Aiste / Essay: Cruth-tìre & (Ath)tuineachadh / Landscape & (Re)settlement, Baillie Baillie Architects

WILD LAND or OUR LAND: Can a landscape scattered with the remains of thousands of years of human habitation and cultivation be considered ‘wild’; and how might its successful resettlement be realised? The following text, entitled 'Traces', accompanied Baillie Baillie Architects' recent Archifringe exhibition, Landscape & (Re)settlement / Cruth-tìre & (Ath)tuineachadh, which along with talks from Community Land Scotland explored the prospect of resettlement and what we should learn from historic settlement patterns in the Highlands.


Map showing cleared townships in Strath Brora, Sutherland

Map showing cleared townships in Strath Brora, Sutherland

Ghreimich na bothain chrotach an talamh mar bheòthaichean fada len cinn an-còmhnaidh paisgte dhan bheinn. Nan laighe mar seo a dh’ionnsaigh nan leathad bha iad mar phàirt de ruitheam na tìre...Bha treudan den bhothain bheag seo aig eadaramhan fada, agus siud ‘s seo bothan dha fhèin mar bhiast air seachran...
— Niall M. Gunnach (Butcher’s Broom)

Mar shòisealtas tha sinn buailteach a bhith toirt spèis do dh’àitichean-tuinidh eachdraidheil taobh a-staigh crutha-tìre bua-choilleag - bailtean-cnuic bìdeach Tuscanach, no clachain iomallach Ailpeach. Ach bidh nòiseanan gun togar taigheadas ùr san àrainneachd nàdarra ag adhbharachadh freagairt gu tùr diùltach. Gu dearbh, tha am beachd seo air a ghlèidheadh ann am poileasaidh planaidh. Ann an Alba, tha crathlaichean bailtean beaga neo-fhoirmeil, ma dh’fhaoidte as fhearr air am mìneachadh leis an fhacal Gàidhlig ‘clachain’, a bheathaich aig aon àm coimhearsnachdan smiorail le beartas dualchais is cultair thairis air a’ mhòr chuid den Ghàidhealtachd bheanntach. Anns na Fuadaichean san ochdamh agus naodhamh linn deug, ‘s ann a bha caoraich air an toirt a-steach agus na daoine air an sparradh a-mach. Gu ruige an linn Bhictòrianach bha an cruth-tìre seo den Ghàidhealtachd Albannach, a-nis beag-shluaghach, air a mheasadh am bitheantas mar ‘fhàsach’ romansach. Tha na srathan Cataibh mar eisimpleir, mar an fheadhainn air an tug Niall Gunnach cunntas san leabhar aige Butcher’s Broom, an-diugh fhathast gu mòr nam fàsach.

Mar phàtran tuineachaidh, ‘s ann le dàimhealachd dhlùth cho-chèileach don talamh a tha an clachan air charactaradh. Tha taighean fa leth suidhichte gu neo-fhoirmeil, a’ lorg a’ chumaidh-thìre is nan suidhe gu h-ìosal, fiù ‘s air an slocachadh san talamh. Leigeadh teanantachd na talmhainn àite gu leòr airson croitearachd, ag adhbharachadh beàrnadh bothain ruitheamach agus a-rèir coltais saor. Mothaichear leantaileachd uachdar na talmhainn anns na spàsan seo eadarra; canabhas nàdarra a leigeas treabhair mar seo a bhith co-suidhichte agus am fighte a-steach dhan chruth-tìre. [Figs 1 & 2]

 
Fig 1. Gearrannan, preserved clachan on the Isle of Lewis. Photograph by Ashley Cooper

Fig 1. Gearrannan, preserved clachan on the Isle of Lewis. Photograph by Ashley Cooper

 
 

 

O cionn greis, dh’fhreagair Fearann Coimhearsnachd na h-Alba co-chomhairleachadh an Riaghaltais Albannaich air am Bile Planaidh a’ cur an taic ri ath-nuadhachadh is ath-shluaigheachd cuid de na sgìrean as miosa air am bualadh le fuadaichean eachdraidheil agus dearmad eaconomaigeach maireannach. Ged a tha fhios gu bheil suidheachaidhean ann ‘s fhuilear do leasachadh a smachdachadh gu teann - crios-uaine stèidhichte mar aon eisimpleir a rùnaich gu dligheil ri sgaoileadh frith-bhailteach a chuingealachadh. Gidheadh, tha e cuideachd neònach gu bheilear a’ toirt carraighean-cuimhne chlàraichte am broinn ‘talamh fiadhaich’ air eòrnach criomagaichte de bhailtean is chlachain a bha sluaghach is àitichte ann an dòigh maireann agus so-sheasmhach fad ceudan, agus gu bitheanta, mìltean de bhliadhnaichean.

