Looking again at public space

THERE is something special about physical places and the stories they contain.

We all have an internal list of our favourite places from long ago, or favourites we visit regularly.

Every now and again, we are able to see those destinations through fresh eyes when an unexpected collaboration leads to a public space being altered, augmented or transformed into something entirely different.

From the Weeping Windows in Perth to Glenfiddich’s resident artist (giant noses floating on a pond was one particularly memorable project), destinations across Scotland are becoming more switched on to the potential for attracting visitors by showcasing their best assets with a new or quirky collaboration.

Perhaps the biggest example of success in Aberdeenshire has been Drum Castle working with Aberdeen Art Gallery to house a series of exhibitions, showcasing part of the gallery’s vast collection as their old home on Schoolhill undergoes major development.

Wandering through what used to be staff quarters, the art on display feels like part of the place, as if the owner has gone out and you have a rare opportunity to explore their private art collection.

Drum Castle has seen a 31% spike in paying visitors and 25% growth in non-paying visitors as a result of this partnership.

You don’t need to have a castle at your disposal to showcase something new and different.

A project group in Braemar has taken on a redundant church in the village and used it as a venue for performances, concerts and events; in doing so the project opened up what was a disused, forgotten space and made it work for the community, simultaneously creating a new tourism opportunity.

The long term plan is now to establish an internationally renowned performance and cultural venue celebrating the rich heritage of Braemar and its place in the Cairngorms National Park.

Another highly effective collaboration between the Cairngorms National Park and some of Scotland’s most talented young architects and landscape architects has come about through the Scottish Government’s Scenic Routes Initiative.

By developing the Snow Roads scenic route, the park hopes to enhance the visitor experience of Scotland’s landscape by creating innovative installations that celebrate some of the nation’s most majestic scenery.

The finishing touches are now being applied to the new installations, which will be complete by the end of the year.

I have already seen “The Watchers” at Corgarff and can’t wait for my next trip over to Tomintoul to see “Language of Stone” – an elevated viewpoint feature with a nod to the site’s quarrying history.

The Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design has shone a spotlight on some of Scotland’s most outstanding built heritage, as well as its lesser known hidden gems.

Architecture will always be a noticeable feature of our world; and with a little bit of innovation we can redesign some of our best loved or our forgotten buildings and public spaces, creating something way beyond their original destinies.