even for putting your feet upon. Sturdy, hefty metal chairs which you can arrange in any number or way you want, so if there’s three of you or eight of you, you can suit yourselves as to how you fix the arrangement. None of your British style fixed park benches here. Citizens and visitors alike get to choose where they sit. The garden’s most enviable feature is the ease with which ordinary people relax and luxuriate in such splendid surroundings.


At what I like to think is the centre of the gardens, there is a large octagonal pond with a central fountain, surrounded by a broad circular walkway. Here there are fancy and beautiful flower borders of great variety which are close to the paths.

On both sides there are broad flights of steps leading up to balustraded terraces, topped with big floral urns. The walkways round the pond have good sized palms and oleanders growing in very large Versailles tubs, punctuating the space and offering small pools of shade. These broad, very grand terraces also have a number of sculptures, some of which are very beautiful. A natural arena is formed, and this is a very popular place, with plenty of people coming and going. Amongst this, the gardeners go about their work, pruning and tending the trees and borders.

To the north of this is the Palais du Medici, the home of the French Senate and a seat of Government business. From its northern entrance, on the Rue de Vaugirard, black government cars come and go.

We were sitting below the terrace under a palm, when we faintly heard the sound of a band playing in the distance. So, along with various others, we moved towards the sound, found seats, brought them over and sat to listen. Again we were positioned comfortably, this time under dappled shade, a little distance from the bandstand. The music combined with the setting to give a feeling of perfect contentment. People would walk by, hesitate, then pull up a seat and listen. Just as freely, some rose to leave.

Every time the band stopped, the bandmaster stood up and solemnly and at some length addressed the crowd, but we couldn’t hear a thing as he had no microphone. Then he would sit down and the band in their dark blue uniforms with silver buttons, would start up again. It was very funny, and the audience were quietly amused.

view from the Pavillon de la Fontaine cafe
view from the Pavillon de la Fontaine cafe

After a while we felt thirsty, and spotted the Pavillon de la Fontaine Café where you can eat or drink. Its very popular, quite costly, but very good and fairly close to the bandstand. It has outdoor seating, with umbrellas, and its another great place for people watching. As the long, hot afternoon wore on towards evening, like many others, we had found the perfect spot, the temperature was just right. We were sitting in a little crowd in open shade under tall trees while one of us had a glass of beer and the other a glass of wine. We were talking about the morning’s visit, comparing notes and photographs. It was so comfortable that seven o’clock came round before we knew it. The conversation turned to dinner. Where to eat, and would it be necessary to book a table?

So a slow journey then, past the children still in the sandpit at the Observatory end, past the office workers hurrying home, and back up over gently rising ground towards the sound of Paris traffic, towards Montparnasse and our hotel.   


evening in montparnasse
evening in montparnasse


D Hurray for the Riff Raff

Alynda lee Segarra
Alynda lee Segarra

At Celtic Connections, Glasgow on Friday 20th January, in front of a fairly full hall in the Drygate brewery.
I went to see Alynda lee Segarra and her band “Hurray for the Riff Raff” because I heard her song “The Body Electric”. I also liked The Riff Raff’s rootsy style, but this tour seems to mark her musical move from New Orleans-style roots, blues, bluegrass, country music to overt protest music. Her new songs focus on her Puerto Rican identity. She also writes about violence against her friends, and discrimination, threatened minorities, and oppression in the USA.
Alynda Lee Segarra is a rising star, someone with a magical voice, rare passion and wonderful commitment to the songs she sings. She is also noted for singing/performing difficult, musically challenging songs very well.
She was wearing a black beret and occasionally raised a clenched fist (Shades of Che Guevara?) The bass player wore a grey t-shirt with the words “Not my President” in black across it.
The Riff Raff have been a while in the making, and among other things, they have been in their time a great covers band. I like their version of “Be my Baby” by the Ronettes during the 60’s more than any other I’ve heard. But her band is a re-shaped Riff Raff, a new more powerful electric band to give heavier support to her new material, and with it she could become the leading exponent of the “Music of the Resistance” against the Trump presidency which stretches out into the future.
Her band performed some songs from their new album “Navigator”
interspersed with the older “Blue Ridge Mountain” and the lovely “St Roch Blues”
A strong set was followed by an encore solo acoustic guitar performance of the 1940 Woody Guthrie protest song “This Land is your Land”. She choked up during the song at the lines “Nobody living can ever stop me, as I go marching that freedom highway, Nobody living can make me turn back, Cos’ this land was made for you and me” and her voice had a haunting quality to it that I can still hear in my head, several days later. Then there was the audience who understood what was happening and picked up the song and carried it all the way to the finish, to cheers and loud applause, and I suspect not a dry eye in the house as she stumbled and wavered but did not break.
Something happened on Friday night. Something I wasn’t expecting while I watched and listened to her, for in the new battle of American ideas old protest songs have been re-energised.
I heard a clear echo of America in the 1960’s again- protest about the Vietnam War, the Draft, women’s rights and the struggle for Human Rights, Martin Luther King, etc. But does this resonate more widely?