Ma dh’fhaodte gu bheil am miann a dh’ionnsaigh a bhith a’ fanaid gu dubh air gach uile leasachadh taigheadais ùire ann an àitichean neo-thruaillte ceangailte ri co-cheanglaichean domhain diùltach eadar taigheadas ùr agus tomad taigheadais leasaichear, m.e. sgaoileadh frith-bhailteach. Ma thèid ath-thuineachadh de ghlinn Ghàidhealtachd fuadaichte air adhart, ‘s buntainneach a bhith a’ dol às àicheadh na faireachdainn seo. Anns a’ cho-theacsa de chòmhradh eadar a bhith a’ glèidheadh a’ chrutha-tìre agus ath-thuineachadh de choimhearsnachdan so-sheasmhach, ‘s riatanach nach ann a-mhàin an ‘fhìrinn’ de fhàsachadh eachdraidheil a tha air a deasbad, ach gur iad cumaidhean dùthchasach agus pàtaranan còmhnaidhe, le am brìgh chultarach fighte a-steach, agus am freagairteachd don chruth-tìre a tha air am beachdachadh agus air an tuigsinn.

Fig 3. Turn End, Haddenham, Peter Aldington. Photograph by Arcaid Images

Fig 3. Turn End, Haddenham, Peter Aldington. Photograph by Arcaid Images

‘S e seann sgeulachd a tha seo. Chan ann tric a tha bailtean-beaga, neo clachain ann an Alba, air a bhith aig teis-meadhan diosgursa ailtearachd. Mar fhreagairt air a’ ghrad-atharrachadh a dh’ionnsaigh bailteachadh tron naodhamh linn deug is tràth san fhicheadamh linn, shònraich ath-nuadhachadh bailteil prògram a’ ghluasaid mhodarnaich, feumar coimhead air ais chun a’ ghluasaid dhealbhachaidh bhaile dhealbhadail gus lorg fhaighinn air tuineachadh dùthchail mar chuspair aig meadhan oide-eòlas agus cleachdadh. Tha corra eisgeachdan ann, mar an cròileagan thaighean le Peter Aldington ann an Haddenham, air an dealbhachadh agus an togail anns na 1960an [Figs. 3 & 4]. An-seo chaidh an dà chuid na cànain mhodarnach agus dhùthchasach an eadar-thoinnte ri chèile gu h-ealamh, a’ toirt ciall do bhuidhneachadh thaighean le beartais spàsail a dhèiligeas gu mothachail ri an suidheachadh baile-bhig agus na craobhan abaich sa chruth-tìre mu thimcheall: aig an aon àm air fhighte a-steach dhan tradaisean agus a’ coimhead air adhart. Dh’fhaodadh eisimpleirean eile den cho-chur seo na Taighean Kingo le Jorn Utzon [Fig. 5 & 6] a ghabhail a-steach, sgaoilte ann an cròileagain cho-dhlùth a’ toirt gu cuimhne na h-ìomhaigh de bhaile-cnuic air a chruthachadh ann an dòigh organach, no nas ùire an taigheadas le Sergison Bates ann an Aldershot ag ath-thathachadh a’ gnè-eòlais leth-dhealaichte co-cheangailte ri taigheadas frith-bhailteach ann am modh a shuidhicheas e nas dlùithe ri prionnsabalan deilbh-bhaile agus an tional co-dhèanta.

