Craig McCracken

Architecture MArch (Hons)

DIRTY WORK AT THE CROSSROADS: Utilising Critical Infrastructure as Social Infrastructure


Craig McCracken

Many built forms of infrastructure are invisible to the public. Coined ‘dirty infrastructure’; the overpass, the power plant, the data centre. They are often overlooked, pushed to the periphery, or hidden altogether: undervalued spaces. These places are critical to our resilience, yet are rarely mentioned in conversation when discussing social and physical resilience; that seems to be an over-sight.

As people transition to home working, many choose that home to be in a rural setting. This has prompted the need for these rural communities to develop more resilient infrastructure which is closer to the user. This is a controversial act, often supported by locals in principle but not in practice. To overcome this, I will be attempting to re-invent how the public perceive, interact and utilise these essential places.

This thesis project considers the part-resurrection of an areas industrial heritage as a form of ghost story as a way to approach the narrative of peoples interaction with new forms of infrastructure, promoting identity of place, culture and belonging.

Looking at these perceived ‘dirty’ places in a new light: as a form of social infrastructure, presents interesting opportunities. Can we re-invent and embed these infrastructures in towns and cities, rendering them visible as a new form of cultural venue? Designing in resiliency as society and technology change; if our infrastructure is flexible then as a projection, our towns can be flexible.

Community Cuppa Contraption

Promenade approach to contraption where people are playing and enjoying the view

The ‘Community Cuppa Contraption’ was used as a short side project to aid in developing a brief for the main thesis project. It consisted of a proposed temporary installation in a prominent location upon a bank of the River Ericht, drawing inspiration from Maich Swift’s ‘Potemkin Theatre’. The simple premise of the installation was to create a self-sufficient tea making machine which was used as a community venue and tried to highlight opportunities within the town. The project used various recyclable and re-usable materials, locally sourced where possible. The contraption’s location utilised a now un-used weir which would have aided in powering a mill, now gone. By re-establishing a wheel in this location to power the contraption, it calls-back to the towns industrial heritage and attempts to draw people in with their natural curiosity for machine kinetics. Placing it here also aids in attempting to bring the under-used river area back to life, attracting people from both Rattray with its position and Blairgowrie with its height. The objective was for the river to become more of a ‘border’ than a ‘boundary’ as is discussed by Richard Sennett in his essay ‘Open City’. This border concept encourages positive friction through interaction of both sides of the river, re-igniting conversation. Something which is important as we move out of the isolating health pandemic. The use of local materials, available energy, kinetics and visual connections to develop this project was part of a broader scheme to steer conversations with the community on these topics in this welcoming and ambitious space. This project was the first instance I considered physical infrastructure as a form of social infrastructure and using historic traces as a way of engaging communities.

Background Research

Collage identifying characteristics of Blairgowrie from postcards

The type, scale, location, and quality of each area’s social and physical infrastructure can be said to define that place. A football stadium which attracts away-supporters, a big Tesco’s which dominates the centre, a ring road which distributes people around the place, a memorable bridge. We could say that infrastructure is one of the factors which characterises a place and helps form its identity. When infrastructure is neglected or hidden, it is forgotten until its failure causes a problem worth paying attention to.

Hybrid Programme

A drawing of a building divided in sections showing the layout and location

This research project’s form takes inspiration from these metabolistic concepts, where the building is adaptable depending on the requirements of that time, with regards to modern sustainability. Applied in the case of the ghostly mill, if I am to re-animate this segment of Blairgowrie’s heritage, I must keep traces visible yet allow for a recognisable and adaptable framework with a light veil pulled over-top, inherently carrying with it a sense of identity, and belonging. This light-frame approach with a veil draped over top allows the building to host a diverse programme. By hosting multiple social and physical functions, we are able to create a welcoming place, offering something to suit all, whilst staying adaptable to cultural shifts in preference and physical requirements.

The chosen industries for this hybrid programme (brewing, baking and biomass) have existing precedent for working closely together. By mapping out each process and linking in where cross-over can occur, we create an integrated network which is more space and waste efficient. This idea of several systems housed within the one building not only results in a more efficient use of space, but also a reduction in waste with its circular process. There is also a significant reduction in energy usage as one process’ heat generation can subsidies the energy required to heat another when planned. This leaves more heat and energy produced by the bio-mass generator to be distributed throughout the community, reducing energy bills and a reliance on the national system.

Social Infrastructure

A taproom with brewing machinery behind. Pub-goers can see the work being carried out behind the bar.
A drawing of the inside of a building with people sitting on the floor and on high stools at tables

No social institution: not church, nor the theatre, comes close to the cost, time, and grasp around the Scottish male audience than the industrial town pub. The pub is a fundamental aspect of industrial culture. When inside the outside no longer matters. When you drink your pint, you are part of the space. A participator rather than a spectator. You open up, relax, and become willing to chat, forming small bonds with other locals and visitors. Over time, the pub has become more welcoming to a broader audience, however they have still shown decline as is similar with many institutions. With industry decline, the pub has also suffered with more people drinking from the comfort of their own homes, once again losing that social presence and increasing loneliness amongst users. It is only appropriate that we consider re-establishing this mill as an informal, flexible, public social infrastructure. More welcoming than just a taproom, but as a multi-purpose venue for all. Somewhere for children to play or learn, parents to chat and eat local produce. A place to strengthen existing social foundations and plant new ones, promoting social resilience throughout Blairgowrie.

Urban Strategy

Drawing of city
A drawing of an industrial building with a bill-board on the side showing and old film
Drawing of an industrial area with a factory and smoke coming out a chimney

Full versions of my work can be found on my Issuu page. Following me on Instagram would be greatly appreciated. Open to all academic and employment opportunities.