Woody Guthrie’s lyrics also chimed strongly with a sympathetic Glasgow audience, perhaps because of Scotland’s own struggle for Independence, equality and rights. They got that message all right, I thought as I left the concert.
The next morning on TV, I saw three-quarters of a million people protesting in LA against Trump. Is this what the USA has come to? Where do we go from here?


D the Sonneveld house

      An article about something exquisitely beautiful, but with a sting in the tail.

“If you decide to visit it, remember to bring your suitcases, as you’ll want to move in straight away!”

Sonneveld house

The Sonneveld house


The Sonneveld house – by Brinkman and Van der Vlugt, Rotterdam, 1933
The building has stylistic links with Le Corbusier, De Stijl and German modernism. It is also has an industrial link. Sonneveld was a director of the Van Nelle factory which was used to produce metal components for the building.

A compact, private detached town house for the family of a wealthy industrialist which includes living space for servants.

Perhaps not so well known here, but a real gem of European modernism.
The fabric of the building and the contents have recently been restored and appear as they did in 1933. Throughout the building there is evidence of great thought as to the suitability and provision of each convenience. Extraordinary care has also been taken during the sensitive and painstaking restoration

The Sonneveld house is essentially a rectangular box shape with additions. It is over three floors and it also has a small basement and roof terrace. It has a flat off-white exterior surface with silver coloured metal detailing, black exposed steelwork and extensive tiling to ground floor. Those facades facing the streets nearby are mainly blank and offer privacy while those facing the garden have generous windows. sonneveld-front-corner-2There are separate service and owner entries. There is a lovely exterior spiral staircase which leads down into the garden.
Metal detailing is prominent in the rear elevation. rear-view-of-sonneveldWindow and door modules are carefully fitted almost flush with their facades. Each window module has an external blind cassette incorporated for shade. Most noteworthy is how the parapet rail to the first floor terrace becomes the spiral stair handrail.

The simple exterior hides a fairly rich and complex interior subdivision. There are an entry, office, service areas and a garage on the ground floor. Living and bedroom spaces are on the floors above. These spaces are beautifully detailed.


corner of office and window to garden
corner of office and window to garden
office desk
office desk

More on-line images of the Sonneveld house can be seen here.

Here are a few more of our own photographs.
Colour is a an important feature of this house. Rooms are colour themed. This is the the yellow dining room. It has red accents.

the dining room viewed from the first floor terrace
the dining room viewed from the first floor terrace

There are individual architect-designed room colour schemes throughout. Most of the furnishings are also original.
So most unusually, one can see the entire original colour scheme, and one can see how extensively the architect used of colour as part of a modernist design scheme.

red dining room trolly
red dining room trolly

The glasswear included in the dining room display cabinet was also locally produced. Examples of similar wares by these manufacturers appear occasionally on the present day Netherlands second hand market for modest prices.

dining room glasswear
dining room glassware

Here is a servant’s bedroom

servant's bedroom
servant’s bedroom

Notice how the same bed, table and chair type is used by all the house inhabitants.

Work areas are red Here is a kitchen detail.

the dining area used by the servants
the dining area used by the servants
master bedroom furniture
master bedroom furniture

Gispen manufactured much of the furniture in the building including these beds in the background .  A similar version of this chair is still in production. Today the Delft factory still produces furniture and it is possible to buy examples of the some models shown in the Sonneveld house.

