Once a hub for heavy industry, the site known as Dundas Hill in Port Dundas, less than two miles from Glasgow city centre, still retains hallmarks of a manufacturing neighborhood. While the canals and locks surrounding the area are rarely used today, the architecture of a bygone age remains prominent – warehouses, factories and defunct chimneys dot the landscape, severed from the rest of the city by M8 motorway. However, behind these fading facades, a new breed of eager Glaswegian makers are breathing life back into the area, building upon its heritage.
Inside the Whisky Bond – a co-working space established on the site of a former distillery – artists and makers can take advantage of 3D printers and CNC machines to create their craft, while digital agencies and graphic designers rent offices in the upper floors. Up the road, at the Glue Factory, independent artists and performers showcase their latest creations in another former industrial site. Currently empty spaces surrounding the north Canal and Speirs Wharf are in negotiation to be redeveloped as student housing and, on an unassuming brownfield site, where another former whisky distillery once lay, Glasgow is soon to be home to the Wind Forest – a public art project comprised of 100 stem-like structures which are in fact bladeless wind turbines.
The winning design of a year-long competition by Land Art Generator Initiative’s (LAGI) Glasgow chapter, in collaboration with EcoArtsScotland, the Wind Forest will be implemented as part of the Glasgow Canal Regeneration Partnership – a private-public-partnership designed to revitalize the area within which Dundas Hill falls, and largely the catalyst behind the larger area’s recent resurgence as a creative hub.Founded in 2010, LAGI’s main aim is to inspire clean energy generation through aesthetically pleasing installations, proving that art and engineering professionals can not only coexist, but co-create innovatively.
“Art is a way to confront ecological problems,” says LAGI co-founder Robert Ferry, stating that he and his founding partner were inspired by American land art and how infrastructure can . “Science has always been grappling with a communication problem. Art in public spaces can solve that. It lets people run into ideas they weren’t planning to think about.”
Meanwhile, EcoArtsScotland, led by Chris Fremantle, is a Glasgow-based platform that similarly focuses on the crossover between art and ecology, promoting both Scottish and international innovations in the field through an online platform and offline exhibitions and workshops. It was Fremantle that reached out to LAGI, after many years working on bridging the gap between environmentalists and artists, including a close working relationship with Glasgow City Council who were eager to have clean energy incorporated with in Glasgow Canal Regeneration master-plan. “One of the city’s main objectives is to make Glasgow the most sustainable city in Europe,” confirms Heather Claridge, Senior Project Officer at Glasgow City Council and the project lead on the council’s side for the LAGI Glasgow competition. After coming in second to British city Bristol in the race to be named the European Green Capital in 2015, and off the back of hosting the Commonwealth Games, the City harnessed the momentum of growing environmental awareness and the collaborative approaches to implementing sustainable development
“Glasgow prides itself on innovation and being in the forefront of the conversations surrounding it,” says Elizabeth Monoian, LAGI co-founder. “They wanted to implement something quickly, and the timing was perfect – 2015 was Glasgow’s Green Year, and 2016 is the Year of Architecture, Innovation and Design and the LAGI Glasgow project was able to bridge both,” adds Ferry. The Wind Forest was designed by a design team made up of local Glaswegian firm ZM Architecture, local artists Matthew Dalziel and Louise Scullion and Qmulus‘ Ian Nicoll, as well as New York-based design and architecture firm Yeadon Space Agency, exemplifying LAGI’s collaborative ethos and the City Council’s key interests over the last two years.
“When EcoArtsScotland approached the Council about LAGI, it directly aligned with our intentions,” says Claridge. Meanwhile, the City’s planning department had already been doing community outreach in and around the Canals Regeneration catchment and found the residents and professionals working in the area eager for a public art project as part of the redevelopment plans. “The outcome of the engagement process signalled a desire for a symbol or landmark piece of art to reconnect Glaswegians with this part of the city; a reason for people to visit the area north of the Canal,” explains Claridge.
Having hosted biennial competitions in Dubai/Abu Dhabi, New York City, Copenhagen and Santa Monica, as well as working on projects with the Masaai in Kenya and public space in Pittsburgh, LAGI’s landing in Scotland is a testament of the Glasgow’s increasing willingness to engage with the creative and innovation-driven community that populate the city. The Dundas Hill site was suggested by Glasgow City Council alongside other locations encompassed by the Glasgow Canal Regeneration Partnership and was chosen thanks to its unique topography and its potential impact. “The areas north of the Canals are notoriously deprived and have socioeconomic problems, and we hope that the regeneration will have a ripple effect beyond the infrastructural developments and creative industries,” says Claridge.
The site of the former distillery where the Wind Forest is set to be planted sits “to the north of the city center, elevated above Glasgow’s Canal. From this vantage point – one of the highest in the city – the site enjoys almost 360 degree vistas of Glasgow and beyond,” explain the competition briefing documents. To accommodate for rapid industrial growth in the area, the former owners of factories in the area had carved out a bespoke landform into the hillside: a series of ledges and platforms that have created a unique skyline in the area, visible from the town center. This, LAGI Glasgow thought, would provide for both an excellent space to reap the elements and create clean energy, as well as the perfect destination for a public art installation that could be enjoyed from across the whole city.
After an open call, launched formally in August 2015, the LAGI Glasgow competition was whittled down to three participating teams who all met in Glasgow for a design charrette in November 2015. From there, each time had just two months to submit their design proposal which met all 10 points of the design brief. “Each of the invited LAGI Glasgow teams includes an interdisciplinary venture of Glasgow-based practices paired with one past LAGI competition team. Local knowledge and outside perspective came together in the three paired teams, who each presented their proposal that benefits both conceptually and technically from this variety of professional backgrounds,” explains LAGI Glasgow’s website.
Technical reviews were then undertaken to determine each proposal’s feasibility, taking into account budgets, safety and the amount of clean energy potentially generated, before a public exhibition of the three concepts was hosted in the city’s well-renowned Lighthouse Gallery, widely regarded as Scotland’s hub for architecture and design.
“Wind Forest stood apart as it recalls the history and heritage of the site. The proposal will repurpose old bricks and other industrial residue to build [mock] glacial boulders that were formerly scattered across the hill,” explains Ferry. “The Vortex Bladeless wind turbines, which are scheduled to hit the market next year, will be custom-coated to recreate the colors and textures of the forest.”
The 100-turbine Wind Forest will generate enough electricity to power a portion of the mixed-used real estate in the area that is part of the masterplan. “The winning team is now in the final leg of its feasibility study, making final adjustments to design and technical proposal,” confirms Claridge. “This also includes working out the business model behind the installation and deciding where the energy generated by Wind Forest should be routed, working with those who are designing and implementing the masterplan.”
As the area north of Glasgow’s once prosperous canal is reignited with the talents, passion and artistic output of the city’s creative community, the innovative, energy-generating art installation will surely be right at home. Meanwhile, the City’s ever-growing commitment to post-industrial redevelopment and engaging a wider community in doing so helps set the scene for a collaborative approach to creating the Glasgow of the future; a city where creativity is employed to not only create a brand and stimulate the economy, but solve real, pressing problems. “Working with all the stakeholders is in integral part of LAGI’s process. Local government, artists, engineers, sustainability professionals and academia must all be included – and Glasgow’s City Council has an energy of innovation that facilitates that,” says Monoian. “With the regenerative agendas of both the Council and LAGI, this project is part of a bigger ambition to create a new identity and vision in the area,” adds Claridge.
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