Streetalking: Beacons

These Monoliths are 2000s job-in-the-city, corporate buildings crudely translated for domestic use. They are massive, the overbearing parent of structures, replete with blue gun metal and alloy cladding and uncomfortable quantities of glass for seagull target practice. Balconies and exaggerated cantilevers thrust from the walls, implying the worst of holiday resort hotels, wryly ironic given the clinically depressed climate is more Costa Del Solitude. Kooky, forced variety and weird angles mock the mutations and irregularity of organically grown, free range urbanity as if to say this is a real community, we promise! They landscaped about half the rubble filled wasteland and fenced off the rest into a ‘nature reserve’, they even built a David Lloyd Gym. Yet the name, Platinum Point gives the game away, more reminiscent of credit cards and iPhone chips that human habitation.

 It is remarkable that the Dutch have managed to make land reclamation seem glamorous, as though dikes and canals are epic testament to man overcoming the tempestuous power of the sea. They successfully concocted an entire national myth around a fairly dull engineering project. Without the prestige of being impressive for its time, Platinum Point, [an Edinburgh housing development], is the inevitable product of sterile, synthetic man-made nature, it juts out of the idyllic Newhaven Harbour like an oversized malignant tumour. It tries so hard to be inhabitable that it becomes unhabitable, small wonder that it is now a shell for holiday lets.

Yet at the tip of this growth, past a lazy 10 metre avenue of trees that abruptly stops for no reason, sits one of my favourite buildings, The Western Harbour Lighthouse. It isn’t an attractive building, it’s not decorated, nor well proportioned, it’s not even in a nice location. In fact, there is a much more attractive Lighthouse five minutes away. Its derelict, its whitewashed walls flaking under the weight of layers of spray-paint, its rooms completely deserted and inhabited by smashed glass, ruddy bruised metal, and a virulent odour of piss. All the windows are long caved in and the cruel estuary winds course through them, echoing off the walls with a thundery report. Dense, Jade, Caspar David Friedrich waves assail its foundation. Entering the building is totally dependent on what point in the constant cycle of repair and disrepair the menacing palisade fence is in. The local hoodlums have always played a breaking and entering game of cops and robbers with the council.

It has a magnetism, the first discovery is revelatory, haunting yet alluring, it is a flint for the imagination. It feels at once like a Siberian outpost, a secret prison laboratory and the headquarters of some clandestine revolutionary movement. You climb through the fence (if its broken), the uncertainty of access and the schoolboy rebel thrill always fed my curiosity. You enter through a gaping maw, huge shop shutters ready to chomp into a graffiti laden room. A huge boiler and two indescribable bits of machinery rust away. They look like abstract scrap metal sculptures, contorted, and burnished by the biting sea air. I’ve investigated many times but never been able to even guess what they are for. Could they give credence to the sinister laboratory theory perhaps?

 The journey continues through a corridor lined with cells, a terrifying, nauseous experience. It is hard not to be reminded of the KGB or SS and horrible tortures. Then, you burst into the Nave, the walls littered with graffiti patches, light streaming through the circular opening where the cupola of the lighthouse is. It feels like the once grand remains of some faded Romanesque cathedral from its lofty dome to the flecks of fresco.

Surely, my fondness comes from the memories. In the desolation of my high school the building was a kindred spirit. Whether on broody walks alone or using it as a clandestine joint spot, it always felt like it belonged to me and my friends. Hundreds of discarded bottles, a reminder that many others had the same idea. As if its complete hostility, its uninhabitable nature is a blank canvas that closer fits the turmoil of adolescence than domestic comfort. Its fifteen minutes from my front door yet it felt like my own world, away from the stifling boredom of high school.

You used to be able to pull yourself up into the cupola, wrenching yourself up from a jagged window ledge on an electrical wire. Once, my friends and I drank beers on its summit, feeling like triumphant revolutionaries raising our flag on a captured palace. Atop this wreck in anonymous nowhere, a sense of belonging washed over me.

Great architecture elicits emotion and imagination. This place is ruined, its splendour unintentional. In life, never more than functional, in death a mutating decomposing space. Much of its delight is its transient state, each time it is different. While like its domineering neighbours it will never feel inhabitable, somehow in its wretched state it raised my generation and fed our imaginations. Western Harbour Lighthouse is an ode to the un-designed and accidental, may it long be a middle finger to its overwrought neighbours and may the hole in the fence always be an unpredictable portal.

[Ruaraidh Campbell – he/him]

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