When Blueprint magazine devoted its obligatory issue to the new Glasgow back in 1985. we put Tony Jones. head of the art school. on the cover. What he didn’t tell us was that he had just accepted a job in the US. and was about to be bowing out of the picture. It was a tiny symptom of that mysterious phenomenon which divides cities into the kind of place that people want to move to when they want to make a mark: the Londons. the New Yorks. the Milans. and the places where people start out. and. ifthey are ambitious enough. move on from.
It is a peculiarly modern phenomenon. part of the increasing uniformity ofthe world. and the internationalisation ofits culture. It wasn‘t always this way. In the lb’th century it was perfectly possible for people to spend their lives in a place. for the sake of argument as small as Kirkcaldy. and like Adam Smith. to make a profound impact on the world stage. For the Scottish Development Agency's initiative on design to succeed. it must make Glasgow the kind ofplace that not only will outstanding designers want to stay in. but which will also attract them. The model that the SDA has in mind is Milan. Italy’s second city. and its economic power house. Milan. with a population ofl.5 million. modest in the age of metropolitan megalopoli. has managed to make itself a worldwide mecca for design. eclipsing London. New York or'I‘okyo. Design provides an underpinning for the city‘s economy. its designers get commissions from all around the world. It's a place that young designers from Japan. Australia. Scandinavia and Britain come to study and to work. And many end up staying.
The reasons Milan achieved this dominance are not hard to identify. Firstly. and most discouragingly for the SDA. is the presence of a number of highly design conscious large industries in and around Milan. Olivetti and Fiat are both close by. and use design consultants extensively. Milan is home to a large number of furniture companies. who provide much of the day to day workload of the city‘s design studios.
It also has an annual furniture trade fair that attracts people from all around the world. simply to get a chance to look at the latest designs.
Then there is the physical quality of
life. Milan is a place that people like to be in. it has the cafes and restaurants that give the city a public life. it's a place in which it is easy to meet and to talk. And given that designers could be located practically anywhere in the world with access to a fax machine and an airport. the quality of the food in local restaurants is not an entirely frivolous consideration.
Milan has a network ofgalleries which support the design community. as well as low rent spaces for studio use. And the city has a tradition ofskilled artisans. metal bashers. craftsmen. on whom the designers can rely for prototyping their work. or even for manufacturing small quantities of designs.
Glasgow is not going to turn into a world design Mecca overnight. but it does have the possibility to start taking steps in the right direction. Physically. the city certainly has the potential. Glasgow tenements are not so different from Milanese courtyards. The heritage of redundant industrial buildings could be put to new uses for studio space
and so on. And design could be used.
as it has been in Barcelona. to help assert a strong sense of national identity. not by mawkish revivalism. but by adopting the best ofwhat is new.
l-lowever ifthe SDA‘s initiative is to get anywhere its pump priming work cannot be parochial. The commissions to rehabilitate buildings. to design logos. to do posters. the outward packaging by which the whole enterprise will inevitably be judged can't just be handed out to the locals on a jobs for the boys basis. but needs to be done by outstanding international talents. Scottish or otherwise. If it‘s going to be worth staying in Glasgow for a latter day Charles Rennie Mackintosh. it means being able to count on work not going to the hacks but to the real talents. That means international architectural competitions. And when the new Glasgow’s miles better logo is done. using the best available talent wherever it comes from.
The exposure of the city to the best ofwhat is available is the way to attract and keep talent. and to persuade local industries to use design and attract international ones.
The Scottish Development Agency is currently considering a report which, if implemented, hopes to make Glasgow an intemationally respected centre of design (see page ﬁve). It’s a plan that would touch all aspects of the industry from manufacturing to marketing. The List spoke to some of the people now working in the ﬁeld who’d be vital to the success of the plan, to ﬁnd out what they thought. And left. Deyan Sudjic, Editor ofthe award winning design magazine Blueprint (currently celebrating its ﬁfth birthday with an exhibition at InHouse, Edin- burgh), assesses the problems that lie ahead.
.FURNITURE ' |
‘We were quite naive about business and manufacturing when we set up Graven Images about three years ago‘ says Boss Hunter. one of the directors. ‘We used to go round small companies in Glasgow with a drawing of a chair. and say, ‘how would you liketo manufacture it?‘ The response was like coming up against a brick wall.“
After several setbacks. Graven Images modified theirapproach. ‘We‘d take along a pile of design magazines and say tothe production manager. ‘This chairis manufactured in London or Milan and it retails at £350.’ He‘d look at it. see it in terms of its components. do a quick sum and realise he could make itfor£30. His eyes would pop out of his head.‘
This. in a nutshell. isthe designer's dilemma; he cannot get drawings into production. however promising the design. and the manufacturer cannot take the risk of introducing a new line. The deadlockthat results leads. partially. to the sorrytale ofBritain exporting its designers. and re-importing the goods they have made abroad. Britain. argues Hunter. cannot compete on price. so it must compete on quality and design.
He quotes the experience of one company in Kirkcaldy which made standard school chairs at a unit cost oI£5. ‘Then aJapanese company approached them and said ‘we can bring
these in for £3.50.‘ They had no choice but to stop manufacturing them. and to operate instead as an importer and distributor.‘ Hunterand Graven Images have not. however. sataround moaning about the sorry state of British manufacturing. ‘Designers
need not be in a subservient ;
role. or wait for someone else to take the risk. They should be able to use a manufactureras a sub-contractorand get a small batch ofproducts made.‘ Which was what Graven Images did with theirfurniture designs. and these are now available from the company direct.
Hunterwould like to see some kind of ‘enabling body' set up that could get designs placed with companies. and could pinpoint markets with an expertise many designers lack. Part ofthe solution may be to set up small factory units. using skills that Glasgow already has in abundance. ‘What really annoys me isthatthe technical skill involved in making something nasty is the same as the skill involved in making something very good' says Hunter. “One ofthe great anomalies in Scotland is that there are thousands of folk withoutjobs who can spin metal and or usea lathe. But no one is asking them to do it.’
Graven Images meanwhile are increasingly making a name for themselves as graphic designers. and in a competitive field they are
Chair by Graven Images
5 The List 24 February — 9 March
proud of their portfolio which includes clients like Balfour Beatty. Vidal Sasson and Channel 4. Unlike the costs of manufacturing. the overheadsfor graphics are low. and the risks and investment minimal. But Hunter. who originally trained as an architect. says wistfully ‘for me there is always something more fulfilling about making a 3 dimensional object.‘
InHouse are one of Scotland‘s leading retailers ofcontemporary design. Theirairy shop in Edinburgh‘s Howe Street opened seven years ago and has become a modern mecca for those in search of unusual furnishings and accessories. Last Decemberthey opened the second InHouse in Glasgow's Wilson Street: ‘We've been waitingfive yearsto move into Glasgow'. says owner Bill Potter. ‘the Merchant City in particularwas an area which looked exciting: the locations. the buildings. the people. It's a very exciting place to be.’
Glasgow. thinks Potter. has all the ingredients to handle a design industry: 'It has much more in common with Barcelona or Milan than anywhere else in Great Britain. It's got the industrial background and the vitality. and it‘s proud of its independence.‘ The difference in Italy and Spain. he says. isthat before the designer boom a lot of craft workshops were