Making Space: exploring the link between architecture and community through photography

By Sophie Hannam

The current photography exhibition at the Edinburgh Portrait Gallery reminds us of the importance of community spaces and preserving the past

The exhibition Making Space, on show at the Edinburgh Portrait Gallery until 3 March, depicts the impact of architecture on individual lives. It showcases a vast range of photographs that illustrate the changes in social spaces as far back as the 1800s. Through this portrayal, visitors are able to appreciate the repercussions that surrounding architecture has on its locals.

A specific image by Kirsty MacKay titled Children Walking Home from School was, in my opinion at least, one of the most poignant examples of this theme. The photograph shows two young boys in Drumchapel running across a road littered with potholes that are filled to the brim with rainwater and mud. In the background, street lamps turn on as the miserable sky begins to darken further into the evening. Other than this there remains very little by the means of “architecture”, with trees and fields controlling the surrounding spaces. MacKays’ ability to capture the melancholic climate of rainy Scotland and the merge of rural life within an increasingly urban society left me in awe. Representing the struggles that a wide majority of Scottish youths face in trying to keep up with the modern world whilst living in an area lacking the funding and general capabilities to accommodate our new way of living. As such it is suggested to the viewer that this overt lack of architecture inhibits public evolution, forcing one foot to be forever stuck in the past. 

The exhibition features a wide collection of photographs loaned from the National Galleries of Scotland and the Tate. On the whole, Making Space places a large focus on the lives of those living in more deprived areas around Scotland, particularly surrounding Glasgow. Areas around East Kilbride are given a significant level of attention, honouring the area as a site for environmental sustainability whilst also featuring sections of widespread poverty. Glasgow in the Victorian era is also highlighted as a cultural hub, with depictions of poets, architects and artists side by side. Its poverty is also highlighted with claustrophobic closes squeezing large families next to each other to maximise rent profits.  

Wall after wall sits covered in derelict housing and demolition sites, in which we are able to see the erasure of our past to make way for the future. The exhibition attempts to challenge this erasure, advocating for the past as the foundation of our society. Times in which community spaces were seen as the backbones of a town, ensuring the human connection and culture that has grown to be a defining feature of Scotland as we know it. One such photograph shows a tea room within a football stadium, typical in that the two most classic components of British culture find a way to merge. This architectural inclusion emphasises the intention of such buildings to be a service to their surrounding community, as opposed to a clinical move away from the local. Today, safe spaces where society can intermingle are becoming few and far apart and socialising appears to have moved online, leaving the physical space dominated by work and functionality. 

On leaving the exhibition I was left with a profound admiration for the importance of architecture on the union of individuals. Moving into the future, the exhibit argues for the importance of maintaining the past and the present, and that the individual needs to be at the focus of all future development. As we step into this new era of what architecture has to offer, I hope, as the exhibit does, that the past and present make a feature.


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