One of the most amusing Doors Open Day tours I did was of the BBC Scotland building in Glasgow when there was a Dr. Who contingent in residence. Being within arms length of a cyberman is enough to terrify even the biggest of weans. The building was something we had seen from outside many times, but only seen inside “on the telly”. The tour allowed us to see the famous thinking sheds, the view from the roof and also the stepped steel and stone interior which is sometimes used for interviews. We also learnt that cybermen appear not to be able to look up!.
Today’s unconventional advent calendar celebrates our cultural venues, formal and informal, and their place in the life of the community.
I personally feel quite at home in arts venues but to some they can be alien spaces with an unwelcoming or elitist feel. Living in Glasgow, I am very lucky to have a huge range of free museums and galleries on my doorstep, so I do make an effort to see the wonderful range of free events which are on. I feel that free facilities and events are really important for people to be able to have the chance to see new cultural events and explore their area without the added barrier of cost. That can be one reason why I don’t tend to visit the theatre or cinema much, I have to really want to see something to justify spending money on seeing something which is not free! It is also why I love events like Doors Open Day, every September buildings are open for tours and events at no cost throughout Scotland (and Europe!).
Independent cafes and other small community halls or spaces can be really important in what makes the cultural map of a place work, where activities and get togethers are easy to organise and local groups or artists can sell or showcase their newest creations. It’s not free to have coffee, of course, but I’ve seen some great free events at local cafes.
Do you have a favourite free venue?
Today I went to three museums… the Architecture Centre (well, I would, wouldn’t I.. the planner and conservation-ist in me can’t help it!), Arnolfini and M-Shed. I also wandered along the river and took lots of photographs.
At The Architecture Centre they have an ever changing programme of events and exhibitions, sited in a harbourside building. The current exhibition focuses on what the future of the city could look like, and invites lots and lots of post it note contributions to add ideas to the city map. There are showcases of successful environmental schemes and projects, I was amused and intrigued to see “The Bristol pound”, first of all it looks really aesthetically pleasing, but secondly it is run on the basis of community good and helps support local businesses. Great idea! A small display on “Bristol Opening Doors” was really interesting as it invited people to contribute stories and “favourite buildings”, and also showcased a new app which is a walking trail (available on www.bristolopeningdoors.org ). I enjoyed the illustrations and design of this, and of course the wonderful buildings! I am starting to recognise more and more of the streetscape and landmarks here, and this will help discover more. Chatting briefly to the friendly staff there I also was given a flyer for a website called “Know Your Place: Learning and Sharing Information about Historic Bristol”, run by English Heritage and Bristol City Council. I am looking forward to exploring this properly, as yesterday (on my visit to the City Art Gallery and Museum) I was fascinated with the historic maps… this site lets you overlay and integrate different maps from various eras. Oooh! Just what I am after, as I can spot the places where my ancestors lived. Ideal for “Are You Here” research!
This was my first visit to Arnolfini, I have walked past it many times but always en route to somewhere else or whizzing past on my bike. I enjoyed the Susanne Kriemann’s Modelling (Construction School) exhibition, it brings a little of an “art- planning- environment” discussion into a contemporary art environment. The photographs of quarries were quite spectacular, many of the works are designed to provoke discussion on archives, and also problem solving in design education.
M-Shed could keep me amused for hours, it is full of all sorts of historical bits and pieces, I really did get lost in history. Interestingly for me, there was a whole section on Bristol people and families, saying “it’s important to know where you’ve come from so that you know where you’re going”… the question was posed “why did you leave?”.
In the case of my family I suspect it was for work as it would have to be a fairly major reason such as this to move to the opposite end of the country. There are themed galleries at M-Shed, Bristol people, Bristol life, Bristol places (and a special exhibition, currently on chocolate!), all of them have real objects to explore, some thought provoking interactive displays (I loved the one on “what makes a Bristolian”.. very funny mixtures of answers come out of that!), video and multimedia and also lots of transport to explore. No “please keep off” signs here. I am even starting to recognise the different Bristol districts, having passed through them by bike or bus at various points of my several visits over the years, it is nice to recognise things in a “technically not home” city! M-shed cafe is worth a visit, local produce, family friendly, vegan friendly and lovely views.
