Sunday, July 17, 2011

Alas for the Clyde Room

I went to Glasgow yesterday, mainly to see the new Transport Museum. I had a nice day out, but found the museum itself a bit disappointing. Firstly the good bits. I like the look of the building and they have secured an eye-catching contemporary look. The redevelopment of that section of the waterfront means that they had a blank canvas, and we've got something quite fresh-looking as a result. The Glen Lee has been moved downriver a little to sit outside and looks rather splendid reflected in the dark glass front. Its masts stick up over the top too, like branches of a metal tree. The Govan ferry now lands just outside and there are interesting connections with other developments along the river.

But inside, it's too small. I know I went on a busy day with lots of kids running about, but my first thought was: "How have they managed to fit everything in here?" The answer seems to be that they haven't. Like a number of other modern galleries that I've visited, the building has exciting bulges and angles, which look cool but lose a lot of space. If your main reason for having the space is to display bulky things like cars and trains, this is not good news. They have come up with some clever ideas to get round this, like the much-talked-about "wall of cars", but I am not impressed. You can only see the nearest and lowest cars clearly. The ones furthest away are poorly seen, and from below, so you can examine under the mudguards, but not on top of the bonnet. If there was viewing gallery parallel to the wall the gimmick might work--but there isn't.

Now we come to the real crusher: where is the Clyde Room? This was my favourite part of the old museum. It was a largish room where the museum's superb collection of ship models was laid out in a huge grid of glass cases. Here was the history of Clyde ship building, from pioneering steam craft and large warships to big Cunarders and container ships. And don't think that I mean some crappy amateur attempts: these were the models by professional model builders made when the ships were ordered, huge and resplendent with every plank, railing and porthole. So what have they got now? HMS Hood sits on its own. A tall display case has ship models hung at different heights. Why would you want to look at the underside of the hull? And they're not even labelled. Another display promises to be a ship "conveyor" (or something) but doesn't seem to be working. All of these break up the collection and lose all context, turning the displays into meaningless fragments. A grid of well-labelled glass cases, with perhaps a chronological order, is an excellent way of presenting information that allows you to find your own connections between things. As a piece of information design, the old Clyde Room was actually rather fine. I think Edward Tufte would have approved. I'm just getting grumpy now, so I'll stop.

Round two

I moved the bird feeder even higher, but not only can the magpie still reach, he has started bringing a friend. So now there is a bird at each side tapping away.

Right then.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Bird brain

A while ago, I got one of those bird feeders that is made of clear plastic and sticks onto your window. How cool it would be to watch those little guys pecking up seeds just through the glass!

Well, they ignored it for a long time and several lots of seed went mouldy. Then in the spring I got a few blue tits. Aw! Then a magpie discovered it and started hoovering up the food. Not cute at all. Raucous and aggresive in fact. I thought I had solved this by moving the feeder up the window, as the magpie would not be able to reach inside when standing on the sill, and was too big to fit inside. But the seeds kept going, with no visits from the cute birds.

I caught the magpie this morning tapping the feeder from below until a seed or two would fall out of the slots at the corners. I'm not sure if this is smart or just displays a behaviour that adapts very well to changing situations.