Brian Evans Encourages Shift Toward the New “Knowledge City”

  Brian Evans, Professor and Head of Urbanism at the Glasgow School of Art, Director of the Glasgow Urban Lab, and leader of the UN Charter Centre in Glasgow, shared his work with students, faculty, and guests at Kresge Theatre on Monday, 22 October 2018. Photo by Christina Brown.

Brian Evans, Professor and Head of Urbanism at the Glasgow School of Art, Director of the Glasgow Urban Lab, and leader of the UN Charter Centre in Glasgow, shared his work with students, faculty, and guests at Kresge Theatre on Monday, 22 October 2018. Photo by Christina Brown.

By Evan Lehner 

The School of Architecture Fall 2018 Lecture Series continued on Monday 22 October with yet another intriguing guest, Brian Evans. Evans is Professor and Head of Urbanism at the Glasgow School of Art, Director of the Glasgow Urban Lab, and leader of the UN Charter Centre in Glasgow. He draws most of his passion and ambition for his projects from pride of the land, particularly his native turf of Scotland. In fact, his path to becoming such a renowned figure also has roots in the earth, as he graduated as an earth scientist as an undergraduate. It is undeniable today, however, that such a unorthodox route to the world of architecture certainly provides him with unique perspectives and insight into this field of practice.

As a proud Celt, Evans draws much of his inspiration from the landscape with which he is surrounded. “The lure of the mountains, of the landscape, the spirit of the place is what brought me to be so interested,” says Evans. His desire to want to participate in the subtle interventions, “scratching,” as he puts it, on the surface of the earth led him to a career as an architect. Evans began the lecture by drawing parallels between Glasgow, Scotland's largest city, and Pittsburgh. Both underwent substantial industrialization, and as a result the inhabitants drastically transformed the built and natural environments. In reaction to such change, Evans wanted to reduce the negative effects that humans had on the landscape, yet he did not want to wipe away the advances that the city had made. He looked to Thomas Cole’s cycle of the city, from growth to peak to destruction, and then desolation, and was resolute in his conclusion that if a city said “no” then it could reform and constantly evolve into something better. This gave rise to Evans’ design ethos: Learn from place, and design with nature.

While Evans’ primary inspiration for his design is nature, he holds a deep respect for the prominent human history perpetuating itself at every location he takes a commission. Again, drawing from Glasgow’s socialist roots, Evans seeks to design a space for everyone. He elaborated on his “democracy of design” approach to public space -- if you want to make someplace safe for women or children, you make it safe for everyone -- if you make it visual, everyone can understand, thus the detail is what is incredibly important. His projects start out with months of painstaking contextual analysis -- structure, people volume, traffic, hierarchy of space -- and then transition into the subtle addition of gentle touches to transform the spaces. In the end, Evans looks back at his projects and asks how “the design fits into the historic fabric, if he is maximizing his assets, if he managed a successful execution of his goals.”

Evans’ ultimate goal is to make spaces that cater to the individual. This does not solely mean he creates spaces acting as service corridors. He is trying to facilitate and encourage the change that is occurring in many cities, such as Glasgow and Pittsburgh. He calls this the “paradigm shift from Industrial City to Knowledge City.” Hence, at the end of the day, if Evans can look as his work and see individuals utilizing the small things, from seats to walkways, and instigating new conversation and interactions, he considers his work a success.

Evan Lehner is a third-year Bachelor of Architecture student in the Carnegie Mellon University School of Architecture.