THE EXPO EVENT
"The intention of the event was to provide a 'test bed' for design, construction and technological innovation. It was hoped that by exposing the public to new ideas, developers would be inspired to learn new skills and source fresh ideas to incorporate into future designs."
BEYOND THE HOUSES
The whole process of creating this ambitious project for the first time in the UK involved a significant learning curve for everyone, including the architects. The result was the creation of 52 diverse, unique and visionary interpretations of future living, all set in an overall vision for community living created by Cadell2.
However, the completion of the houses was only the first stage in the process. The next challenge was to open the houses as a public event with the results on display for a month, throughout August 2010. Compared with selling a development from the traditional showhome concept, whereby developers have one house completed in advance, in the case of the Expo, the site had to be completed to a standard that complied with the health and safety and accessibility requirements that would be applied to any public event. There was also a dedicated event management team employed by The Highland Council, which included supervisory staff and 'house ambassadors' (mainly construction-related students) who were trained to be able to describe the features of the specific houses they were assigned to any visitor who cared to ask. This type of bespoke service is not offered in the Finnish model, where the invigilation of houses is left to the developer or the architect responsible for delivery.
During the month-long Scottish Housing Expo the houses and their contents provided a platform for showcasing a wealth of Scottish design talent, including interior and product design. The intention of the event was to provide a 'test bed' for design, construction and technological innovation, with a view to informing Scottish house building in the future and to test these ideas on the public. It was hoped that by exposing the public to new ideas, developers would be inspired to learn new skills and source fresh ideas to incorporate into future designs. At the same time, the Expo demonstrated how new building standards could be met in terms of energy efficiency and carbon reduction.
In Finland, in addition to providing the opportunity to explore the houses, a great deal of effort goes into securing sponsorship in the form of furnishings and fittings for interiors, street furniture, gardens and landscaping. This is backed up by a substantial exhibition and 'trade village', giving visitors a chance not only to see fully decorated show-homes, but also the opportunity to see wider ranges of merchandise from the suppliers responsible for the interiors, gardens, etc.
This being the first event of its kind in Scotland, there was no precedent that could be drawn upon to entice potential sponsors of the benefit of getting involved, and this element of the event had to rely on the dogged determination of the Project Co-ordinator, Fiona Porteous and latterly her successor Fiona Hampton. The difficulty in convincing sponsors to take a chance on the Expo was compounded by slow progress on site during the extremely long and cold winter of 2009/10 and a few who had expressed an interest dropped out as the weather worsened - not confident that the event would come to fruition. However, some local companies recognised the opportunities and some major international companies that had been involved in such things before remained confident. In the end, sponsorship of one kind or another was forthcoming from over 70 organisations (not including the contractors and architects who had put in considerable in-kind effort), and those who participated appeared to find their involvement worthwhile.
The event opened on time at 10am on the 1st August and despite the pouring rain, there was a queue of people at the ticket office as the last debris was removed from site to comply with the Council's event safety requirements.
For the whole of August, visitors were able to view 50 completed houses - 20 of which were partially or fully furnished and 12 of which housed exhibitions or events. 18 were unfurnished including 6 flats and some terraced houses that were identical to furnished neighbouring units.
For real enthusiasts or those without the luxury of time on their hands, the whole site could be viewed in a single day, but the option of an upgrade from a single day ticket to a multi-pass return ticket was taken up by 2,500 of the 30,000 plus people who visited the event. An on-site café provided by Cobbs, a local Inverness-shire based company, provided respite for day trippers and a chance to catch up with old friends for return visitors. Perhaps due to the excellent fare on offer or the success of the event in attracting visitors, the café was often overcrowded especially on very good days and in bad weather - a key lesson for the future.
"Sponsorship was forthcoming from over 70 organisations (not including the in-kind effort of the contractors and architects), and those who participated appeared to find their involvement worthwhile."
Site signage is an important feature of the Finnish Fairs in terms of providing information on the features of the house; from room numbers to energy performance to sponsors. Here we adopted similar approach and each house had an information board with a house description provided by the architect, displaying key features from room numbers to materials used and energy performance predictions based on Building Warrant applications.
