Tag: Scotland

Scotland and the EU

Brexit has rekindled the voice of the foreign adventurer, the buccaneer, among some in the UK and also (incredibly), Imperial dreams. But most Scots feel differently. We don’t, I suspect, feel the need to stride the world stage anymore. Cautiously and in small stages, we have been allowed to become aware of the consequences of past UK actions. The harm we have done to others. We understand that the military adventures in the Middle East which have followed the collapse of the British Empire have been disastrous and unsuccessful. We are aware of the pain we have caused, the societies we have ruined, the neglect we showed to our own kind, and the lies that were told to ourselves and others while this happened. We no longer trust the ruling establishment, the ambitions of the rich and powerful or those of the old left. These people and their actions disgust us.
The EU, on the other hand, has proved to be a force for good and has acted as a check to some of the wilder UK ambitions.
Given a chaotic post-Brexit landscape, we choose to move forward with the EU. It seems a stable and responsible organisation, where decisions are made by and for 27 separate states. No single state has too much power over the others, and there is a strong emphasis on working for the common good.
We need to give this feeling political expression. We realise that it is better to live in harmony with our neighbours and we want to co-operate with them.
We benefit from them already, and here’s how.

Scotland gets 5.6 Billion Euros in grants via CAP, EU Structural Funds and the Maritime and Fisheries Fund.

The European Investment Bank is also lending to Scotland. To borrow from it you have to be a member state.
“The European Investment Bank is the European Union’s nonprofit long-term lending institution. The EIB uses its financing operations to bring about European integration and social cohesion.

It is the world’s largest international public lending institution.”
(source-Wikipedia)
Here are some current EIB lending projects:-
Hospitals – Edinburgh Sick Children’s €112,072,090
Dumfries and Galloway Hospital €154,811,270
sub total €266,883,360

 

Roads-Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route €340,982,279
M8 Motorway €212,830,016
sub total €553,812,295

 

Further Education – Edinburgh University “Capex” €256,953,812
City of Glasgow College € 95,285,774
Horizon Funds”-mainly to education €296,000,000
sub total €648,239,586

The Beatrice windfarm off the Caithness Coast has also attracted EIB lending.
It will give energy to more than 400,000 homes. That’s equivalent to one in every six Scottish homes.   An EIB document states that:-
“The €605,335,484 EIB loan will support more than GBP 2.7 billion of overall investment.” (source-EIB)

That makes a total in these examples of over seven billion Euros. These sums really matter. They represent Infrastructure spending on a scale which, in the past, the UK government has rarely bothered with.
After Brexit, would the UK maintain this?

Now let’s look at the rest of the built environment. Wherever you live, in Scotland’s towns, villages and cities, how many old or worn out buildings can you see? Many date from Victorian times or earlier. Why is that? Why haven’t they been replaced or renovated? What else was the money spent on? Over the past hundred years, shouldn’t UK governments have been concentrating on those things as well, or were we just too far away or to insignificant? Did we just not really matter?

Europe can also have a positive influence on our personal lives. Today we have a set of living expectations which UK politicians have struggled to satisfy, and make no mistake, we want these expectations met.

We want good quality jobs, to be safe at work, to work for an ethical employer.
We want a balance of work/life time which enhances our lives.

We want to be satisfied that our lives and time are well spent. We want to have a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives.

We want all our people to live free of deprivation. To have an income which gives a good living standard, to live in good quality housing.

We want to have good physical and mental health.
We want to live in conditions which promote a happy, full and long life for all. And while we live that life, we all want access to good quality health care.

We want to protect our environment. We want a sustainable future that we can build on and pass on to our children.

If you want Scotland to grow and prosper, you need a Scottish Nation engaged with Europe.

Again it is worth emphasising that the UK government has struggled to satisfy these demands and often seems uninterested. Yet these same demands represent no more than citizens of other European countries enjoy today.
Much recent EU legislation and regulation has been put in place to help to give us these things. We recognise and value that fact. EU law and treaty obligations have made improvements to our quality of life when the UK did not, did not wish it, or did not care about it. Now that this link with EU help is being cut by a UK decision, we are seeking a secure future within EU structures. Scotland can prosper in Europe.

D

Boomers

here we are, the over 65s, clogging up the buses and the NHS, popping our free pills and spending our winter fuel supplements on Spanish breaks …. ……reprobates.

