Are architects really artists?



  • Architects design all kinds of buildings. They design schools and skyscrapers. They design hospitals and hotels. They also design churches, train stations and plain old regular houses.
  •  Any building that is used by people was probably designed by some architect.
  • Okay then, but what does the word “design” mean? A design is simply a plan. Before constructing a building, an architect needs to draw a plan of the building. Sometimes architects will make a cardboard or plastic model of the building.
  • The building is then built by a construction company which follows the directions of the plans for the building. The architect will closely supervise the construction company to make sure that the building is built according to the plans.

  • Okay then, but but what does an architect do when he or she draws up a plan?


  • Architects have to think of many things before they draw up the plans for a building. First they have to think about what the building will be used for. How many people are going to use the building at the same time? What types of activities will these people do in the building?

  • An office building will need lots of small rooms for offices. A school will need many medium-sized rooms for classrooms. And a train station will need one larger room for hundreds of people to pass through at the same time.

  • All of these building must be built so that they can be used efficiently by everyone who walks through their doors. When architects discuss what the building will be used for, they talk abut the “function” of the building.

  • But the function of a building is just one of many things an architect has to think about when designing a building. Good architects also spend a lot of time making sure a building is safely designed, and making sure the building will last for many years.

  • A building that is not safely designed could catch on fire or fall down on itself.


  • Architects have to design buildings so that people can escape from the building in an emergency. Of course, some emergencies, such as earthquakes or tornadoes, destroy even the safest buildings.
  • A few years ago an architect had a real surprise when one of the buildings he designed collapsed under the weight of a foot of wet snow. The building was a sports arena with a large, curved roof. The heavy snow put so much pressure on the roof that the roof collapsed. Luckily nobody was in the sports arena at the time.
  • Besides thinking about the function and safety of a building, architects also spend time creatively thinking about how they want the building to look. Just as a painter decides which paints to put where in a painting, an architect decides where to put the rooms, walls, and open spaces in a building.

  • Just as different painters have different styles of painting, different architects have different styles of designing. One architect might like to use a lot of circles and curves in his or her buildings. Another architect might like to design buildings that look sleek and flat.

  • So architects have to be good artists and good scientists when they design a building. The building must be pleasant to look at, pleasant to work in and strong enough to be safe from most natural disasters.

  • Trying to do all these things at the same time is part of the challenge and excitement of being an architect.

With thanks to Phil Shapiro for What Does an Architect Do? Copyright 1988


Did art enhance the environment?


When we think about the use of art in UK New towns it is worth considering……..

Whether ART was USED TO…………..

  • hide poor living conditions
  • act as a social experiment
  • respond to the local environment
  • respond naturally and organically to what was there before
  • offer a radical criticism (the most unlikely maybe)



  • individuals or groups of artists constituting an art movement
  • original artists involved (particularly as part of development corporations in UK)
  • recent artists commenting on environment
  • graffiti artists – local commentary.



  • what was used
  • what could they afford to use after the wars
  • were materials used used as expression
  • what were they expressing
  • was the effect of European movements such as Brutalism felt in UK post industrial environments?

Did public art affect the success of new town development


Did the introduction of art into new town development have a significant positive effect on the locality including:

  • reduced crime rates
  • positive economic indicators
  • social cohesion
  • health indicators
  • life chances – mobility indicators


  • support environment
  • who were the artists? Boyson, Henderson, Chimisky, others?
  • education – how did locals respond?
  • amusement
  • paper over mistakes
  • compensate for ugly architecture of slab concrete blocks
  • a revolutionary or even subversive element


  • Rise up and Build installation
  • Grafitti artists
  • My own work

100_6699 100_6841 MATERIALS  What materials did the artists and the builders use? Did the architects want materials to be used for both artistic and building purposes? Any locally sourced materials ? For example decorative concrete blocks outside the Skelmersdale Library, and decorative  subway entrances in Digmoor leading to the factories.   Surgery GEOGRAPHY Skelmersdale Development Corporation inherited coal fields and former brick works and significant post industrial waste – slag heaps.  Did this encourage them to think artistically in their creation of an Utopia? POPULATION  Were the new towns build for locals – dispossessed communities from completely different areas?  Skem has a history of the alien community, from the thousands of Welsh miners brought here to mine, to the North Liverpudlians from Scottie Road brought here to industries such as Courtaulds, Thorns and Dunlop.  Did any of the art or buildings recognise the inheritance of the Liverpudlians – see the Parade shopping arcade, and the central shopping centre at the Digmoor estate was built like the entrance to a football stadium. Was this sensitive recognition of the background of the new inhabitants – or a disagreeable joke?



