Dark days

Wednesday 26 Aug 2009

Scottish architecture institution faces closure as 24 jobs are lost

Scotland's premier architecture institution The Lighthouse in Glasgow faces its darkest hours as it announced the loss of 24 of 57 jobs today following yesterday's news that it had entered administration.

Offering support to students and architects throughout the country, The Lighthouse, which is housed in the renovated Charles Rennie Mackintosh-designed Glasgow Herald building, has been celebrating its tenth year but now faces the possibility that it will not be able to pull through the recession. The organisation accrued a reported deficit of £250,000 following the retraction of government funding for a key design festival and after the expense of attending last year's Venice Biennale.

The Lighthouse had relied heavily on funding from the Scottish Government with over half of their employees paid for by grants from the government and other sources.

“It has been a heartbreaking decision for me and the Board to bring in Administrators to the Lighthouse Trust," said Eleanor McAllister, Chair of the Board of the Trust. "We know the devastating effect this will have on our staff and on the partners working with us on our projects. We have done everything possible to avoid this, but the options before us were very limited in the current economic downturn."

“When I was asked to chair the Lighthouse Trust Board, I had hopes we could find a way ahead after the significant losses incurred in mounting the critically successful, but expensive, Venice Biennale project, and the government decision not to fund a second Six Cities Design Festival."

The Scottish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, A Gathering Space by Gareth Hoskins Architects, proved a popular installation hosting events by Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry and acting as a gateway to the festival and a springboard for Scottish architecture. But the cost of this has proved a significant factor in The Lighthouse losses. Talking of the Lighthouse predicament Gareth Hoskins told WAN, "I think it's a terrible shame and a tremendous loss to Scottish architects and architecture," adding that The Lighthouse has supported Scottish architecture to a much greater scale than is apparent, with a range of smaller programmes going un-publicised. The architect, who designed The Lighthouse's Mackintosh Interpretation Centre as one of his firm's first projects, talked of his Venice project coming under fire from members of the UK press, advising that Nick Barley, Director at The Lighthouse, had called to express his views that the pavilion itself was only a small portion of the actual cost and other factors had proved more significant. Hoskins added, "The Scottish government could have stepped up to the mark...I think the government funding was going to give them a huge difficulty even if we hadn't been in recession. That kind of funding is core. Any architecture institution is not going to make money, it's not about that, it's about progressing architecture and raising its profile." While he remains hopeful about the future of the Lighthouse, he also remains pessimistic.

Despite a support package created last year by primary funders, the City Council and the Scottish Government, commercial losses mean that The Lighthouse is unable to stay afloat. "The Lighthouse business model has always required commercial income to subsidise its extensive programme. No other gallery in Scotland has to generate such a high percentage of its income from commercial sources and the Lighthouse has been very successful at that in the past. However, the extra income we needed from rents, grants and conference and events just did not materialise as businesses, organisations and charitable trusts cut back on their activities when the credit crunch hit and the recession deepened. The Lighthouse, already in a vulnerable position and with no reserves to call on, has not been able to rally," added McAllister.

The implications are wider than the architecture industry. Nick Barley told parliament late last year that, "Design is fundamental to the future economic growth of Scotland". Administrators today advised that in order to stand any hope of saving The Lighthouse costs would need to be significantly reduced and the first cuts would be made to 24 employees jobs. “We are convinced that this action was necessary in order to give the organisation the opportunity to survive," said Bruce Cartwright, head of business advisory services at administrators PwC Scotland.

Niki May Young
News Editor

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