Fig 5. Kingo Houses, Helsingør, Denmark, Jørn Utzon. Photograph by Jørgen Jespersen

Fig 5. Kingo Houses, Helsingør, Denmark, Jørn Utzon. Photograph by Jørgen Jespersen


‘S e tèama bitheanta anns na h-eisimpleirean seo a tha anns an dealachadh eadar togalaichean agus bun-structar foirmeilichte, cabhsairean is àiteachan pàircidh - fear  a smachdaicheas taigheadas leasaichear gu tric ann an Alba (smaoinichibh bealach caoch frith-bhailteach). Tha coltas ann an-seo a dhearbhaicheas am miann seo air canabhas co-shuidhichte a chuireas air acair gu cumhachdach an clachan air talamh.  Chuir ìomhaigheachd thràth de dh’Aldershot le Sergison Bates, mar eisimpleir, na taighean mar nithean fa-leth an aghaidh còmhnard talmhainn leantannach a’ cruthachadh an dà chuid na sràide agus gàrraidhean fosgailte, ag obair gus na taighean a cho-aonachadh an aghaidh an suidheachaidh [Fig. 7]. ‘S ann an leithid de dh’ìomhaigheachd a chuireas an cuimhne na dealbhan-peantaidh neo-bheò le Giorgio Morandi [Fig. 8]. Tha co-sheirm ann eadar nithean agus an suidheachadh fillte a-staigh gu làidir anns na coimeasgaidhean smuainteach seo a tha cuideachd ag ath-ghairm a’ mhìneachaidh aig Gunnach air na taighean-dubha mar “phàirt den ruitheam na talmhainn e fhèin”.

 

Fig 7. Suburban Villas, Aldershot, Hampshire. Sergison Bates architects

Fig 7. Suburban Villas, Aldershot, Hampshire. Sergison Bates architects


Tha ath-fhuaimneachd ann eadar togalaichean, coimhearsnachd, agus àite ann an àitichean-tuinidh soirbheachail agus maireachdainn. ‘S eagalach cho gann ‘s a tha na feartan, mas fhìor ion-choimheartach, de cho-leantainn agus maireannachd anns a’ mhòr chuid de thaigheadas leasaichear air ùr-thogail ann an Alba, agus ‘s ann nas cudromaiche a tha an fheumalachd air ro-innleachdan planaidh agus modailean thuineachaidh nuair a thathar beachdachadh air leasachadh ann an co-theacsa frionasach dùthchail. Gidheadh, ‘s lèir gu bheil modailean soirbheachail ann. Air a shon sin ‘s furasta co-dhùnadh a dhèanamh gur ann air na làraich fon dheasbad air ath-thuineachadh a tha an ro-shampall dùthchasach foghlamach as fhearr, an clachan. Rinn ailtirean an naodhamh linn deug Daibhidh MacGìobain & Tòmas Rosach, ag obair a-mach à Dùn Èideann, suirbhidh air leth mion air an tugar ‘The Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland’, a chruinnich iad mar fhoillseachan ioma iom-leabhar. Chruthaich na dealbhan suirbhidh mhionaideach aca (a rinneadh air cùirtean chunbhalach timcheall na dùthcha air rothairean is trèanaichean), taobh ri taobh ris an obair sgoileireachd, tùs-leabhair chudromaich sgìreil, a dhrùidh a-steach do an cuid obrach fhèin, agus a thug buaidh air an co-aoisiche agus an iar-theachdaichean. Anns an spiorad MacGìobain & Rosach, am faodar e bhith comasach an clachan a chlàradh agus a sgrùdadh mar gnè-eòlais, agus luaidh a thoirt air ro-innleachd ath-thuineachaidh cho-aimsireil?