Meanwhile, the millennial generation are facing a future of uncertainty, of limited opportunity and cannot afford to buy their own homes. After 50 plus years of slow improvement in living standards and working conditions, it now appears that much of it is being taken away by a succession of governments which are neglecting their first duty to their citizens. The things my parents and grandparents endured and then fought to improve, are being eroded and withheld.
My generation came from impoverished antecedents, scarred by two world wars.

rearing Clydesdales in New South Wales

My grandfather was brought back from his new life as an emigrant farmer in Australia to serve on the Somme during WW1. He survived and, more remarkably, a bout of the murderous influenza didn’t kill him either.

In the twenties and thirties, a lot of people were in poor, overcrowded housing, damp and unsanitary. Many were undernourished and often unable to buy medicines. My mother’s father, in the west of Scotland, always kept a dog, not as a pet, but to catch rabbits in the nearby fields. Rabbits were a staple part of their diet, well into the fifties.
Their generations had little protection. Often, women and babies died in childbirth. Almost every family had lost children to preventable diseases. It’s all recorded in census and death certificates.

My mother contracted rheumatic fever as a young girl, before the NHS came into being. She was sent to an isolation hospital, but then sent back home, with weeks to live. Somehow, her own mother cared for her, slowly encouraged her and she survived – with permanent damage to her heart.
My father survived POW camp in Italy and internment in Switzerland in WW2. When he came back, he weighed six stones. He was six foot four.

army service
courtship in the 1940s

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My parents married at the end of the war. They were told they could never have children, as it would be too dangerous for my mother. Nature had other ideas, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this. I was born in an NHS hospital, by Caesarian section.

brave new world after the war

My grandparents didn’t have access to this kind of care until the very end of their lives.

But I’m a baby boomer, born after WW2 at the end of the forties, when the National Health Service was introduced and ordinary people, for the first time, benefited from the care given them by the Welfare State, in return for their taxes.

wee boomer

After the war, people set about rebuilding their lives. They put all their energies into raising a new generation of healthy active children, with access to a good, if very limited, diet and the protection of health care, dentistry and vaccination, through taxation and National Insurance contributions. That was their contract with the state.

The sixties brought apprenticeships, college and university or the workplace.
Most young people moved out of their parental homes to access further education or work. The expectation was that after school you looked out for yourself. Many of us were the first in our family to go to university.

student days

There were, however, student grants in those days, provided by the state.
A very small amount of means tested, subsistence money to live on in term time. It was supplemented by working through all the holidays, to pay your share at home. But no credit cards, no holidays, cars or nice stuff, but no debt either. And we didn’t have to catch and eat rabbits. And there was no conscription to the armed forces by then, thank god.

By the end of the sixties, we were getting married and in the seventies, having families. Most of us were still renting accommodation that was better than our student digs, but still too draughty to heat. The money barely went round the necessities, we had no savings and the only holidays were back with our parents.

new generation

By the eighties, our kids were moving on and needing financial support as the student grants shrank. In my case, we were 40 before we could afford a mortgage.
Interest rates inflated almost immediately, making budgeting a science..
Over the next decades, we boomers paid our taxes and our bills and did the diy on our homes. Then we retired. And we helped our own ageing parents in their last years.
Already care for them was costing them their homes and lifetime savings.

So now, boomers have become pensioners. The majority of us are ordinary folk. Some of us have final salary pensions, paid into over our lifetimes, others have much less. Those superannuation schemes weren’t free. A large chunk of monthly wages built the funds over a lifetime and our families still need help from time to time, financial and otherwise.
We continue to pay our taxes, to carry out diy, plug the childcare gaps in the system and in many cases, volunteer our time to local groups. There’s a long standing sentiment of “giving something back to society”.
But the current UK government has other uses for taxpayers money, and it is attempting to remove the most basic of those hard won rights. The National Health Service is under intense pressure in England and Wales. The reason given daily in the newspapers and on television, is that there is a problem with an ageing population, living longer.

Everyone is ageing – all the time. The “problem” is not the ageing or the numbers of old people. The real problem is a government and a state that walks away from the contract made with its citizens.
All of us have paid our contributions and kept the terms of the contract throughout our lives – and we still are. Government has not.

UK Governments over the last 30 plus years have chosen to spend taxpayers money on foreign wars, a nuclear deterrent, and exorbitantly high value spending on infrastructure in the south east of England. They have also used taxpayers money to bail out the banks which almost ruined the country through greed, risky gambling and self serving practices. And they have borrowed billions to top up these adventures, while making sure the rich stay rich.
What they have not done, is invest their citizens money in apprenticeships, student grants, workplace opportunities and affordable housing.