Oh, and did I mention the view from the roof terrace….
Even though I have been to Edinburgh many times I still feel like I don’t know the city that well so I enjoy the opportunity to explore a familiar city whilst it still feels unfamiliar. It is funny reading the brochure and going “Gogar… is that near such and such” or “new town, yes, I know where that is, but where is Great King Street?”. My A to Z was an invaluable accompaniment for the day, and our happy band of four started the adventure with a paper Doors Open booklet picked up at the tourist office off Princes Street. It was ideal photography weather, a crisp blue East Coast morning setting us up for a days wanderings.
First stop.. bus stop as we had purchased an additional item on top of the train tickets (on family recommendation, thanks for that tip!). Getting a “plus bus” ticket meant we had all day travel on all the buses as well as our train journey and it was a very reasonable additional price which actually represents a saving on the normal buy on the bus price. You can also use it on more than one company so it’s ideal for resting tired feet on an all day exploration. The novelty of holding out a train ticket to get on the bus is quite amusing too.
From North Bridge we headed towards Newington, to the splendid Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) which is located in Bernard Street, off South Clerk Street. I have used some of the online RCAHMS sites before, but never been to their actual offices, so I was excited to see what lay inside. As we walked through the doors we were greeted by a very friendly team, as well as a huge 1940’s aerial photograph of Glasgow (Park area). We were offered us the chance to book on some talks and explore the search rooms, the first talk was on recording work so we donned our green booking stickers and headed upstairs. The theme of the Doors Open Day was industrial Scotland so there were various displays reflecting this. One of the first images I saw was a rather terrifying depiction of the Forth Road bridge under construction (use your imagination to consider how someone might access their working area for the day, even if you had a head for heights getting to the highest platforms of the largest suspension bridge in Europe would have been quite some feat in the early 1960’s). There were also videos showing the Clyde cranes, 3D images, and aerial photographs laid side by side so you could see the changes over the years… and books, lots of lovely books. At this point we all quickly realised that we could quite happily stay in here all day (which, absorbing as it may well have been, would not quite have sat with our aim of “doors open-ing” all day long!).
The inside story on a days photographing traditional structures expertly unfolded before our eyes as we saw stunning A2 prints of various examples of RCAHMS work from all round the country at the behind the scenes talk on recording buildings. I was particularly keen on two images, showing what you can do if you have the knowledge (and proper kit). Stone crosses and Pictish engravings can be seen all over Scotland but anyone who has ever tried to take their photograph knows that getting the right angle to see engravings and markings can be quite tricky. Image one was a snapshot showing the size of the cross and the colour of the stone, a nice enough image but nothing particularly notable about it. Image two was the same structure, this time with the judicious application of a number of flash bulb kits. What a difference. Every little detail and carving was shown and the level of work which had gone into creating that piece (along with the effects of gradual erosion over time) was beautifully showcased. C’est magnifique!
The detailed process of recording structures such as breweries and watermills was also showcased. The on site measurements allowed a beautiful and accurate hand drawn image of plan, sections and elevations to be formed, with the surveyors piecing together a unique record of a structure. Laying this together with additional data taken from laser scanning, and perhaps combining this with photographs and previous archival sources (especially with the help of knowledgeable locals, adding in some vital insight and oral history) gives a precious record for future generations, preserved in archives and accessible in person or on line (I am sounding like an advert now, do go, its absorbing!).
Our next venue was The Queens Hall, located just across the road. This is a former 19th Century church designed by Robert Brown, now incorporating the main concert venue, bar and artist facilities. It was quite amusing to be greeted by the ten commandments written on a huge panel displayed in the hallway as we went upstairs, not perhaps what one expects whilst going to view a performance (which may well not quite sit with those instructions) but a beautiful nod to the buildings history. This history is also reflected in the fittings and fixtures of the hall, the pew style seating in elegant colouring offering a pleasant space to sit and enjoy the unfolding festivities. Later we got to experience the stage from the artists point of view, as the lights shone down we saw more people sitting at the balcony and the Steinway piano rose from the floor. We admired its shine through the lift door, and wondered just how many famous people had tinkered with its ivories (my piano playing skills are somewhat lacking but I can imagine that the acoustics of the auditorium make for a beautiful atmospheric experience, both from a performer and concert goers point of view).