The garden is as was established in the early 30’s. It is simple with quite a lot of lawn and bushes used for perimeter screening to the rear, and as a lower boundary definition to the front.

rear garden view
rear garden view
office window to rear garden
office window to rear garden


Because the construction methods and materials date to the 1930’s, a great deal of renovation has been done. In the book produced by the Netherlands Architecture Institute a telling detail is the nationality of enormous number of firms involved in restoring and refurbishing Sonneveld house, These include Project management, Supervision, Providing public information, Advising on Restoring, Advising on Refurbishing, Restoration work Main Contractors, Restoration work Sub Contractors and Suppliers, Refurbishment work and Suppliers and finally Lenders and Donors. All of these, with one exception, are Netherlands firms or organisations with Netherlands addresses.

To the thoughtful person, this building is an example of many things. Foremost, is an example of true modernism at work, linking ownership, manufacturing, design and utility.

This building also reveals the Netherlands in microcosm.
The entire project from its origin in the 1930s through to its renovation is an example of Dutch confidence and competence. In it’s own way this building shows how the people of the Netherlands think about themselves and their place in the world. It’s clear that they are quite capable doing these things themselves, that they have the resources, skills and training to manage and complete such a project with little, if any assistance from other nationals.

It also shows how successful people in European cities may be able think differently to their British or Scottish counterparts.

This may seem like the country house in the town, but couldn’t be more different from the British Imperial Model of a country house. There are no Classical porticos, no fake grandeur. It’s beautiful, practical, modern and usable. It was the first house in Rotterdam with a fully equipped, built in garage. So this is no-fuss high quality private domestic architecture in the city, right there on the street, with easy public access. The building’s position included the owner in society rather than excluding him from it and hiding him away in a private estate in the countryside. A statement of belief in the city, the individual, aspiration, success; an example of the successful citizen in society- engaged in and part of the modern world. Of course this quality of private architecture in the heart of a great city enhances the standing and the status of both.

It is also an example to we Scots as to how how we could do better. How we could contribute to revival of run down Scottish towns centres and the attractiveness of Scotland’s cities. Where are the projects in the pipeline or recently constructed which do just that?
Then there’s the house’s furniture and manufactures.
Are our education systems, designers and architects and the Scottish business world able to produce to this quality without reaching beyond Scotland’s borders to do so?
When can we expect reasonably priced home-designed and mass-produced examples made in Scotland, which we can accept and be proud of, made by present day Scots and which will astonish and delight the world? Where and how will these people receive the craft and organisational training to enable them? And if you said to me that in various forms, these things exist in Scotland, how do we pull them together to make it all happen?
After all, if you like the look of a Gispen side-chair in the Sonneveld house, you can nip along to the nearby factory and buy one for yourself to take home today.

This building can cause me to think about many things. What can our response be to a proposition like this? Should we just move in because its so agreeable?

Can a different response be made? One which looks towards a better Scottish future?


D What does it mean to be Scottish and European?

An introduction to this occasional blog

For me as a schoolboy studying higher Art in the 60’s, Europe was about the architecture of classical Greece and Rome.

For me as an Art teacher in a Scottish Secondary School it meant Art Nouveau in Scotland Vienna, Belgium, the Netherlands and France.
It also meant two trips with school kids to Venice to see some of the best of European art and architecture from the late Gothic and the Renaissance.

But Modernism and the International style were the things which I found more relevant to the way we live, to making Art and to Designing. Of course as a teacher, there was always also the influence of the Bauhaus, with the magnetic pull of it’s teaching methods and its achievements.
As I studied Modernism and read more deeply about it, I realised it was much more than just a “cool” look. It was in fact underpinned by great ideas, a way thinking and a philosophy, and that these ideas were European ideas, not British. For Modernism and its ideas found little comfort in the Britain of the Empire.
Instead, these ideas about architecture and design popped up in France, the Netherlands, Germany and Czechoslovakia the 1920’s and 30’s before the Nazis came to power. These same ideas then found their way to America and flourished there.

