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Published by NAi Publishers, Rotterdam, Oct 2004.
Authors: Cor Wagenaar (Ed.), Niels Gutschow, Ed Taverne, Marieke van Rooy, Aaron Betsky, Lucy Bullivant, C.K. Polónyi, György Konrád, Filippo de Pieri, Paolo Scrivano, Helma Hellinga, Doris Müller, Pieter Uyttenhove, Jörn Düwel, Evelien van Es, Koos Bosma, Michelle Provoost, Herman van Bergeijk, Ronald Brouwer et al.
Lucy Bullivant's contribution to 'Happy':
Cumbernauld, April 2002:
The crumbling walls of Cumbernauld Station empty of adverts announce by their void state that the resources of the once 'revolutionary' town have long since declined. That's no marker of anything in the UK where even affluent areas are served by run-down, unmanned railway stations. I temporarily suspend interpretation. A short walk in the crisp spring temperature along a path lined with bracken leads to the archive. There is no museum - never has been one - but you get friendliness and a nice cup of tea and a biscuit inside this shed packed with rarely visited memorabilia. But there are no nicely framed shots of the town at its peak. Memories of the town from the RCAHMS archive in Edinburgh, a family of twenty boxes with tantalising photographs and press cuttings about Copcutt's wonderfully futuristic social experiment, swirl about my head, but somehow the stuff here doesn't add much. The real questions can only be answered by politicians in power over five decades who didn't pass the baton. Public transportation links between the town and Glasgow and Edinburgh were never good, one indicator that this is an urban place that lost its status a long time ago. Being 'popular among architects': is that what cast the curse of national embarrassment, or was it being recently voted Scotland's 'Ugliest Town'?
Visiting the on-line Cumbernauld chat room in advance reveals the level of resident morale: "It seems another shop in the town centre closes every day", "When Tesco (the only supermarket chain represented there) left it was a major blow"; "Why is the town centre still occasionally referred to as Phase 4, new bit and Phase 3", says another, an interesting remnant of the architectural concept (and I wonder who still calls them this). "There are no pavements". Only 'Dullatur', to the north next to the golf course, is the 'posh bit'. The unofficial web guide to the town is self-deprecating to the extreme, admitting the gauche spelling of one of the better restaurants, Kamerons Brassiere (sic), and that since the cinema became a bingo hall, going thirteen miles into Glasgow is your best bet.
Sitting in the tiny room storing photographs of the city in its heyday, my mind visited by memories of Glasgow's cosmopolitan tribes and spaces richochetted into greater prominence after Glasgow City of Architecture and Design 1999, Cumbernauld feels like something bold poignantly lost its future. Strange that after talk of full scale demolition, the town centre is now still physically present, but jumbled in appearance, ramped terraces being demolished, so that now it has a more heavily engineered feel, and on the way to being cosmetically reconstructed, with Copcutt's design deformed and denuded (he had envisaged quite a shopping mall). Is it terminal? Surgically adjusted to put off even Tesco's?
I did get fresh air. I needed it. I remember the breathtaking natural beauty of the 'satellite village' of Abronhill, a high point to the north east, where in the film Gregory's Girl the teenagers Gregory and Dorothy go to lie side by side on the grassy slope and pretend that by cycling their legs in the air they can feel, or even help to keep, the earth spinning. That film was made in 1981, six years before the town's development corporation was pushing its attractiveness as a 'powerful business community', and place of investment. Cumbernauld, a new way of living, the brochure on display at the door dates from 1987, when over 50,000 people lived there, promised that even though it wasn't a new town, 'the ideals are still there'.'Everything's on our doorstep'. But they weren't for very long,and they aren't there now. I found two alternative Cumbernaulds that made a better connection with the town I studied. Artists Gair Dunlop and Dan Norton made an online environment, www.cumbernauld.nu. Here in this space inspired by the town's architect, you can play in 'the entropic utopia' and visit his drawings. These two also worked with landscape architects Gross.Max (long time Edinburgh-based Dutchman Eelco Hooftman and Scotswoman Bridget Baines) on 'Grow your own Town'. This proposal for Cumbernauld made in 2003 (included in The Lighthouse Centre's Re:motion, new movements in Scottish architecture exhibition) examined its perceived negative factors, and turned them into positives. In this space, roof tops become sheep farms, motorways evolve into drive-in gardens, the wind energy of the hill top town finally gets used. It becomes a hybrid of nature estates and housing reserves. Glasgow could not play this card, that's for sure, even if its cultural ambience is intact. The earth span too fast for Cumbernauld, but at least there have been imaginations that didn't.