Digmoor Parade, key hole architecture Skem style.  The bollards you can see are not images painted on the wall behind, but the real surrealist thing.

Alan Boyson’s Frozen Music


I spoke to Alan Boyson on the phone, mainly about his involvement with the Skelmersdale Development Corporation, and the art work he designed for them, but also about his distinguished career in civic art.


Originally this was one larger pyramid and four small ones.  It was placed above the original entrance to the Concourse Shopping centre in Skelmersdale, and was taken down when a large, glass extension to the building was made.  He felt that the concrete boxed design of the pyramid that he made under contract to the SDC was generally not well liked at the time of its construction, and he himself had wanted to produce something rather more organic in its style.  The pyramid was covered in ceramic tiles But, boxed, and concrete, seemed to suit the general style of Skelmersdale at the time.

Alan Boyson had orignally taken this job, because not everyone had wanted ceramic solutions to sculptural design. He modestly felt that he had no greater status than the abuilders and planners working in Skelmersdale. There was little money available in the 1960s and he would get paid for his basic skills with no extra allowance for his artistic status.

A positive public response

Boyson suggested that the public response was largely unknown at this time – people are much more vocal about their views nowadays.  The only job where he had the exact response he wanted was the stained glass window in St Anne’s Church as shown above.

Architects or artists?


The Bijlmermeer neighbourhood, which today houses almost 100,000 people of over 150 nationalities, was designed as a single project. The original neighbourhood was designed as a series of nearly identical high-rise buildings laid out in a hexagonal grid. The apartments were meant to attract a suburban set, rather like condominium housing.

The buildings have several features that distinguish them from traditional Dutch high-rise flats, such as tubular walkways connecting the flats and garages. The blocks are separated by large green areas planted with grass and trees. Each flat has its own garages where cars can be parked.

The Bijlmer was designed with two levels of traffic. Cars drive on the top level, the decks of which fly over the lower level’s pedestrian avenues and bicycle paths. This separation of fast and slow moving traffic is beneficial to traffic safety. However, in recent years, the roads are once again being flattened, so pedestrians, cycles and cars travel alongside each other. This is a move to lessen the effects of the ‘inhuman’ scale of some of the Bijlmer’s designs. It is felt a direct line of sight will also improve safety from muggers.


  • An artist who carries out a predetermined plan or formula is never considered a true artist but merely a draughtsman. The artist must be prepared to relinquish his initial ideas to those demands that call out from the relationships that begin to establish themselves in a work. Deference is as importance as will in the creative act.
  • It is precisely this art that has been lost in the making and thinking of architecture. To begin to bring back this art we must begin to question the privileged position that the architect believes he possesses. The belief that the architect can solve problems is part of that privileged position.
  • To bring back the art means being responsive. But at such a scale to what are we responding? Are we responding to furniture or to the automobile? If we cannot know to what situation we are responding then how can we pretend to solve anything?
  • I am not sure that architecture can exist beyond the level of an absolutely specific condition (i.e. present a specific need and not a general premise). If this is true then the field of planning, and specifically urban planning, must be questioned.
  • We must also remain aware of the grey line where architecture drops away and politics takes over. If we follow Tafuri’s argument we must know that architecture is always in danger of supporting as well as concealing the hidden agendas of the prevailing power structure. In response to “what can architecture offer to the Bijlmermeer,” we must acknowledge that this is equally, if not more, a political problem.

Comments made in response to changes to the Bijlmermeer.  with thanks to Wikipedia 

Carving glass


Armored safety glass can be etched on both sides when in place, giving a definite three dimensional appearance.

When such glass is on a passage way, as it was in the illustrations, the viewer, in walking past, changes the viewpoint, giving a varied, changing interlinking of lines. The method is fairly straight-forward.

Cover the entire glass area with adhesive tape, then cut into the tape with a sharp knife, peel the tape back, exposing the plain glass. This is then etched by blasting the exposed glass with grit under great pressure.

This operation is executed on both sides.

The tape is then completely removed, exposing the completed design.

Was this the method used by Alan Boyson in Manchester, St Anne’s for his etching on glass?

With thanks to William Mitchell

Carving polyurethane sheets to decorate buildings


GRP in the examples illustrated are produced by carving polyurethane sheets into the desired design – painting the finished design in liquid wax to prevent interaction between the polyurethane base and the polyester resin used to laminate the glass fibre sheets.

All examples were produced without a female mould, thus the design was produced back to front.

It is possible to execute work on a large or small scale, an example of an intricate design is the polished bronze GRP plaque depicting the London to Brighton Vintage Car Rally.

Bronze filled and acid washed mural. Co-operative Insurance Society Manchester
Nickel silver filled bas-relief The Story of Wool. International Wool Secretariate Lecture Theatre.