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Welcome to my website on the Scottish Built Environment

I am a retired architect and still active in encouraging interest in architecture, conservation, history and archaeology. 

This is an ongoing project so please visit this website from time to time. I treat the built environment very broadly. Not only architecture, but all structures and impacts by mankind. That can include stone circles, formal gardens, farm steadings, rich interiors, engineering works etc. 

Seeking the Soul of Scotland's Built Heritage 

If you are reading this and looking at these photographs you will undoubtedly have some sensibility towards our built environment; at times enjoying it and discovering something much more meaningful than just its mortar and practical enclosure. Yet for most of our lives we respond to architectural creations as little more than the facilitating of our needs for security and comfort and as a means of carrying out our private or public activities. The greater proportion of new buildings around us in our cities are smart and efficient steel and glass boxes of floorspace and certainly satisfy some innate aesthetic. Yet in our ever sprawling residential areas there is a persistent recurrent attempt at reference to a different scale and to hints at an earlier architectural language. No matter how we pride ourselves on modern day progress, we still seem to all have an inherent need for something deeper. What that actually is may be interpreted differently by each of us. The corollary of this is the conflict of tastes and perceived needs of our built environment as it evolves, particularly with regard to what and how to protect what we have, how to identify what is so valuable that it needs to be retained with its integrity intact in a changing world for future generations,and how to adapt it to changing needs in sustainable ways. In other words how to interpret it and intervene, if necessary, appropriately.

The Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland, the AHSS, comprises a spectrum of people with the common objective of the protection, preservation, study and appreciation of Scotland’s historic buildings. Quite what constitutes heritage, even what deserves the appellation of architecture, is not the same to everyone. They are very subjective interpretations. Fresh challenges to it become evident on a regular basis through numerous pressures. Our society has as its prime objective, Speaking for Scotland's Buildings. We believe not just in a future for our built heritage, but in the value of preserving the past in ways that gives the future value. It is not just a fascination with past styles that drives us. We believe in learning lessons of the past and in the need to preserve what is valuable in its many ways so that it survives to enrich and inspire the lives that follow us in the future.

Mankind makes his mark on the landscape to express many things. His creations change what Creation has given us. He may wish to affirm his place in his cosmology and sensed religiosity. He may wish to satisfy his competitive urges and ego, physically endeavouring to outdo or even counter the efforts of others. These aspirations may be driven by trying to progress rise through social ranking or class or, more applicable today, socio-economic competition.

So what then is our architectural heritage?

I take this broadly.

Architecture has risen in and from the landscape through the dual intuitions of function and cosmology. Of the way materials serve certain functions and perform in specific ways. Experience, trial and error and intuition leads to certain combinations. But then there is the mysterious side of intuitive markings on stones; of the countering of the forces of gravity in the erection of huge rock circles to focus the even greater forces of creation, of the spirits, of the ancestors; to ensure the continuation of the cycles of life within the cosmos.

That to me is the beginning of architecture and it is a beginning that is saturated with something greater than the constituent elements utilised.

As our built environment evolves apace with our society, architecture becomes more experimental and sophisticated. The individual, be he craftsman or client, is also expressed in the details. Much of that may be embellishment. But haven't we heard that The Devil is in the Details? This may be interpreted as mistakes that can be made in complicated designs and why a range of well established methodologies have developed empirically appropriate to various materials and under the craftsman's hands. Our modern buildings may be structurally, ergonomically, environmentally, acoustically, calculated to the nth degree, but every stage of design, every material element, is somewhat isolated from its source, modified beyond recognition until it becomes something else and begins to serve its distant purpose.

Although very sophisticated, modern techniques and material seem to be lacking something of the crafted earthiness of traditional eras, or the joyful exuberance of form of Victorian creativity, or the well considered rhythms of Georgian fenestrations, or even the internationally read, but locally derived dialects of design. Modern design may fascinate and cheer us, but so often it is stripped down to the immediacy of iconic form. It may still be considered architecture of quality, but that meaning has shifted. There is usually a missing something that earlier eras imbued naturally.

This selection of photographs is but a sample of my constant accumulation through my obsession with recording our ever changing built environment. It is my attempt to find the soul of our built environment. My choices are towards the unsual, little noticed, atmospheric, sometimes abstract rather than regular illustrations. I hope you are inspired to do the same. You may notice that few photographs actually have people in them, but the subjects, most of them at least, still express, not just the personas involved or skills, but something deeper. Spiritual? Or maybe just the result of a personal affinity with materials, tradition, time and place and the elements. It is a serendipitous dip into Scottish built heritage, not an A to Z index or a chronological history. This means that it can be enjoyed at random just as one comes across such gems out there in the real environment.

Acknowledgements and references : I am enthusiastic about our built heritage and have been involved in architecture for many years, but cannot claim sufficient knowledge to describe each of these examples in any detail unaided. I have therefore needed to refer to others extensively. The website links at the end of each description have been my main sources and provide further interesting reading. Occasionally I may add references from publications too. Direct quotations are shown in italics.

You will notice that I frequently use the http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk  website. It is an independent initiative that uses official listing information such as from Historic Environment Scotland, but, although it only includes those of “A” and “B” categories, has the advantage of including maps, aerial views, contributor photographs and comments, all of which are very useful for reference and research.

Photographs and copyright : These are all my own photographs (unless otherwise noted, eg historical). I assert copyright, but am happy for reuse as long as this has acknowlegdement. 

Jeremy Watson

2017

 

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