© Lucy Bullivant
Cumbernauld New Town: tomorrow's town today
Cumbernauld can be viewed as a transitory urban model, a highly integrated compact urban design that aimed to achieve a balance between individual and collective happiness. The New Town of Cumbernauld was built in the early 1960s on a windy hogsback of a hilltop two miles long and one mile wide, and 14 miles to the north east of Glasgow, to a design by urban planner Sir Hugh Wilson and featured maverick architect Geoffrey Copcutt's multi level 'megastructure' town centre, the first of its kind built in the world. Citadel-like in shape, 'a vast layer cake of structure', the centre was the focal point of the town, a 'giant supermarket on stilts', and a social hub which was built with a £70m budget, with a bold and complex road system to keep the car at bay.
Designated as a New Town in 1956, Cumbernauld finished the first phase - representing one fifth of its total projected provision - of its town centre ten years later, just two years before the waves of events in 1968 began surging. Rapidly, it came to be held up by both its planners, commentators, and even the American AIA (which in 1967 gave it an award for Community Architecture, in competition with the cities of Tapiola and Stockholm), at the time of its opening as an exemplary model of community architecture. A blueprint, therefore, for civic planning at the time, it was built to house a population of 70,000 (with planning space was given for 5000 vehicles). Its intention: to relieve the housing problem in Glasgow (from which an envisaged four fifths would come), creating a town with the tenth largest population in Scotland. At the time of Cumbernauld's designation as a New Town, the indigenous population was 3,500. The planners' aim was that by the 1980s, 50,000 people would be living in the main area, with another other 20,000 would be living in satellite villages, ultimately reaching a cap of 100,000.
The town not only pioneered a freedom from the growing urban periphery, but new ideas in social and economic development, anticipating the beginning of Scotland's transition from a heartland of traditional industry to a new age of flexible, light industries in which urban centres were the seedbed of new high technologies. A compactly planned development, its housing was combined with private gardens in most cases in named neighbourhoods (with a corner shop for every 400 homes), and totally separated not only from busy roads but from factories. These 'radiated' from the town centre in proximate, but self-contained areas that prefigured structured contemporary surburban developments. A defined perimeter marked the town off from the surrounding landscape, while its split level form gave it an excellent vantage point from which to view and tour the surrounding countryside. Surprisingly, it was the only British new town to be started on site during the 1950s. It was the product of an interdisciplinary meeting of minds: professors of physics, economics and sociology notably contributed to the design of the first phase, which was opened in 1966.
Instead of a neighbourhood system of planning or anything resembling a housing estate, Cumbernauld was designed as an integrated town in which dwellings were grouped closely around the central area within a flowing landscape. The idea was that the population, served by a road system in which pedestrian and vehicular routes are separate, would be within easy access of the major shopping, commercial, administrative and cultural buildings while also being in close contact with the countryside. This divorce of footpath and main road system allowed Cumbernauld's Development Corporation officers to describe the town as aspiring to be the safest town in Great Britain.
The principles on which the design of the town is based reach their culmination in the town centre, which contained the principal shopping, business, entertainment and public buildings and services. This was an extraordinary structure site along the ridge of the hill that was demolished by bulldozers in spring 2001 (a local exclaimed:' it's like Beirut up there'), testimony to the reality that it had reached the end of its useful life and retail spaces were not being passed onto to enough incoming tenants. The structure had long since been viewed as an anachronistic place by inhabitants made at a time they weren't necessarily very sentimental about, and yet back in the optimistic climate of the early 1960s it seemed ideal as a formal solution that was also a social condenser. Early sketches of the generating concept for the town centre, widely described as 'futuristic', show the initial formulation of the idea of 'penthousing' cradled on an umbrella structure inclined towards the south. Beneath this cradle multi-level shopping facilities were situated on walkways, among them an attractive blue and brown tiled health centre, a hotel, an ice rink, a technical college, police, fire and ambulance services, ranged over a total of eight levels. Modern sculptures and murals appeared on wall surfaces throughout. Beneath this at ground level was a multiple lane, 2-way servicing carriageway with car parks underneath that ran in parallel with a expressway spine next to it. This carriageway passes through the centre without interfering with pedestrian movement or car parking.