Heading back into town we decided to go to explore the New Town. Princes Street greeted us with a gold postbox- I had forgotten that I wanted to see one, until I got stupidly excited to see it! I think this is a great touch by Royal Mail, I hope Sir Chris Hoy enjoys this, I wonder if he has seen it yet?
Feeling like a behind the scenes peek at one of those famous gorgeous townhouses, we headed for “Institut Francais d’Ecosse”, located in Randolph Crescent in the West End. The helpful leaflet provided told me this Georgian beauty was acquired by the French Government in 1945, and had previously been a maternity hospital. The cornice work has been restored, and there is a good view up the stairs to the atrium skylight which brought light flooding down the ironwork lined stairs inviting us to explore further. An unexpected treat was the chance to flick through the pages of an 18th century book. We donned the archival gloves and saw stunning engravings, these 1739 maps (known as the Turgot map ) showed a beautiful perspective on the city, with elegant lines depicting large boulevards, tree lined avenues and private courtyards in precise detail. One day, I will go to Paris!
In the bookcases to the side of the table there were Jules Verne first editions. Beautiful covers, I can’t quite believe we got to see these too as I remember learning about Jules Verne when I was taking French at school. Heading downstairs we found a très jolie little café, offering a Doors Open Day special meal (we had already eaten, but made a mental note to come back again sometime soon, for the atmosphere was wonderful and the garden views back to Dean village were stunning).
On the way back out we paused to explore the library. I headed for the childrens books (about my level of French!) and found a rather amusing tale of an ant who wanted to be different, and some great Leo Leonni treasures. I had discovered Leo Leonni when doing a project about 1950’s illustration, I liked his bold lines and collages but fell in love with his 1960’s mouse tales. The books in the Institut were “when/ quand” and “where/ou”, you may be wondering why I like his work, you can see more online here
The Danish Cultural Institute is located a few terraces along from our last venue, here we were greeted with another beautiful townhouse (again, more elegant ironwork, I was starting to experience a little “close envy” at this point as my stairways are far less elegant than this!). The short journey upstairs allowed us to view the current exhibition by Kurt Hoppe entitled “Hidden Spaces, Forgotten Places”, a photographic stroll round some Danish treasures. This was highly in keeping with the Doors Open theme (and I get the feeling from absorbing the atmosphere in his photographs that he might have enjoyed our tour around Edinburgh’s treasures today). There were striking images with a hint of wabi sabi showing abandoned buildings with peeling paint, sitting adjacent to thoughtful studies of library facilities (where the composition drew you further into the centre of the image, ready to explore the spines of dusty books and wonder what was between those focused pages). An arrangement of theatre images on one wall were well laid out to see the similarities in “roomscapes”, concert spaces taken from the performers point of view offering a visual artists eye on a performance artists position.
The fireplace in the exhibition room was rather unusual, mythical beasts sat in the centre casting their eye over the walls.
A stroll down from Doune Terrace led us to Stockbridge, a beautiful part of the city where the water of Leith walk passes through and you can gaze down to the Antony Gormley “six times” works. Last time I saw this, shortly after the trail was revealed. I was sure it was upright, perhaps I am wrong, or the water energy has led the statue to take a peek at the river bed?
Noting the time, we perused the brochure to see if there were any late opening venues. To our delight there were two just off Leith Walk, the Steel House at Hart Street and the Edinburgh Print Makers at Union Street. These two venues were a nice unification of my artistic and architectural interests, so train ticket in hand we nipped on the bus over towards the East. The Edinburgh Printmakers is a fascinating facility offering space for artists to work together and share excellent artwork (over 350 artists currently use the space). The shop offered a hint at some of the diverse lithography and screenprinting products produced by those using the space, and upstairs the gallery space revealed video and printed works for us to observe. I laughed out loud at one work “Idealy (sic) the entrance would be here” as it was right next to a door anyway, just a bit further along. Construction printing humour.
