The Humboldt Forum: Lessons for Scotland and the world

Architectural model of the new building for the Humboldt Forum.

Architectural model of the new building for the Humboldt Forum.
Image: Wikimedia Commons (Jean-Pierre Dalbéra)

Sometimes one is presented, unexpectedly, with visions of such ambition and worth that they leave you reeling. It seemed fitting on the first day of spring that we should be presented with one such vision by Professor Dr Hermann Parzinger, President of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation at a workshop co-hosted by the Centre for Cultural Relations at the University of Edinburgh, the National Museums of Scotland and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Continue reading

Collecting Contemporary: Collections as Conversations

Timepieces (2014), Katie Paterson Part of the University of Edinburgh Art Collection. Installed in the Edinburgh College of Art Main Building.

Timepieces (2014), Katie Paterson
Part of the University of Edinburgh Art Collection. Installed in the Edinburgh College of Art Main Building.

It was good to attend the Collecting Contemporary event in the University of Edinburgh’s Playfair Library on 16th February 2016 which included a preview of the upcoming Collecting Contemporary website, and coincided with both the inaugural publication of Affiliate’s new imprint and the opening week of British Art Show 8, showing in the adjacent Talbot Rice Gallery, Inverleith House and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. Continue reading

Time for research

"British Design: Tradition and Modernity after 1948" cover

“British Design” cover

A number of personal research projects of mine have culminated in publication this autumn.

British Design: Tradition and Modernity after 1948 marks the end of a project that began with my co-curation of the British Design: Innovation in the Modern Age exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in 2012.

The exhibition raised many questions about the particular relationship between place, time and space that characterises much of the UK’s design culture, and a conference during the exhibition’s run produced the chapters in this book. Continue reading

Design in Motion

Travelling Gallery (Image courtesy of V&A Dundee)

The Design in Motion travelling gallery (Image courtesy of V&A Dundee)

Like a scene from the Cliff Richard movie ‘Summer Holiday’, the V&A Dundee ‘Design in Motion’ bus pulled in to Edinburgh last week.

I took the opportunity to take a tour at its stop-over in George Street. In collaboration with the Travelling Gallery, the bus is showcasing the work of contemporary designers trained or based in Scotland who engage with the challenges of digital technology. Continue reading

How do fashion cycles and design culture interact?

Panel L-R, Marloes ten Bhomer, Cher Potter, Lisa White, Joanne Entwistle, Chris Breward. Image courtesy of Leah Armstrong, University of Brighton

Panel L-R, Marloes ten Bhomer, Cher Potter, Lisa White, Joanne Entwistle, Chris Breward.
Image courtesy of Leah Armstrong, University of Brighton

Dr Leah Armstrong at the University of Brighton recently posted about an event I spoke at on the blog of Design Culture Salon, a partnership between University of Brighton and the Victoria & Albert (V&A) Museum.

I was chairing the discussion, entitled “How do fashion cycles and design culture interact?”, on 14th November this year at the V&A, and Dr Armstrong’s post recounts some of the main points made during the debate:

Fashion historian Professor Chris Breward, Principal of Edinburgh College of Art, offered an interesting route into this conversation by introducing one of the most fundamental questions that binds together the study of design culture and fashion cycles: time. Specifically, he suggested that fashion theory has something to offer design culture here, in its discussion of fashion as an embodiment of time and space.

Read the full post on the Design Culture Salon blog >

Visiting Shanghai

Shanghai Fashion Week, 2014

If I was a much younger man looking for metropolitan thrills and a glimpse of a future self, I think that Shanghai might be my choice of escape. New York and Berlin (the destinations for my generation) seem so twentieth-century by comparison. Continue reading

Glamour and Espionage: the story of Brian Stonehouse

Brian Stonehouse

From flyer for the upcoming Brian Stonehouse exhibition at Abbott and Holder

On a visit to London last week I called in to the picture dealer Abbott and Holder in Museum Street. This is a long-standing haunt, celebrated for its stock of excellent British drawings, watercolours and paintings from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries.

Conversations with the gallery’s director Philip Athill are always enlightening and on this visit he drew my attention to a forthcoming exhibition of the fashion illustrator Brian Stonehouse (1918-1998). Stonehouse’s elegant work for Vogue through the 1960s compares well with that of many of his better-known peers, but it is the backstory to his life that is truly fascinating. Continue reading

Little Sparta

Little Sparta

Little Sparta. Image by Ergonomik ( used under a Creative Commons license

It is twenty years since Ian Hamilton Finlay gifted his extraordinary garden at Stonypath, South Lanarkshire to the Little Sparta Trust, who has continued to make its riches available to visitors and researchers. Continue reading


Francis Mckee

Hospitalfield. Image by Francis Mckee ( used under a Creative Commons license

Yesterday I visited Hospitalfield and enjoyed the hospitality of its enlightened and energetic Director, Lucy Byatt. The historic house in Arbroath was originally founded in the 13th Century, and has been altered and changed by many of its occupants since then. In particular, by Patrick Allan-Fraser, and the family he married into. Continue reading


Welcome to Art School Head, a blog that reflects on all things Art School and particularly on all things Edinburgh College of Art (ECA). It seems a timely moment to start writing about the culture of Art School life.

The College is just celebrating the third anniversary of its merger with the University of Edinburgh in 2011 and last week the Scottish Funding Council made its formal report on the merger’s progress to Michael Russell MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning.

A key line in the report suggested that ‘the identity, ethos, pedagogy, and studio-based culture of the former ECA…has demonstrated a new dynamism and energy’, and that the Funding Council team had ‘identified a sense of excitement and anticipation at the opportunities for collaboration and interdisciplinary working made possible by the merger – a characteristic that increasingly defines the ‘new’ ECA.’

So what is the identity, ethos and culture of ECA now, in its post-merger situation? And how does it relate to the life of the university, the city, the country and the creative network of individuals and institutions that we interact with across the world? In a broader sense, what does it mean to work and practice in an Art School in the early twenty-first century?

I’m privileged to hold the office of Principal of ECA, which provides me with the ideal position from which to reflect on some of these questions, to comment on some of the challenges and to record the very distinctive developments and events that fill our working days. I engage with colleagues and students across our five schools of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, Art, Design, History of Art and the Reid School of Music, and with other schools and colleges across the University of Edinburgh.

I represent ECA as it works with Edinburgh’s many galleries, museums, orchestras, festivals and other cultural organisations. And I travel to support partnerships in the UK and elsewhere.

As this blog develops I hope we can generate some dialogue that makes sense of that experience (its everyday rhythms and more spectacular happenings) and enriches the special environment that us Art School people are lucky enough to inhabit.

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