The megastructure, as Miles Glendinning has explained, was 'an artificial landscape governed by the ideals of communication and flexibility: a massive rigid frame with shifting, changeable contents'. It was the centre stage of a new urban development that took on board society's demands for a more dense and sophisticated response from the urbanist than those espoused between the pre-Modern Garden City, and the 'early modern', CIAM pattern between the Wars. It aimed to get away from the densely closeted interconnections of form of the old 19th century city, and instead, the town was clustered, to get away from denser and segregated 'neighbourhoods', while being part of a culture of mobility. The earliest areas built achieved a density of 95 people per acre, increased to 120ppa in the harder, more urban areas built a bit later. These are roughly similar to the tenement schemes in Glasgow built in the 1950s, and to the level of density in the contemporary replanned down-at-heel Gorbals area of the city.
The impulse of Cumbernauld's design is about making an attractive dwelling place, as well as an area of intensity with an imported modernist vision, while embracing heterogeneity. The attenuated, linear town centre structure included many features which are now standard in shopping centres, and in fact rather more functions packed into one structure. It was not monumental but nonetheless ambitious in layout: its row of crowning penthouses didn't stop it appearing more like 'a vast terminal facility', as Copcutt described it. He proposed that its interpenetrating decks contain a variety of furnishings and 'a kaleidscope of advertising', speculating that if pedestrian-based shopping centres became obsolete in the future, then his centre 'could become a gigantic vending machine through which the motorized user drives to return revictuallised', an astute mental prefiguration of today's motorway service station, in fact. The on-site Cottage Theatre lent a whiff of live drama, the Kerkagogos, church-organised discos - at a time when the pastoral outreach activities of the church were in the ascendent - a hip and relatively open-minded social environment for young inhabitants. The mix of urbane centre and traditional housing areas at Cumbernauld made a compelling hybrid for the period. Nonetheless there remained a shortage of commercial entertainment in comparison with Glasgow (half an hour away by road or rail), and the lure of the big city's edgy heterogeneity could never be supplanted by something more suited to young families interested in residing in a more pastoral, less frenetic environment. Both Robin Crichton, who made the film Cumbernauld Town for Tomorrow in 1970, and Murray Grigor - who made Cumbernauld Hit, a somewhat ridiculous, almost surreal - downright cheesy to our 21st century eyes - but nonetheless telling crime thriller drama set in the town, were fascinated by the promise of Cumbernauld's architecture. A vivid 'period piece' as an example of television's employment of contemporary urban context to assist a dramatic plot, it starred the diva-like Fenella Fielding in the town's implausible capture. The decks and ramps of the town centre lend themselves very easily as a cinematic backdrop, especially for the dramatic car chases, being both an innovative, cosmopolitan and secure settlement and architect's personal homage to road culture.
Set entirely away from the centre, housing at Cumbernauld was mostly low-rise groupings of rather traditional appearance (including many'small sturdy cottages set to the wind', as Robin Crichton describes it in Town for Tomorrow, which conveys its ideals in some detail, adding that every 400 houses had a corner shop, every area its own community room) but there were some higher towers. From the beginning, there was a high mix of population at Cumbernauld, and people were allowed to buy plots and build for themselves. The landscaping around the housing areas is spacious, and there were no hermetic, cluttering back-to-back gardens, although the many patio houses included in the town had a good courtyard. The success of centres of this kind in the New Towns of Coventry and Stevenage and further afield in Rotterdam had already proved to the Development Corporation that people like to shop away from the noise and danger of vehicular roads. Replacing the hectic struggle in crowded streets by pleasant conditions where shoppers can stroll and chat made the design an even more evident community-orientated gesture, providing easy access by car and bus (via ramps), and the opportunity to park the car within a short distance of the shops.