Our next building was the award winning Steel House, a townhouse of an entirely different nature, it was fascinating to see around someones private home and see how Zone architects had fitted a new house into such a sensitive setting.
All in all, a great Doors Open Day, there was such a diverse programme of events organised by the Cockburn Association this year. I look forward to hearing what other people got up to as well!
For Glasgow Doors Open Days 2012 we had booked the Clyde Tunnel in advance, quite amazing to see inside a structure which we have been through many times, by bike, foot and vehicle. For some reason I had thought that the bike/ pedestrian tunnels were separate, but they are actually located underneath the vehicle deck. It is amazing to think that these were all hand dug, so relatively recently. The tunnel master (his job title of old) explained to us how the tunnel was monitored and the elaborate technology which ensures its safe operation. He also told us about an incident where a vehicle transporter tried to go through, even through they were too high, and ended up taking to roof off several new cars (apparently on the first day of their job!) and also an amusing tale of an unfortunate flooding incident in recent torrential weather where one man still asked to be let into the pedestrian tunnel as “it’s OK, I can swim”. Oh dear. We got to see the imposing ventilation structures and a peek inside the control room was fascinating, 18 cameras all taking various views but also an unusual view down on the cars. It sounds like an odd thing to see, but if it’s ever on again I would say (a bit like Irn Bru factory tours) “not to be missed”.
Whiteinch library is not on the Doors Open Day programme, but I always try to make an effort to support my local (or not so local) libraries. It is one of those buildings which has retained its old in and out timber doors and is quite a pleasant building to spend time in, particularly as there is a huge display of local books, old maps and photographs on the walls from the area in days gone by. There were maps saying “site of Clyde Expressway” so it was interesting to see what was visible then and now, and how the area has changed. I loved their sign in the entrance.
Victoria Park fun day was not actually part of Doors Open day either, but it is right next to the Partick Curling Club, which is in the brochure! The curling club is a fascinating little building, which actually sits in what is now a Council storage yard. Don’t let that put you off visiting though, it is a fascinating find (made all the more fascinating by virtue of the Victorian fun day, our route to the park was interspersed with a pipe band concert, views of penny farthing bikes and carriage rides through the flowerbeds. Idyllic). Volunteers from this day were on hand to give a guided tour of the clubhouse (complete with coal fire), explain the club history and let us try out the stones. Have you ever tried to pick up a curling stone? Its very, very heavy. This Victorian lady makes it look easy though.
A run on the 44 bus from Victoria Park took us to Woodlands Road, where the Arlington Baths Club is tucked away off the main street. I had always wanted to see this (the oldest baths in Europe) but I had not got round to it at previous Doors Open Days (my gran used to have a small plate which said “now you have a round tuit”, come to think of it, no excuse then). The Baths is famous for its Turkish suite, with an amazing star filled ceiling (I wished it was possible to be a guest for the day, for relaxing there would have been just the ticket, the heat in daytime clothes is a little crazy but we managed to resist the urge to lie down and stay there; I’m guessing this would be a little against the club etiquette).
Just nearby to the Arlington is the Methodist Church, a building we had been past many times but never ventured into. This is the weirdest layout of church I have ever been to, for when you go through the main door, the main area of worship is actually upstairs! The Methodist Church were not the first religious owners of this building, it infact was built by the Swedenborgians in 1909. The stained glass is beautiful and varied, we managed to answer the children’s passport question with a little assistance from the minister (I won’t tell you incase it ruins the competition) who pointed out that it was not the most obvious answer, but could be seen if you looked hard enough (any excuse to have another nosy at stained glass, as you may have been able to tell by now I have a particular fascination with it). Here is an extract from the memorial window.
Our Saturday was finished off by a visit to Chillies West End (a daal makhani cooked to perfection, with aloo paratha which could have been straight from Darjeeling), this is a great restaurant to visit with friends as it is a thali/ tapas concept so you can choose smaller portions of several things which you like the sound of and tempt yourself whilst looking across at the Park spires.
