With the advent of mechanised transport and the reality of increased mobility borne out of this industrialisation, the Italian Futurists were obsessed with the idea of speed: ‘We say that the world’s magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty; the beauty of speed,’ Marinetti would declare in their inaugural 1909 manifesto. Indeed Sant’Elia imagined a layered city centre accommodating trains, trams, buses, cars, aeroplanes and was even gracious enough to spare an afterthought for pedestrians.
It was in this very spirit of juvenile misadventure that a scheme for the M8 motorway was contracted; a motorway that would traumatically rip through the urban fabric of Glasgow, bisecting the city and forever leaving it scarred. Only the river Clyde presents a greater physical barrier. It is with hindsight that we may now survey the callous misguidedness of this endeavour.
Instituted in 1965 (just before the construction of the inner city section of the M8), it was not with hindsight, but prescient foresight, that the New Glasgow Society had to rely on when confronted with serious urban issues such as these. The Society had their eyes wide open. They beheld a magnificent Victorian city (albeit not without its problems) and recognised the quality of its existing building stock at a time when it was not voguish to do so. From its inception, the Society was instrumental in raising public awareness to the full consequences of the construction of the M8 through Glasgow amongst numerous other issues.
However, it would be erroneous and doing the Society a disservice to consider it merely in terms of being preservationist in aim. On the contrary, throughout its history the New Glasgow Society has long supported and actively promoted new projects deemed to be worthy of and beneficial to Glasgow. Indeed, from its inception and into the 1970s (with a burgeoning membership of over fifteen-hundred), the Society used its considerable and persuasive influence to express its views and concerns to the relevant authorities, advancing or disparaging a project as deemed fit. Nor did the society shy from conflict, squaring-up to the Glasgow Corporation (for example) over the then proposed widening of Great Western Road.
Thus a society was formed in possession of the collective vision of its members and, moreover, their unequivocal voice for the betterment of its city. This was a vision that would discern, not just observe; this was a voice for Glasgow that would build-up, not condemn.
Regrettably, since these auspicious beginnings, the Society has declined considerably, both in membership and interest – it was in dire need of a catalyst. To that end, a desire to revitalise the New Glasgow Society has been sown. Accordingly, the preexisting commercial unit has been refurbished and re-presented as a gallery space; a new website has been built; and there is an ongoing commitment to edit and preserve the Society’s extensive and fascinating archive. A re-launch party in the gallery space emblematically marked this resurrection on Saturday, 5th March 2011.
The Society’s firmly-held conviction is that it is timeous to cultivate a renaissance for the urban fabric of Glasgow. The re-launch event is indicative of a broader intention to engage in a programme of activities for the long-term. There is an ambition to promote and enhance the series of talks and walking-tours provided by the Society in order to raise awareness of the urban milieu. There is an intent to rediscover a much-needed voice for the local community, thereby invoking the original spirit of the Society and becoming more proactive in the assembling and shaping of our city. Finally, the key component of the new agenda is to forge a strong link to architectural education. This will be cultivated (in part) by the launch of what is envisaged will be the first of several architectural competitions for students – the two Glasgow schools of architecture invited together to focus attention on a specific area or issue. With consideration to the Society’s genesis, it is fitting that the initiatory competition should centre on the effects of the new M74 extension, currently severing the south side of the city.
The Society exists to promote, encourage and stimulate public interest in, and care for, the beauty, history and character of the city of Glasgow and its surroundings. The Society demands high standards of architecture and town-planning in the Glasgow region (in co-operation with other interested organisations, where appropriate). The preservation, development and improvement of features of general public amenity or historic interest is encouraged. The New Glasgow Society seeks to pursue these ends by means of meetings, exhibitions, lectures, publications, conference, publicity and schemes that are of a charitable nature.
Now is the time to re-open those weary eyes and stretch that vocal range once more.
The next event at the New Glasgow Society will be on Thursday 17th March from 5.30pm, with a talk about the exhibition and the Society at 6.30pm. Refreshments will be provided. The New Glasgow Society: 1307 Argyle Street (next to Firebird). www.newglasgowsociety.org.