Initiated by a group of architects, designers, photographers, engineers, visual artists, curators and musicians the Architecture Fringe is an independent, contributor-led series of events and projects across the arts, which explores architecture and how it makes a difference to our lives.
Andy Summers, a co-producer of the Architecture Fringe, which kicked off on 1st July 2017, spoke to The Fountain about its short but ambitious life span, the themes of this year’s programme and explores the wider questions.
TF: Can you explain what the Architecture Fringe is for those that don’t know?
The Architecture Fringe started in 2016, inspired by the then Scottish Government’s Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design. There was a mina Festival of Architecture run by the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland. As independent practitioners we decided to set up an independent fringe, which is contributor-led. We didn’t ask, we just did it. It was a great success in 2016. So what the fringe basically does is that it offers an open platform to creative work across the arts, which reflects the built environment. It’s kinds of similar to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in that there is no definitive application process in regards to their being a gatekeeping committee. Our platform, however, is free to take part in. People just generally do what they like. In 2017 we have a core programme, which is inspired by looking at the infrastructure, by looking at the public life, practice and perception of architecture in Scotland, and our main publication is called Infrastructure. Within these three threads we have a series of nine research projects, exhibitions and debates. The open programme runs as it did before, with people can respond to the this year’s theme or they can basically just develop their own work, so it’s a sort of symbiotic relationship with the core and open programme which is fundamentally key to how the Architecture Fringe works.
TF: What is your background Andy? What made you become involved in the Architecture Fringe?
I am an architect. I’ve been wanting to be one since I was about twelve. I have worked and studied in different parts of the world. I studied in Edinburgh at Edinburgh College of Art, then went on Erasmus to the Royal Danish Academy in Copenhagen. I finished at the Bartlett School of Architecture in London. I lived in London for around ten years, and worked in Zaha Hadid’s office for five of them, mostly on site with the Riverside Museum in Glasgow.
I came back to Scotland for the Independence Referendum actually, to participate in that. I was involved in the creative campaign called National Collective. My main remit there was really about engagement with the arts in wider civil society and politics, with a lot of event organising and logistics. So I got a lot of experience in event production with the national arts tour we did called Yestival. This was a thirty-two day twenty-eight date tour of Scotland, from the Melrose to Shetland and most points in-between, including the Western Isles in July 2014. It was really focusing on the wider social conversations going on in regards to culture and the constitutional question at hand. We viewed architecture as really a fundamental aspect of our civil society. This inspired the Architecture Fringe.
TF: What is at the core of your programme this year? Is it themed?
Yes, so in 2016 we didn’t have a core programme. For 2017 we have a provocation called Infrastructure which focusses on public life, perception and practice in Scotland. One of our projects is called New Typologies and looks at our shared civic infrastructure such as our town halls, schools, health and community centres and public squares, questioning how they will function in the next twenty-five years and what they will look like. It is very much looking at public front of house, what architecture is and how we all use it. Beyond that within the public life strand there is a research project called Infra-X where we’ve worked with Edinburgh City Council to examine and map the planning system, to understand how we are to partake in that apparently democratic system and to try and communicate what our current process is at present and how it could be in the future. In the practice strand and perception strand there is a number of events and a couple of debates, one of which springs from architect, Richard Murphy, about whether Scotland is the worst place in Europe to be a young designer. We’re exploring whether Scotland has the infrastructure to nurture and support design talent. We also have a project called Taxi where a taxi driver, an architect and a member of the public all go out together in the taxi to take the others to a building that they personally like to have a conversation about it. It’s basically to have a look and explore how wide the gulf is in language and thought on architecture between the public and the profession; what architects like and what the public like. We chose a taxi driver because they generally have opinions on everything, and are absorbed within the city on a daily basis. They also meet and speak to a lot of people. So that is a project that is being filmed and screened as part of the Architecture Fringe core programme. Generally these strands are public facing and are all about how architecture functions within our wider civil society.
TF: Who is the Fringe aimed at? Who tends to attend these events?
It’s very important to engage with the wider public. Our job is that we build buildings for other people, be it a client or an organisation but it is still someone beyond the architect. And obviously
architects are in an industry, we all work in it, which is a built manifestation of our society. Our audience is always beyond architects but within architecture there are fundamental infrastructural issues that we have to discuss, which affect everybody else. For example, our public buildings are designed and paid for and ultimately owned by society. We have moved away from our traditional form of ownership with regards to the publicly-funded, some are semi-privatised but there is a lot of privatisation so design quality obviously gets questioned when it comes to schools, particularly in Edinburgh recently. But also how much as a society are we paying for the design of these buildings. This is crucial not just for architects and architecture but also wider society. The core programme is directed towards the interface between the profession and the general public.
TF: What are your personal highlights on the programme this year?
That’s a tough question! Within the core programme, being a little biased I think all of it is very interesting, particularly New Typologies together with Taxi and Publishing House (a look at architectural publishing past, present and future). Within the open programme there’s so much. Open Close looks to reinvigorate the closes of the Old Town in Edinburgh with art and temporary installations to encourage more people to venture off the Royal Miles into these narrow spaces. Creative Riot sees emerging artists, musicians and performers take over the Leith Theatre for two nights of choreographed creative mayhem. At the Glasgow Womens Library Voices of Experience brings retired women architects, planners and urban designers together with younger women working today in a sort of intergenerational knowledge transfer. It’s amazing. Up by Inverness Lesley Riddoch will be discussing land reform together with an interesting morning at Eden Court exploring the domestic aesthetics of the Highlands and why our houses there look the way they do. Lastly, as part of the core programme again we’re super excited about our Closing Lecture for this year’s Architecture Fringe which brings Beatrice Galilee from MOMA in New York together with architect Sam Jacob and critic Cath Slessor to the National Museum in Edinburgh to discuss the infrastructural state of architecture in a global context. A fitting end to this year’s programme.
Architecture Fringe is funded by Creative Scotland.