On Sunday we had booked on the Discover Festival Walking Tours of Bridgeton with Olympia Preview. This was a thoroughly pleasant way to spend a few hours as we had an introduction to Bridgeton and its new public realm, a presentation on the history of the Olympia from Clyde Gateway and then a sneak peek behind the scenes before it opened. I had seen the Olympia gradually transforming over the course of the last year or so as I go past it fairly regularly, so it was great to see inside (hard had and high vis jacket in tow). There were stunning views from the rooftop balcony and windows (whoever uses these offices will enjoy that). Some of the second floor boxing facilities were rapidly taking shape, part of the floor was in situ. The curved staircase was also nearly finished, with an elegant spiral stair from top to bottom.
Back at the Clyde Gateway office we had a story telling session, I think we enjoyed this just as much as the kids (weaving tales). Great way to get people thinking about the heritage of the area, everyone should have a story teller.
The Barrowlands was our next stop, a place many people will have been, but probably not in an “admire the architecture” sort of way. It was so fascinating to have a good behind the scenes tour, seeing the glamorous (and not so glamorous) dressing rooms, backstage and even on stage… had fun standing on stage and pretending to have an adoring public! The guide told us about the star patterns in the ceiling, and also that they had also proved a popular souvenir for many acts since the days of it being a concert venue, and apparently one dropped on David Bowie’s head at one point. There were some great photos of acts of the past, and from when it was a ballroom, and one thing which remains from the “original” is the wheel from the barra (now illuminated and at the top of the stairs in the foyer).
The 75 North Glasgow Arts Network was an unusual concept, new to Doors Open Day this year. In approaching the stop at Cowcaddens subway I was wondering how a service bus was going to work as a means to do an arts tour but actually our enthusiastic guide made this easy. People on the bus sometimes joined in, mentioning other things to see and the driver was also interested in it, he asked for a map at the terminus!. We saw some works in progress (and also spied some “Monuments that Move Me” cycle rickshaws taking people up to Possil). We had been to the Whisky Bond on Wednesday to go to two excellent and engaging talks on the New Glasgow Society and Glasgow’s Postwar Listed Buildings; there are some excellent events planned (sad to have missed the one on collaborative work, but now I know what’s happening I will keep an eye on it, a creative factory and a half. I’m particularly fond of their flyer “make it here”. Also along the route there are guerrilla gardening spaces, murals and sculptures, well worth a look. We saw the very early stages of the Love Milton space taking shape, pegged out on the ground. The 75 bus tours will be running again in March, so if you missed it, you can go then and explore all the arts and community projects which the North of the City has to offer.
I do like to go up the Coast, any excuse to take a scenic journey up the railway line from Glasgow, with splendid views of Dumbarton Rock and the hills beyond. Last year I had been to Renfrewshire Doors Open weekend so I decided to peruse the programme and see what was on this year and chose Inverclyde as it is not a place I have spent much time in so it was nice to explore a new place with fresh eyes, a true urban wander!
First stop out of the station was the Wellpark Mid Kirk. Unusually for me I had not meticulously planned out every building I planned on seeing, so stumbling across this first was quite impressive. The church is designed to look like St Martin’s in the Field in London, a very grand portico indeed. Inside the church is, as one may expect, spectacular stained glass. I was impressed with the main window; red squirrels and industrial heritage, all beautifully illustrated. The side window also contains a dragon.
The tour of the Sheriff Court was both educational and entertaining, we were treated to a tour of the two court areas (old and new) and the cells. Architecturally the two courts are very different, clearly an 1869 Peddie and Kinnear courtroom with external baronial tower looks a little more elaborate in the cornice department than the 1980’s second courtroom!
