Architecture of Paisley to feature in a new national exhibition

Paisley will feature in a new exhibition called 'What if…?/Scotland', opening in V&A Dundee on 22nd May, which will explore the relationship communities have with their built environment.

Architecture of Paisley to feature in a new national exhibition

Article Source: Scotland + Venice
First Published: 20 May 2021 13:06
Updated: 20 May 2021 13:06

The project, commissioned by the Scotland + Venice partnership, is the creation of Edinburgh-based 7N architects together with Architecture and Design Scotland, Scotland’s design agency, and a number of local partners. Initially started in 2019 it paired five local people from Paisley with five architects and designers to discuss how they would improve the spaces where they live and what their hopes, wishes and aspirations for the future are.

The designer responded to the wishes of the people by proposing a way to make the hopes a reality – asking What if…?/. The process was filmed by film maker Basharat Khan. The exhibition of the wishes, alongside the films, were initially prepared for the Scotland + Venice exhibition for the 17th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia in 2020 – the world’s leading architecture exhibition. However, with the 2020 exhibition postponed and uncertainty around travel in 2021 due to the on-going Covid-19 pandemic, the organisers were able to adapt the exhibition to premiere at V&A Dundee.

Paisley is Scotland’s largest town and in recent years it has been undergoing a transformation with investment to regenerate the town centre. In Paisley the locals discussed a number of areas they’d like to see developed; they wanted to see buildings and areas which had fallen into disrepair restored and they wanted to find new ways to allow all the citizens of Paisley the opportunity to gather and take part. They also discussed the High Street and it could be revitalised so that future generations could have pride in their town.

Local resident Alison Love meet with architect Graeme Nicholls to discuss accessibility. Alison uses a wheelchair and though she is very independent, her choices on where she visits and what she does are dependent on the availability of accessible toilets. She loves Paisley’s green spaces and would like to see Fountain Gardens developed to include a performance space for the community with facilities accessible for all.

New resident Johannes Gonani joined Cathy Houston and retired architect Anne Duff to look at the river and how it was such a vital part of Paisley’s past. They discussed using some of the redundant land by the riverside to develop a thriving area to attract new business and entrepreneurs. Johannes said he felt Paisley was a welcoming place and that many different nationalities had made the town their home, he felt a place to meet and integrate would be a positive addition. Together they worked on plans for a riverside regeneration including space for new businesses and a place for the community to gather, work and live.

Local businesswoman Gillian Steel showed architect Gerry Grams around the High Street area of Paisley. Gillian wanted to encourage small local businesses and independent retailers to set up in particular ones related to Paisley’s rich textile and design heritage. She wanted to ensure that the skills of these industries were taught to future generations. Gillian and Gerry discussed how empty units could be used and about repopulating the town centre.

Stuart McMillan, Regeneration Manager, Renfrewshire Council said: “Paisley was delighted to participate in Scotland’s contribution to the International Architecture Exhibition that was planned for Venice Biennale in 2020. It’s fantastic that the exhibition and Paisley’s contribution, alongside the other participating places from around the country, will now be seen at the V&A Dundee during 2021.

What was evident to Paisley in 2019 was that the future of our places are best secured, for us all, with dialogue and understanding between architects, designers and local people. Now in 2021, having moved through a dramatic year, this dynamic - that engages with local perspectives from the citizens of a place - can now help places to recover and build new resilience. How we will live together is one of the most pertinent questions for us as we move out of pandemic restrictions.

Paisley’s workshop focussed on our town as a place to meet and gather. Examining the roles of streets and urban and green spaces of all shapes and sizes and what can make them better for all ages, communities and purposes. Thank you to A&DS and 7N Architects for facilitating such a purposeful conversation for our town.”


Paisley was one of five communities taking part in the project alongside Elgin, Wester Hailes in Edinburgh, Annan and Lerwick. Dundee will be added in time for the opening at the V&A. As well as themes individual to the local communities there were many overarching themes of regeneration of lost and iconic buildings, the issues of closed shops in High Streets, community spirit, pride in local areas and how to create a meeting space that’s accessible to everyone.
In addition to the five films there will be an interactive installation called the Cloud of Dreams, where anyone attending the exhibition can submit their wish for their place.

Ewan Anderson of 7N Architects said: “When we first met with these communities in late 2019, who could have foreseen how much our lives would change? It’s interesting that even prior to a year in lockdown, community and spaces to gather and meet were of common importance throughout Scotland. I’m delighted we have found a home for the exhibition as it is important that these stories are told. And how fitting that this exhibition examining our places and how design affects them will be presented at Scotland’s first Design Museum V&A Dundee.”

The exhibition will run between Saturday 22nd May – Sunday 21st Nov 2021 – Free museum entry.

Booking open at: www.vam.ac.uk/dundee

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