From the time of the town's inception the Development Corporation issued a continual flow of promotional literature about 'Britain's new industrial showplace', outlining the financial benefits of businesses moving to the new town as a place of highly attractive social amenities, government grants and loans available, while a parallel physical torrent of journalists, architects and planners from all over the world visited the town from the early 1960s onwards. Demographically, the most pronounced feature of the early residents, predominantly from Glasgow, was that one third was under 15; only 5% were old people. Space, sunlight, sturdy, split-level housing set against the wind, and privacy: these qualities were all exploited to the full. The 'engineering for pedestrians' that Crichton talks about in his film, in reference to the complete segregation of footpaths and roads, he pronounces to be 'brilliantly legible', doing away with the need for traffic lights, let alone points duty police.
Writer Mary Gilliatt visited the town in the autumn of 1966, reporting for Country Life, just after the first phase of the town centre had been completed. 'There still seems to be too much monotone, too much grey everywhere, too little change in the light and shade that are essential if character and individuality are to be given a town built over a period of years not centuries'. However while she acknowledged that fade-free paint in such a blustering climate had limited the colour choices, she was convinced, giving due praise to the 'white pebblestone facing the point blocks with rolling, brooding background of Kilsyth and Ochil hills, and the gleaming massed cube structure of the centre'. She also lauds Cumbernauld's 'astonishing variety in house types and shapes with thoughtful gradations of roofs so that everyone gets a fair share of sunlight and a view down the hill to the woods'.
Alastair Borthwick, another well- known writer of this period, found it disappointing at first. 'I saw houses with blank walls at street level and windows in unlikely places upstairs'. But soon he became converted: 'the oddly positioned windows let in sunlight while the main windows looked north to the view. And the children I saw (they went about in shoals) were having a whale of a time with never a car to bother them'. For him, Cumbernauld's chief advantage was that it was actually planned as a whole. They designed the town first, he pointed out, and then they thought about the houses, in each case for convenience and comfort so there was a compatibility in the thought given to the needs of a dwelling place and a place in which a variety of patterns of movement were honoured. Conventional street patterns were avoided in favour of routes in and around each neighbourhood. These were each given a new name, for instance, Seafar is an old farmland; others took the names of writers and poets. This method of development struct him as quite 'a different matter from starting at one end in the accepted fashion and churning out houses until they came out the other end'. The other aspect which impressed him greatly was that the houses were arranged in such a way that they did not overlook each other. Privacy in a council house garden was unheard of in Scotland until the Cumbernauld planners went to work, so this was truly radical, again a key quality of more recent suburban developments.
The road system had the virtue, he went on to note of not being 'patched together after the houses were built, as it has been in nearly every housing scheme in the land. It was worked out at the beginning, before one brick was laid on another. The traffic is just one more part of total planning, of a town thought as a whole. The ingenuity of the thing attracts me'. The role of the landscape architect was given an imaginative emphasis, too, not seen in Glasgow in this way. Grass, expensive to keep tidy, was not ubiquitous, but interspersed with cobbles, granite setts and paving. Short cuts were discouraged by planting heather instead of grass. Big boulders were left for children to play with instead of being taken away.
Borthwick suspected Cumbernauld might well be windy (as indeed today's Greenwich Millennium Village in London is too, and likewise built to withstand), with slow buses, and the 'place is still a one-class town where the boss lives somewhere else. It couldn't have been much fun being in at the early stages and waiting years for the big shops and the public entertainments to arrive', he speculated. However, he still viewed it as unique among New Towns. 'In the others they have built mostly neighbourhoods, self-contained districts with their own schools and small shopping centres catering for many thousands of people, with a big shopping centre in the middle of the town to serve the lot'. By contrast, Cumbernauld's town centre was on everyone's doorstep. 'Privacy and bright lights within ten minutes of each other is something no other town has'. It was the creation of a new urban model, a hybrid, that impressed him the most: 'Cumbernauld is neither country nor town, but something completely new, a kind of town-country that has never happened before, a place that has the neighbourliness of Glasgow without its grubby streets and 'the privacy and freshness of the countryside without its loneliness'.