Tha a’ mhòr chuid de chlachain air a’ Ghàidhealtachd air chriomagachadh thar aithneachainn mar àitichean-fuirich, ach mairidh an lorgan fhathast air an tìr. Tobhtaichean, ballaichean air tuiteam gu làr no làraich cha mhòr nach ghabhas mothachadh uile a dh’innseas gun robh iad ann, agus ‘s comasach do na fuighleachan seo fhathast a bhith a’ co-phàirteachadh gu balbhach an spàirn a rinneadh ann le mac-an-duine, an nàistinn agus ri chèile, an coimhearsnachd. Thadhal Alexander Fenton air a’ chlachan aig Àrnol an Taobh Siar Leòdhais, sa Chèitean 1964, àite a bha aig an àm co-dhèanta den dà chuid taighean-còmhnaidh am ficheadamh linn agus taighean-dubha. Mhothaich esan brìgh dhomhain gun robh an aimsirean cèine ag aonachadh leis an làthaireach na latha fhèin, ag ràdh gun robh “lorgan fhathast soilleir gu leòr gus cuir nad shùil siostam co-fhillte fada nas fhoincseanaiche de cho-bhith choiteanta” (Fenton 1978). An-diugh fiù ‘s air an iomall-fairge an Iar anns na h-Eileanan Siar dh’fhaodadh gu bheil na lorgan seo a’ seòladh à lèirsinn. A’ tilleadh airson mionaid chun nan deilibh-pheantaidh le Morandi, tha e coltach gu bheil iad a’ conaltradh brìgh neo-thìmeil agus gearr-shaoghalach co-chosmhail. Sgrìobh John Berger (2001) gun robh na nithean aig Morandi “coimhead mar gu bheil iad air impis dol à bith”, ach an uairsin ‘s ann a cheasnaicheas e ann an a’ dol à bith a tha iad no ann an a’ faoisgneadh - a’ tighinn am follais - “Chan ann a-mhàin nuair a dh’fhalbhas rudan a dh’fhàgas làraich, b’ urrainn dhaibh cuideachd a bhith comharraidhean airson pròiseact, rudeigin ri teachd.

The round-back cottages clung to the earth like long animals whose folded heads were always to the mountain. Lying thus to the slopes they were part of the rhythm of the land itself...There were little herds of these cottages at long intervals, and every now and then a cottage by itself like a wandered beast...
— Neil M. Gunn (Butcher’s Broom)

As a society we often venerate historic settlements within bucolic landscape settings - tiny Tuscan hill towns, or remote alpine villages. But notions of building new housing within the natural landscape generally evoke a profoundly negative response. Indeed, this position is enshrined in planning policy. In Scotland, scatterings of small townships, perhaps best described by the Gaelic word clachan, once supported vibrant communities with a rich heritage and culture across much of the mountainous highlands. In the clearances of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, sheep were moved onto the land and people were forced out. By the Victorian era the sparsely populated landscape of much of the Scottish Highlands became commonly regarded as a romanticised wilderness. The Straths of Sutherland for example, like that described in Neil Gunn’s novel Butcher’s Broom, today remain comparatively deserted.

As a settlement pattern, the clachan is characterised by a close and reciprocal relationship with the land. Individual houses are informally situated, tracking the topography and set low, even burrowed into the earth. Tenancy of the land permitted space enough for small scale agriculture, resulting in a seemingly free and rhythmic spacing of cottages. There is a perceived continuity of the ground plane in these spaces between; a natural canvas that allows a cluster of buildings to be co-located and embedded within the landscape. [Figs 1 & 2]

Fig 2. Grudaidh an Iar, cleared clachan in Strath Brora (Author’s own drawing)

Fig 2. Grudaidh an Iar, cleared clachan in Strath Brora (Author’s own drawing)

Community Land Scotland’s recent response to the Scottish Government’s Planning Bill consultation supports a case for re-settlement and renewal of some of the areas worst affected by historic forced clearances and continuing economic neglect.  There are of course circumstances that call for strict control of development - designated green-belt zones being one example which are legitimately intended to limit the creep of suburban sprawl. However it also seems perverse that the crumbled ruins of settlements which were continuously and sustainably inhabited for many thousands of years are deemed to be scheduled monuments within wild land.

Perhaps the sceptical reaction induced by any and all new housing developments in so-called unspoilt locations is due to a deeply negative association with new housing and mass developer housing, i.e suburbia. If resettlement of cleared highland glens is to occur, it is pertinent that this perception is challenged.  In the context of a discourse between preservation of the landscape and the resettlement of sustainable communities, it is imperative that not merely the fact of past depopulation is discussed, but that vernacular forms of dwelling and patterns of inhabitation, with their embedded cultural significance, and responsiveness to the landscape are considered and understood.