They have cheated the young of a better future for themselves and their children.
But they blame an ageing population, most of whom do not have personal debt.
Most of whom had what little they had saved, halved or lost in the banking crash.
Most of whom still pay tax, and most of whom are living longer because they got a good start in life and were cared for by the NHS they and their parents paid for.

Do we really want to turn the clock back to the thirties? We will still be paying tax to the state, but we will also be paying huge sums on medical insurance – if we can afford them. For many, many people, that is a non starter. The inevitable result is poorer health and yes, shorter lives.

Look around you.
We are the midwives who brought you into the world; the nurses, doctors and dentists who cared for you, the teachers and lecturers who taught you; the farmers and fishermen who fed you; the civil servants who looked after the smooth running of all the state functions; the scientists and engineers who designed and created the technology you use every day; the ones who drove the buses, trains and lorries; the cooks, the cleaners, the artists, musicians and writers, people just like you.

The men and women with their free bus passes haven’t stolen your future. The neo-liberal crony governments are the problem. If you are old, or disabled, or the wrong colour, or the wrong religion, or not from here, or unable to find work, then you are not wanted.
And now, my own family is back to square one. My grandchildren live 6000 miles away, economic migrants; just like their great great great grandfather, they had to leave Scotland and start again in Australia.

Bad government damages people’s lives. It’s a warning that should be on every ballot paper.
Choose those who value society, in all its dimensions. Age comes to everyone.

Language in our DNA

Long before the EU came about, when I was a wee girl, my father taught me to count in German and Italian – ein, zwei, drei; uno, due, tre………

I loved it, the sound of the words and the feel of them in my mouth.

Despite spending time in a POW camp in northern Italy and then in an internment camp in Switzerland, working on small farms in both countries, he still thought it worthwhile to teach me the basics of German and Italian.
He brought home a tiny German bible, printed in a dense black Gothic typeface; a battery powered bakelite torch with a noisy spring ratchet action that you had to squeeze repeatedly to get a glimmer of light; a pair of wire rimmed glasses with German lenses. Fascinating foreign things.
He also brought back a smattering of both languages and a love of Italian lyric opera. Alongside these “foreign” languages, I was learning Burns’ songs and poems and reciting them on demand for visitors. Burns was challenging too, with lots of words I liked getting my tongue round, but had no reference for. Chapman billies and bowsing at the nappy, or a “skellum, A bletherin, blusterin, drunken blellum”. Even if the words were unfamiliar, you could hear the disgust.

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And nonsense songs like….. There was a Wee Cooper wha lived in Fife, nickety nackety noo noo noo…

As I grew older, the pull of languages grew stronger.
I was schooled in Latin and French, under the old Scottish academy system. Latin was great for unlocking the English language and the Romance ones, while learning German revealed much in common with Scots. Later on, I learned to speak Italian, its rolling r’s and rounded vowels entirely at home in my Scottish mouth.
I was able to get close to the meaning in the writings of Virgil, Dante, Moliere and Thomas Mann and even though I never became really fluent, I could feel the power of the words in a way that is mostly diluted, when translated into English.

Teenage school exchanges brought Flemish kids from Aalst, with their impressive self confidence and alien sounding conversation. I had pen pals too, Jamil, from Morocco and Dieter, from north west Germany.

Jamil looked like a young Camus and sent me photos of a warm gaggle of little brothers and sisters with his mum. It looked hot and dusty but friendly.
Dieter was pale, blond and distant and sent photos of the massive statue of his national hero, Hermann, set in green forest.
His letters were written on graph paper, and the landscape in his photos wasn’t unlike Scotland, but the scale of the monument had no counterpart here. I didn’t really understand why a boy my age would send me that; I was into pop music and boys, not William Wallace – not then!
But in retrospect, good for him and good for the education system that taught him about his country’s history and its heroes. It’s more than I was getting in Scotland.
And the same thing happened with all the Europeans I met. They were proud of their countries, proud of their towns, unashamed about their language and culture. It was normal to be an independent country and represent it. I had very little sense of my country’s identity, its history and its past, despite my knowledge of Burns.

School brought foreign language assistants in from Berlin and Rabat, in French Morocco.
Fraulein Inge loved walking in the mountains at home, so four of us took her up Ben Lomond. She sucked on slices of lemon as she climbed, while we gasped and slugged bottles of ginger. She was stereotypically Germanic too, tall, slim, blond and scarily polite in all her dealings with us, but extremely kind. She left us each a little Berlin Bear charm when she went home.