Mass provision in housing, in Scotland, needed to take on board a tradition of migration in the country, to mainland Europe and Ireland. Low-rise housing was not challenging to investors. Its plan to put industrial plants not in the middle of a city like the old urban centres, but tucked away beyond residential areas remains valid. Demographically Cumbernauld, while still an important area for business, has shifted hugely, and the pioneering quality of its 'self-made culture' has gone. It seems ironic that Cumbernauld, dubbed a town designed to facilitate people and cars, should be end up becoming a social anachronism due to its very facilitation of mobility. As Crichton poignantly observed, 'There is a limit to what planners can do. They provide the framework - and people make it live'. Self-made culture moved on from Cumbernauld back to the metropolises of Glasgow and Edinburgh, rather than growing in this facilitating design which went past its usefulness, a social experiment that inevitably ended after its test bed phase. The idea that one small town can demonstrate a pattern for the future has also become anachronistic, hard to take seriously and even worrying, particularly in an era when heavily planned commercial developments - like the Bluewater shopping centre built at the edge of a chalk pit in Kent in the late 1990s - can appear like asteroids.
The desire to make a clean break between town and country and preserve the country's 'green and pleasant land' is a sentiment deeply etched in the British psyche. Ironically, this urge to avoid urban sprawl is currently being subjected to challenge from the UK's Deputy Prime Minister in the South East of England, as he presses the button for new building for London and the South East to provide at least 90,000 new homes by 2006. He has earmarked four areas designated for the expansion all outside London, including the other New Town, Milton Keynes. Residents fear the expansion will lead to a significant loss of greenfield land, and, with their own sense of a happy environmental balance being daily eroded by commercial forces, oppose what one resident has called 'this blurring of town and countryside'.
This romantic concept of a firm town/country division is combined at Cumbernauld with an application of zoning that was central to Le Corbusier's Ville Radieuse plan. Residential blocks are placed on the outskirts, with a commercial centre set high on a central hilltop. It seems extraordinary that a late Modernist attempt should be made to radically reshape the concept of an urban centre on multi-level 'megastructural' principles in such a location, as the central nodal point of a highly integrated social vision. The other strand of Cumbernauld's identity was the idea of producing a town easy to add to or dismantle, and flexible enough to cope with changing economic or social patterns. The dismantling of the town centre in 2001 in order to pull apart the megastructure into something more like an open shopping street, filling in the central expressway, shows that the plan, revolving around a heavily interiorised concept of social space that once transcended a purely commercial function, could no longer be sustained by the local council, North Lanarkshire, which took over once the Development Corporation was disbanded. Motives for the destruction seem not to be driven by a plan, just as new housing, in the form of little brick boxes designed by speculative builders, is creeping into the residential areas.
The original projections in 1956 for the population growth pattern of Cumbernauld were never fully reached. By the end of the 1980s, 50,000 people were living there, and private developers moving in before the Corporation was wound down and North Lanarkshire took the reins, built 1800 new houses in two years for a rather more modestly anticipated increase that has led to unexceptional additions to the early schemes.
Any consensus concerning the idea of the 'social' has led us away from the centralising visions of the 20th century. Global capitalism, market-driven property forces, compliant councils, and above changing perceptions of time and place and the emergence of widely differentiated cultural landscapes, with more centralised, commercial visions, have led to cities sprawling beyond their historical boundaries. In the UK, the idea of the high-density, big city district, thriving on its reinvented industrial roots, and reinventing its building stock, has supplanted the neat concept of a rural mono-cultural town with everything in one physical place.
The vision for Cumbernauld that was once so effective as a transitory urban model seems parochial to our 21st century nomadic (or hunter gatherer) inclinations. However the mindset behind its planning of a community in which to live can be seen reflected in more recent suburban developments. The suburb, as much as people like to knock its parochial qualities, has proved through many of its best developments, to be a more durable model. The brilliantly legible solution to the conflict of cars and people that Cumbernauld forged became more of a hindrance than an open door for social fulfilment in Scotland's changing society. Tomorrow's Town Today became something else in a world that was simply less interested in thinking legibly about cultural planning as a community-bound notion.
© Lucy Bullivant
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