In order to entertain children, this information was summarised on small trump-type cards that could be collected for each house. This also provided adults interested in buying or renting a particular house with something to remind them of the plot number and other details. Unfortunately, house prices were not available in this instance prior to going to print.
Information boards explaining other site and masterplan features were dotted around the site. The signage designed by local Inverness company Dynam, was not only colourful and informative, but provided a theme that tied the whole site together (see Figure 5.20).
Exhibition opportunities were taken up by a variety of organisations and were available for audiences of all ages. These ranged from entertainment and young children's activities such as 'giant' chess, face painting, stilt walking, through educational activities for young and older visitors - including seminars, workshops and exhibitions. All of these challenged visitors to think beyond the Expo Event to possibilities for the future in a sustainable Scotland.
Major highlights included:
Claystation: Remodelling Home
Claystation ( Ref 5.1), run by Architecture + Design Scotland, which provided an opportunity for visitors to model their own Expo House in modelling clay and then to and locate it wherever they wanted to on a giant map of the Expo. The more technically minded could locate it elsewhere in the World, via a Google Map site. Remodelling Home offered an opportunity for visitors to Scotland's Housing Expo to take creative control and collectively reshape Scotland's homes, streets, towns and cities, to propose a new participatory design model of housing for Scotland in the 21st century. This participatory exhibition provided encouragement to those who live and work in Scotland and beyond, not to merely take a closer look at the houses and spaces around them, but to be active in their rethinking and designing the built environment around them.
New Start Highland
New Start Highland ( Ref 5.2) helps people maintain their homes through a furniture supply, housing support and a decorating service. They also provide a range of training opportunities for people finding it difficult to secure employment. At the Expo, New Start Highland furnished four of the Cairn Housing Association properties on Plot 1 using recycled and donated furniture, demonstrating not only how stylish reused furniture can be, but also what a great range of furniture New Start can supply.
Edinburgh International Science Festival
The Edinburgh Science festival ( Ref 5.3) hosted the Cosy Cosy Game Show on a daily basis throughout the event. This activity consists of a game show for parents and children in which they are challenged to work out how to stop heat leaking from model houses. The game is played against the clock against other participating teams with the objective of trying to beat those around you by saving the most energy - and money!
The Highland Council Countryside Rangers
The Highland Council Countryside Rangers ( Ref 5.4) provided a daily programme during the Expo of family activities from mini beast-hunts to wildlife gardening to show that even new housing developments are home to a variety of wildlife. These activities varied from day to day, ranging from making a mini-beast home or bat box, to planting some wildflower seeds or creating a frog friendly log pile, subject to visitor demand and the weather.
This exhibition showcased the work of Sust.: Architecture + Design Scotland's Sustainability in Architecture Programme ( Ref 5.5) which had provided support to the Expo from the outset. Sust. explores the barriers and opportunities to delivering sustainable design. It acts as a catalyst for mainstreaming 'green' thinking in the built environment by providing support to live projects in partnership with a wide range of organisations, including communities, construction professionals, academic institutions, young people and client groups. For more information see - www.sust.org - a web resource giving access to a wide variety of sustainability information, resources and guidance suitable for a broad audience.
Spaces of Labour
Spaces of Labour ( Ref 5.6) explores the relationship between architecture, design and Scotland's economic future. The exhibition investigated the view that the long-term future of the Scottish economy is dependent on the expansion and re-invigoration of the manufacturing and industrial sector. Architecture has a key role to play by imagining what innovative types of productive landscape might emerge in areas such as energy production, eco-transport systems, and green building materials. At the same time, the exhibition looked at how we value the historical places and buildings associated with our declining industries: coal, textiles, fishing and slate. It also speculated whether it is possible to regenerate these by finding new uses for these buildings and infrastructure.
ANTA ( Ref 5.7), a partnership between designers Annie & Lachan Stewart and the craftsmen and women with whom they work provided one of the few retail opportunities on site. ANTA is an interior design and architecture company, specialising in home grown products. The team set up a shop in an 'ANTA House' on the vacant plot 10 and attracted a lot of interest in their SAVE (Sustainable, Affordable, Vernacular, Ecological) house and natural products and fabrics.