Now today in Europe and America some exceptional buildings in this style survive. Some have been painstakingly restored and can now be visited.
And these visits are a revelation, for they showcase the best that can be done – we can see genius at work.
Nor is it just about the buildings themselves, but about wider the communities in which they are located. It’s also about the complex social organisation and daily life of European towns and cities today.
This then, is quite a different European experience to two weeks on a beach in the sun. But there’s something else. For knowledge of these buildings also poses questions for us, such as “How do we in Scotland ensure our cultural connections with such beautiful and desirable European ideas?” “How can we show people what’s out there?” “How can we share our appreciation of this fantastic stuff?”. And, of course how can we continue to do this in the midst of British political indifference, even hostility?
And also, why should we put this connection at risk? This thought coupled with the feeling that having the right European connection may also depend on moving towards Scottish Independence.
So I do declare my preferences. Brexit is not for me!

The posts and videos on this site, record something of my reaction to what I found In Europe, whether about Art, Music, Performance, Film or Design. Occasional blogs are added from time to time.
As for travelling there and having a look for yourself?
I would recommend it to anyone!


D The Bauhaus, can we stick a kilt on it?

      The Bauhaus – Walter Gropius, 1926

         Dessau-Rosslau, south of Berlin

the bauhaus entrance
the bauhaus entrance

Gropius was also the founder of the Bauhaus at Weimar in1920, when it took over the Van der Velde building.

Mies van der Rohe was its last director from 1930 to 1933.

The name

The Bauhaus school was established in Weimar in 1920.The name signifies “Construction house” or “Building House”, but its about much more than that. Its meaning is more like “The House and Everything in it”. It occupied a building designed by Henry van der Velde where, from 1907 until the outbreak of the first World War, Van der Velde sought to reform design and handicraft and architecture teaching. When the school transferred to Dessau, Walter Gropius designed a purpose built school in1926. There is a good video here. It was variously a Design, Architecture and Craft School with an evolving curriculum partly caused by political pressure. There was a focus on Design for Industry. The location of the Bauhaus in Dessau was because Dessau saw itself as an aspiring industrial city, thought to have good prospects for new designers. Dessau was also located in an area of similar towns forming the central German Industrial Zone, also an area of new industries, south of Berlin.

The Building itself has stylistic connections with Gropius’s other work (See The Fagus shoe factory, the Haus am Horn, Gropius house) and the International Modernist movement in architecture.

Both Mies and Walter Gropius were members of the Deutscher Werkbund, a movement in Art and Design in Germany which had seen explosive growth prior to WW1. It had also evolved from its late 19th Cent origins as a craft guild with a strong Gothic influence-similar to the Arts and Crafts movement in the UK, with its emphasis on individual hand crafted production. By the early 1920s, all be it with strong disagreement from some members, it had become a strong advocate of designing for industry- Industrial Design as we know it today. This change in approach also took place in the Bauhaus at about the same time. Almost co-incident to the building of the Bauhaus, the 1927 Werkbund exhibition at the Weissenhof Siedlung in Stuttgart explored an important theme – “Die Wohnung (How Should We Live? The Dwelling)” It looked at how people lived, what sort of housing was most suitable for them, how these ideas were evolving. It was one of a number of Werkbund exhibitions during the 1920s and is an example of how active, powerful and well organised the Werkbund was at the time of the building of the Bauhaus. Because of this, and its good professional reputation, the Bauhaus it was able to draw on the services of some the best and most influential designers, architects and artists when it came to appointing teaching staff.

The building

The complex layout of the Bauhaus sits on fairly flat ground in a generous grassy area. It has a flat roof and is of steel, glass and concrete construction.

For the most part the building is set out in distinct blocks with three floors over a more rustic ground floor/basement. One wing has five floors over a ground basement floor. These blocks are linked by access corridors. (see a diagram of the building layout here)window-to-front-door

upper landing view
upper landing views

As the examples shown above illustrate, there are unexpected vistas in the corridors and stairwells as you move through the building. These inside/ outside views give you a powerful sense of integration, of being part of the building as you go through it.

foyer and staircase
foyer and staircase

The interior surfaces are white, grey and occasionally black. The studio spaces can be spartan and much less glamorous than the facades. There are occasional red accents both inside and out. The crisply detailed reception area has a buff floor.

studio space
studio space

You can catch an occasional glimpse of a studio space as you go round.

theatre doorway
theatre doorway

There’s that famous theatre to see and the building has a very good cafeteria- its well worth a visit!