 
 
Fig 4. Turn End, Haddenham, Peter Aldington. Author’s own drawing

Fig 4. Turn End, Haddenham, Peter Aldington. Author’s own drawing

This is an old story. The realms of villages, townships, and in Scotland clachans, have seldom been the focus of recent architectural discourse. In response to rapid urbanisation through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, urban renewal defined the programme of the Modern Movement, and one must look back to the Picturesque town planning movement to find rural settlement as a central theme in pedagogy and practice. Several notable exceptions exist, such as Peter Aldington’s cluster of village houses in Haddenham, designed and built in the 1960s [Figs 3 & 4]. Here both the languages of modernism and the vernacular are deftly intertwined, giving expression to a spatially rich grouping of houses which respond sensitively to their village setting and the surrounding landscape of mature trees: at once embedded in tradition and forward looking. Other examples of this synthesis might include Jorn Utzon’s Kingo houses [Figs 5 & 6], scattered loosely in contiguous clusters evoking the image of an organically formed hill top village, or more recently Sergison Bates’s housing in Aldershot which revisits the semi-detached typology associated with suburban housing in a manner that situates it more closely with the principles of townscape and the composed ensemble.

 
Fig 6. Kingo Houses, Helsingør, Denmark, Jørn Utzon. Author’s own drawing

Fig 6. Kingo Houses, Helsingør, Denmark, Jørn Utzon. Author’s own drawing

A common theme evident in these examples is a disassociation between buildings and formalised tarmac infrastructure and car parking – a feature which often dominates developer housing in Scotland (think suburban cul-de-sac). This seems to allude to a desire for continuity in surface treatment, similar to that which so compellingly anchors the clachan to the earth. Sergison Bates’ early imagery for Aldershot for example, set the houses as objects against a continuous ground plane forming both the street and open gardens, serving to unify the houses against their surroundings [Fig 7]. Such imagery is strongly reminiscent of Giorgio Morandi’s still life paintings [Fig 8]. There is a synergy between objects and their setting implied in these loosely structured compositions which also resonates with Gunn’s anthropomorphic evocation of highland cottages as “part of the rhythm of the land itself”.

 
 
Fig 8. Still Life, Giorgio Morandi

Fig 8. Still Life, Giorgio Morandi


A resonance between buildings, community, and place exists in successful and enduring settlements. But there is an alarming deficiency of the seemingly allusive qualities of cohesion and permanence in the majority of new-build developer housing in Scotland, and the need for coherent planning strategies and settlement models is of even greater importance when considering development in a sensitive landscape context. It is clear however that successful models exist. It could be concluded that remains of the most instructive vernacular precedent, the clachan, exist on the very sites which are subject to re-settlement debate.  Nineteenth century architects David MacGibbon and Thomas Ross, practising out of Edinburgh, undertook a tremendously exhaustive survey of ‘The Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland’, which they compiled into a multi-volume publication of that name. Their meticulous survey drawings and sketches (produced on frequent ventures around the country by bicycle and railway) alongside their accompanying scholarship, provided a significant regional source-book, which disseminated into their own work and influenced many contemporaries and successors. In the spirit of MacGibbon & Ross, might it be possible to document and study the clachan as a typology, and thus allude to a contemporary strategy for re-settlement?

Clachans in the Highlands have mostly crumbled beyond recognition as places of dwelling, yet their traces often remain on the land. Ruinous walls or even barely perceptible archaeological impressions are testament to their existence, and such artefacts are still capable of silently communicating the presence of human endeavour, inhibition and together, community.  Alexander Fenton visited Arnol clachan in West Side, Isle of Lewis, in May 1964, a place that at the time was comprised of both twentieth century dwellings as well as Blackhouses. In his later publication, The Island Blackhouse, he observed the profound sense that the very distant past seemed to coalesce with the present, noting that “traces are still clear enough to suggest a much more functionally integrated system of communal co-existence”. Today even in the far west of the Western Isles these traces may be on the verge of drifting out of focus. Returning for a moment to Morandi’s still life paintings, they seem to communicate a similar sense of timelessness and the ephemeral. John Berger (2001) writes that Morandi’s objects “seem to be on the point of disappearing”, but then questions whether they are indeed disappearing or in fact emerging – becoming visible - “Traces are not only what is left when something has gone, they can also be marks for a project, of something to come.”

References:

Gunn, N.M.(1934). Butcher’s Broom. The Porpoise Press, Edinburgh
Berger, J.(2001). The Shape of a Pocket. Bloomsbury, London
Fenton, A. (1978). The Island Blackhouse. HMSO, Edinburgh

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