TIMBERPLAY PLAY AREA
For almost a decade, Timberplay have pioneered natural play design, by incorporating natural play equipment and exceptional design into everyday play spaces from schools and nurseries, public parks, leisure sites, visitor attractions and even city centres. With the support of Wayne and Geraldine Hemingway, who championed the event from the outset, the Housing Expo was lucky enough to secure a play area designed by Timberplay, which catered for, and was a real hit with children of all ages, providing an innovative, exciting and completely new play experience.
Other exhibitors included - Aggregates Industries, Invisible Heating Systems, MAKAR Ltd/Neil Sutherland Architects, National House-Building Council ( NHBC), Registers of Scotland, RoWAN - Waste Action and Composting and Recycling, Scots Pine Resource, Russwood, the Scottish Ecological Design Association and the Scottish Passive House Centre.
There was a range of seminars and activities in and around the Expo to attract all ages, many with an eco-friendly and sustainable living theme. They aimed to educate and inform visitors about the ethos of the Expo and the concepts and building methods used for each property. Two notable examples were:
A series of professionally orientated seminars organised by Architecture + Design Scotland's Sust. Programme, which offered an opportunity for housing and building specialists to hear and debate with expert opinion on a range of special interest topics related to the industry. These seminars were organised around linked themes each week in order that those delegates who wished to have time to explore the Expo fully would have a reason to stay in Inverness for more than one day.
Contextual Planning and Architectural Responses,
Design Frameworks and Lessons from Europe,
Sustainability, Materials and Energy Supply,
Ecological Design - Where next? and The Future for Scottish Timber in Construction.
The seminars were run in association with various organisations including the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, Inverness Architectural Association, Homes for Scotland, the Scottish Ecological Design Association, the Forestry Commission Scotland, and the Centre for Timber Engineering (Edinburgh Napier University). They included contributions from the Expo masterplanner, the house designers and developers, local architects, The Scottish Government, and the University of Strathclyde and local authority planners, with further contributions from other European experts and the people behind delivering an Expo in Scotland.
Housing Policy Reform Debate
The Architecture and Place Division of The Scottish Government's Directorate for the Built Environment organised two events at the Expo around The Scottish Government's engagement with the public on housing policy reform and the web-based 'Fresh thinking, New ideas' discussion ( Ref 5.8). The particular theme that these two events explored was 'Quality and Place'.
Other Seminars included the topics: Passive House, Registers of Scotland, Scottish Timber in Construction, Sustainable Urban Drainage and a number of the site exhibitors ran product-specific events.
POINTS FOR THE FUTURE
All in all, as an event the first Scottish Housing Expo had something for everyone. There was no guideline to work from and in many ways the process of delivering the event had to be created from scratch, while drawing on the experience of partners and dialogue with the Finnish Housing Fair Co-operative in specific areas of expertise. The visits to Finland had acted as an initial inspiration, but some new key elements were added in response to The Scottish Government's and The Highland Council's own priorities. An example of the differences between this event and the projects studied in mainland Europe is the use of local materials, which seems to come naturally in other countries, but which proved a real challenge to deliver in Scotland. However, there were no standard plots and no standard solutions, unlike the Finnish model, where at least some regular solutions had been adopted over the last 40 years. When the Expo project was initiated in 2005, it had been agreed that high ambitions should be set in order to maximise what could be achieved. In the end the outcome far exceeded many people's expectations.
There were elements that were not delivered at all. And notwithstanding the architectural and landscape elements of this (which are discussed in Chapters 6 and 8), how to manage delivery of the items discussed below should be considered for any future such event.
One over-riding ambition that was not fulfilled was the intention to have a 'trade village' of exhibition and retail areas. Two impacts of this were a missed opportunity to use this to grow sponsorship and the number of houses that remained unfurnished or partly furnished. In addition, feedback from visitors indicated disappointment in the lack of opportunities to spend money and to engage with suppliers - from construction companies and energy system suppliers to soft furnishing designers and retailers.
But the sponsors listed in the Reference section at the end of the book did take up exhibition space in the marquee, independently on-site or in unfurnished areas of some of the houses.
Lessons for the future are discussed further in Chapter 7 in relation to the Event and Chapter 8 with regard to the delivery of the houses from the viewpoint of some of the architects. At the time of writing, The Scottish Government is undertaking a review of all aspects of the Expo, this will explore in greater detail some of the issues raised here anecdotally.