Mam’selle proudly showed us slides of her home town with its wide, scorched streets. She had dyed red hair and a foul temper but she loved the Rolling Stones and threw a farewell party for us kids in her digs and played them very loud. She was raucous and intolerant in class but otherwise treated us like adults. I first heard Edith Piaf in my French class at school.

A further two young French language assistants lodged with a friend of mine, in her parents “chalet”, on the shores of Loch Lomond. The chalet was a large wooden shed at the back of the garden, with plenty of room and even a verandah. It must have sounded idyllic when you were stifling in Paris in August, but it suffered from Scottish damp, rain, muddy paths and midges. Both girls had high octane Gallic personalities, smoked and used lots of make up, creams and lotions.
They pushed their hair up into the Bardot look.
They were always falling out with each other, rivalries were high, and frequent bouts of French screeching came from the chalet. When the Luss Games came round, it got worse, as they vied for the attentions of the strong men, the caber throwing giants. Watching them flirt with the kilties when you were 14 was an education in itself.
Organised visits to the French and German Institutes in Park Circus were rare opportunities to mix with foreign students in an easy way, watching their films and eating their biscuits.
All these encounters with Europeans taught me something valuable: that despite fascinating superficial differences, we were essentially very similar and we found a lot to like in each other.

But I have now finally got round to learning Gaelic and it seems strange to have spent a lot of my life learning other peoples’ mother tongues, having never listened properly to my own.
Gaelic has had a bad press, of course, it’s been suppressed and reduced to a fringe activity, but is now enjoying a renaissance across Scotland.
Having been out of favour for so long, it does not have its own vocabulary for the currency of the 20th C, politics, banking, technology, lifestyle etc.

What it does have in spades, is a deep and elemental bond with the ancient landscapes and weather of Scotland and with the peoples who live here.
Its placenames are both poetic and unashamedly descriptive.
It is able to carry stories, ideas and feelings that allow us to connect with our own culture again. And its music travelled the world with the emigrant Gaels.

Language is our birthright, it tells us who we are. While few Scots can speak Gaelic, most of us have a good grasp of Scots and English. We are, in varying degrees, bilingual and many of our Scots words are only a heartbeat away from their Gaelic roots. They are also quite likely to be the words we turn to in moments of strong emotion. English has a civility that disnae dae it, when yer greetin or beelin – or feelin’ smashin.

Britain is an insular place in language matters. The domination of the English language in international trade and financial systems has made us lazy. We don’t make much effort to learn the languages of other countries. But a lot of them do spend time and effort on learning to speak English, to a degree that is significantly higher than classroom level.
When Brits travel abroad, they mostly make little effort to acquire some language for the country of choice. There is an expectation that they will get by without trying.
And, mostly they will. Others are required to make the effort to communicate. In the hospitality industry, it would be rare to find accommodation abroad where there are no English speaking staff on hand.
In the UK, only the largest chain hotels trouble to hire staff with language skills.
In schools, language teaching is on the decline too. But without these skills, so much is lost. The chance to communicate and relate to other cultures is absent. The average Brit moves around the non English speaking parts of the world in a bubble of Britishness, deaf to other ways of speaking, living or thinking. That creates feelings of otherness.
Speaking another language is challenging, whenever you start. I don’t deny that, but its what we humans are good at. Our brains are hard wired for language.

And nursery rhymes, songs and ditties are a great way for little kids to get into language. Many of our fairy tales come from Hans Christian Anderson or the Brothers Grimm, with their dark tales of forests, witches, magic, and stories of good versus evil.

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We shouldn’t worry about not teaching them English well. Kids are like sponges for new things and they love to parrot sounds. The more wordplay and fun with language that children experience, the more their language skills develop. There are lots of online resources for them to learn from. It doesn’t demean English, it enhances it. By exploring other ideas, we begin to recognise ourselves.

Most folk are familiar with songs like Frere Jacques when they hear them. Football and rugby crowds regularly hear the French Marseillaise and other national anthems. Or a psalm like Silent Night (Stille Nacht). To hear those different words sung to a familiar tune can reveal something of the soul of the people, and their unique sensitivities.
If we understand even a little bit of our own and our European neighbours languages, then we understand a little bit about them too and suddenly we have things in common – shared experiences or beliefs, and isolation has no place any more.

Teach your children to enjoy their own and other languages and they will learn to value other cultures too. Words are currency in a global world. It worked for me!

M

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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.

sail-away

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.

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.
staircase-to-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

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

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.

bauhaus-duo
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.

bauhaus-costume-1

bauhaus-costume-2

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?”

D