The Bauhaus shows what a superb architect Gropius could be. Visiting the building is a wow! To move through the building is to be delighted by each aspect you see. Its so good, so well done. For the building is a tour de force, it has a great presence, and a strong sense of mass and order.

exterior view

Its a big statement visually  and the overall effect is of carefully integrated materials forming harmonious facades to all elevations.

glass facade
glass facade

An obvious difference with more recent buildings is the size and number of panes of glass which make up an individual glazing area and the noticeable black glazing bars which give a rich articulation to the large glass facades. Drama comes from contrasting these facades with white concrete.

the teaching

The influence of the Bauhaus on design education has been very important. A unified art, craft, and technology syllabus was taught at the Bauhaus. There were artists, designers and architects teaching there. They understood that “It’s all one big sea we swim in” when it comes to Art and Design. Each discipline needs the other. For all students, both then and today, coming to terms with that is part of Art or Design’s great beauty and its difficulty when learning.

course diagram
course diagram

The Bauhaus course structure which evolved during the 14 year life of the Bauhaus showed how theory and practise could come together. Social concerns arising from the thinking of the Deutscher Werkbund were also recognised and included as a part of Bauhaus teaching.

The Bauhaus as a Design School only operated until 1932.

The Nazi Party was rising in power in Germany and when they took control of Dessau city council, they forced the then Director, Mies Van Der Rohe, to close the school. He then moved to a factory in Berlin, but was unable to continue there. The Bauhaus closed for good in Germany in1933, and Mies dispersed the students and teaching staff.

This act helped to spread the ideas and influence of the Bauhaus throughout Europe and the wider world. A few came to the UK, built a little, and stayed until the outbreak of war. They then moved to America and post-war, in the USA, the New Bauhaus or Second Chicago school was founded.

In Tel Aviv, there is the “The White city of Tel Aviv”, a very large collection of modernist buildings built by German Jewish architects who emigrated to Palestine after the rise of the Nazis.

Even as far away as Australia, a school was established for a time teaching Bauhaus methods.

The building itself survived the Second World War, but fell into a dilapidated condition. The Communist GDR then operated it as a reorganised Design and Architecture School but not linked to Gropius’s thinking and two restorations took place. Since 1974 the Bauhaus has been the home of “Bauhaus Dessau Foundation”, and teaching continues. Post-graduate programmes have been run there since 1979, and you can visit the building. Associated with the building are a number of “Masters Houses” in a small building development nearby. They have been restored or partly reconstructed and it is also possible to visit them.

Its success in giving its students an understanding of how to to design for production using modern materials is well known. Some of the best known examples of work associated with the Bauhaus are in the field of modern design.

Marcel Breuer chair
Marcel Breuer chair
cesca chair-Marcel Breuer
cesca chair-Marcel Breuer

A much employed material was tubular steel. These chairs are examples of its furniture design. It is also well known for teaching typography, and for being a centre of excellence in Graphic Design.



3 examples of costume design
3 examples of costume design

The course was also surprisingly modern in other ways, as well as wide ranging, extending to discrete elements on such unusual and modern topics as Film and Photography, dance, theatre design- including, as in the above examples, costume design. It was this broad and thorough approach which equipped its students to succeed in modern life.

Conclusion and relevance

The admission of social concerns into design teaching, and their expression as either architecture or designed objects, raises a question for or us in Scotland. I’m talking about the aspect of social need in the production of objects for consumption. Too often production is described as good if it merely makes profits or creates jobs. That is not nearly enough. How we live, design and make is just as important today as it was 90 years ago. Today in Scotland we choose to aspire, to dream of a better tomorrow, where all the citizens of our country have their rights respected, and their needs met as far as it is possible to do so. The goals of our educational institutions similarly need to be addressed for they are the engine of desire which will power this transformation in social achievement. The model of the Bauhaus, often misunderstood, is that it successfully harnessed the energy and the opportunities of it’s times. We see the fruits of this labour, but not the nourishment which preceded it. Given the energy generated during the 2014 referendum campaign and the continuing expression by many of a better Scotland via independence, how can that desire for a better life be expressed through design and architecture?

For then as now, the question is “How shall we live?”