An eye for design
Scotland wants to improve its architecture – so it’s picked a man who works frrm a shed. Susan Downer meets Raymond Young
Raymond Young was never likely to achieve fame and fortune as one of those architects who get tourists posing and cameras clicking.
Take the most beautiful house in the world, or the ugliest, and the man chosen to lead Architecture and Design Scotland will pose the same two questions: ‘How do you clean that window, and how do you get a coffin down the stairs?’ He explains:
Basically it’s asking, does the building work for people? Dignity matters. It is important that we think about these kind of things, about how humanity is treated.’
Apart from the Govan youth club he designed years ago (since demolished) Mr Young can put exactly one building to his name -the much admired straw structure in his garden once known as ‘Raymond’s smoke shack’ and now known simply as ‘the shed’. Even for that he called in an architect.
So when he was invited by the Scottish Executive to chair Architecture and Design Scotland (A&DS) he was slightly surprised. ‘I thought they would want a high-powered architect or something like that.’
He certainly doesn’t go out of his way to come across as high-powered If you had to guess, you’d probably think he was a married-to-the-job olde worlde university lecturer, all pipe smoke and worn leather sofas. As it is he’s long abandoned the pipe and despite being an honorary research fellow at Glasgow University’s department for urban studies, his CV gives the impression of a committed bureaucrat: a man who found a respectable niche, settled down and did pretty well in a solid, public servant sort of way.
But Raymond Young has a lifelong passion. From the time his boss at the electricity board wages department spoke the inspiring words that shaped young Raymond’s future -‘Stop doodling and away and be an architect’- he has been passionate about design participation, starting with a live case study in Govan, Glasgow.
‘There had been previous attempts at tenement rehabilitation but they failed because they did not engage residents. What 1 was passionately concerned about was that ordinary people ought to have a much greater role in the built environment,’ he says. ‘Design is a skill everyone has got:
He went for six months and stayed 20 years, setting up Assist, now a thriving community architecture practice, in the process. Put together the passion, the principle and the public sector foundations and it’s not hard to see why was the man for the job.
When A&DS is launched in April, design participation will inevitably be high on the agenda for Raymond Young and the two deputy chairs – Malcolm Fraser, voted Scottish Architect of the Year in 2002 and 2003, and Professor Brian Evans, a partner in Gillespies urban and landscape design practice and a member of Cabe’s enabling panel.
Like its predecessor, the Royal Fine Arts Commission for Scotland, A&DS will still carry out design reviews, but in a slightly different way (and with twice the budget).
‘The familiar process is that you’re only asked for comment when something is submitted for planning approval. What we are saying is that is too late. We want to talk about what your design concept is. We want to get masterplans before they are beautifully drawn up. We don’t want to see finalised PowerPoint presentations.
We want to see the bits of paper on which people have got sketches. It’s much more helpful from their point of view because it helps them to think it through. This is basically a free government peer review service.’
The last thing he wants is for A&PS to be an intimidating, authoritarian figure ‘We have this saying in Scotland, ‘Ah kent his faither’ -I knew his father -and it’s the biggest put down ever. It says you are a wee laddie from such and such a place, I know exactly what you are. We need to encourage talent rather than put it down. No one ever achieves anything positive without making mistakes on the way.
‘We are not going to have a statutory role which says do this or you don’t get planning permission. I would hate to have a quasi-judicial role. I would much rather it be about persuasion and encouragement rather than tell people what to do. It is carrots rather than sticks.’
And it will be about passion, about bringing architecture and design to life for everyone.
‘Architecture is about place-making, not about sculpture-making. We need to recognise that it is about places for people; it is about places peope want to go because it gives them uplift. It is about raising our game. We have to ensure that the wow factor architecture can give also applies to residential places and spaces where people live.
‘Architecture helps the community. When people are involved they own it and want to look after it. Design is not about somebody else.’
Perhaps with his 100m² house of straw in mind, he adds, ‘Good design does not have to cost very much, it is about thinking it through and doing it properly. It is quality and it is care and it is detail.
CV: Raymond Young
Born 1946, Jarrow
Work 1971-74 Assist, community based architectural practice, community based tenement rehabilitation
1974-78 set up Glasgow office of Housing Corporation
1978-1989 director of Housing Corporation Scotland
1989-1997 Scottish Homes. Initially director for the north, focused on rural housing. In 1992 became director of research and innovation. Supported 12- week training course for community housing association committee members ‘Designs on you’ about how people relate to buildings they live in and how buildings relate to each other.
1997-now, part time consultant. Joined Forward Scotland which promotes sustainable development, headed environment task force on New Deal Task Force in Scotland, appointed to UK Sustainable Development Commission
2004, chair of Architecture and Design Scotland