I liked the way in which Greenock West United Reform Church welcomed visitors, for not only was there a helpful leaflet but super friendly church volunteers with home made jam tarts and fairtrade coffee, just what one wants after a leisurely stroll around the building! The white painted dove of peace sits above the organ, and the roofscape is quite impressive. The leaflet had a panoramic picture of the roof within, of a tudor gothic styling. They also point out that they are technologically minded and even make podcasts of the ministers sermons for all to hear. My Doors Open itenery said “It is suggested that the architect used a sketch design produced by a member of the congregation for the south front”. Imagine having that opportunity, I wonder if this was the intention of the person who drew it, or if they just happened to be talking to the architect… perhaps the 1840’s architect is actually “unknown” in a collaborative project with John Blair? Whilst enjoying my coffee one of the parishioners told me that there was a display in the nearby museum of the Olympic torch… having been surprisingly engrossed in the Olympic and Paralympic games this year I could not resist a pop across the road to the Greenock museum in Kelly Street.
The museum gardens are a particularly pleasant nice setting, with blue pendants and balloons for Doors Open Day welcoming you through the door. A world of information greets you, though I did make a beeline for the shiny gold torch.
The category A listed municipal buildings of 1879 (H and D Barclay) are worth a look for many reasons, but reason one for me would be the amazing plaster ceiling. There is also a fine art collection adorning the walls and a rather opulent provost’s office. One of my friends has recently made a mockumentary about a theoretical future Greenock..perhaps Felix Crammond may rather have liked the fine office there!
Seeing the painting of the Waverley made me think a trip doon the water might be in order sometime soon, the last sea going paddle steamer in the world and it’s quite a sight. I went on it when I was really small and remember the smell of the engines and the amusement of getting a postcard stamped “posted on PS Waverley”. I wonder if they still do that?
Last on my list was the Dutch Gable House, as it had advertised some comic art (always good to combine a little art and architecture) . There were even some gaelic singers and local artwork by Mhairi Robertson. The building itself, is as the name suggests, frontaged with a Dutch Gable, elegant sweeping lines now restored and looked after by Inverclyde Community Development Trust and in the process of being transformed into a community venue exhibition. The graphic art novel was generously being given away, I thoroughly enjoyed reading the history of Greenock being illustrated in this way as it is such an unusual way to present “heritage” information. It has been carefully produced and researched by several local schools and put together by local artists as part of the Identity Inverclyde project, take a look at their site for more info and a sneak peek at http://identityinverclyde.blogspot.co.uk
As I had a Discovery Ticket, in effect a free pass for the day on all forms of transport, I could not resist going other places so I headed back to Gourock by train and then waited for the ferry to Kilcreggan. The journey across the water offers amazing views up the Firth of Clyde, even on a relatively cloudy day. The journey only takes a little over ten minutes but it is a restful pursuit to watch the waves and the seagulls whilst sitting back on the wooden benches.
Kilcreggan is a beautiful village, very picture postcard. Every time I go there I stop at the little shop, it is the best stocked shop you could possibly find. Much more than a general store, it has a good selection of local produce and a vast magazine range (I found a new one called “The Simple Things”, on later reading I found that it celebrates everyday objects and home made produce as well as having articles to inspire and celebrate particular times of day (sorted by day, dawn and dusk), complemented by a beautiful layout with a pleasing mixture of photography and illustration). Ideal reading when you want to cosy up with a warm coffee and pause for reflection. I love discovering magazines which share my approach to life, especially serendipitous if you’re on an “I don’t really mind where I go as long as I know I can get home eventually” mode.
The nearest coffee shop is but a small stumble from the ferry terminal (and said village store); Café at Kilcreggan on Shore Road. I had a truly sumptuous Victoria Sponge cake and a delicious cappuccino, whilst perusing the leaflets about local events and gazing out at the lovely view back across the Clyde. My window was adorned with pretty star fairly lights and the nice linen table runner set off my view perfectly. The bus to Helensburgh leaves just next to the café and offers splendid vistas. If you have never been to this town it offers a pleasant seaside excursion, with a Charles Rennie Mackintosh villa (Hill House) and summer funfairs if you choose a little more noise to fill your day. I was treated to a little starling chorus, they had all lined up on the (now closed) roller coaster in an aesthetically pleasing formation.
As a rather beautiful end to the day, I sat on the pier next to a vociferous seagull and watched as the Lomond Hills mist gradually gave way to an unfolding sunset.