Friday, May 4, 2012


Glasgow could be called the city of museums, just as London has been called the city of churches. It is not that Glasgow has a deficit of churches. Indeed, it has a wonderful cathedral that is far better than Lonely Planet’s assessment of it. It is a marvellous, quirky conglomerate with some surprising spaces, a little like Glasgow itself. What with its history in the arts, architecture, heavy industry and transport, Glasgow has much to celebrate and remember. It has enjoyed the generosity of benefactors over the years and displays a genuine interest in maintaining contact with and promoting its past as stories, memories and exhibits: as reminders. It seems to be one place where gifts to the city are not transformed into civic cash generators through inappropriate development; nor are these generous offerings just left to deteriorate through neglect and a lack of continued concern and funding. The city gains much from this rigour and commitment that has seen a place that once had all of the character of a dirty slum, albeit a very busy one, turn into a vibrant and beautiful, buzzing metropolis. So it is that Glasgow city can boast not only a lively aggregation of quality infrastructures shaped by commerce, education and culture, but also the city’s Riverside Museum; the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum; the Burrell Collection; the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA); the Open Museum; the Provand’s Lordship; the People’s Palace; the Scotland Street School Museum; the St. Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art; and the Glasgow Museums Resource Centre. As well as these city-owned centres, Glasgow has other iconic places such as the University’s Huntington Museum, Macintosh’s apartment and Miss Toward’s Tenement.

While the Kelvingrove Art Gallery is housed in a spectacularly grand and memorable building and has excellent displays that include one of the best of the Macintosh era; and while the Scotland Street School Museum offers even more on Macintosh in one of his buildings, the other museums all have their own unique collections generously displayed in interesting places. There is variety in this quality that could be further explored, but it are the first and third-listed museums that form the subject of this piece, only because they are the most recently visited: Riverside and Burrell.

The Burrell Collection was gifted to the city by the shipping magnate Sir William Burrell – some 9000 items with cash to keep the collection growing. The gift came with the instruction for the pieces to be housed in a natural setting close to and easily accessible from the city centre. After a nearly forty-year search for a suitable site, the 360-acre farm that had also been gifted to the city at Pollok was chosen. The centrepiece of this park is Pollok House, the ancestral home of the Maxwell family, located in what is now called Pollok Country Park. This grand house was built in 1752 on Palladian principles. Once the location had been decided, a competition for the new museum building was held. It was won by a young group of Cambridge architects that included Brit Andressen. The building was opened in 1984. It still looks good and is well used by the public. The removal of all museum entry charges by the British Government and the open natural parkland setting makes the collection easy for all to share as part of a picnic, play-and-view day. The building encourages this relaxed interaction with its careful siting, sensitive planning and happy, inclusive welcome.

The Riverside Museum by Zaha Hadid Architects is the latest museum to be opened in Glasgow. The publicity it has been given has made it a much-anticipated major work of this very fashionable architect. Located on the River Clyde at 100 Pointhouse Place in Glasgow, the Riverside Museum, subtitled Scotland’s Museum of Transport and Travel, was opened in October 2011. The building sits by the Clyde – well, thrusts out into the Clyde - as a dock where a tall ship is tied up. It is a saw-toothed, twisted, metal-clad form that apparently had its origins in the gabled, massing of dockside sheds. This zigzagging provided the diagrammatic section that then appears to have been manipulated in plan by computer morphing to give the various twists and bends – to add interest? - that make the slick form that might be explained as a river flow or an aquatic thrashing tail. Whatever the explanation, the end result is a fascinating form. Just what function it might follow – if any – is not immediately obvious, and remains to be discovered by the visitor.

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