Monday, 20 September 2010

Girvan Fun Palace

Fifth Dimension, aka Girvan Fun Palace, Design Journal 1969

Something that just surfaced from the sludge of memory while I was browsing an article on minimal surfaces: Fifth Dimension, also called the Girvan Fun Palace, which I visited on a family holiday in the early 1970s during what must have been its very short life. It was an extremely odd development for Girvan, what was then a very staid small-town Scottish seaside resort: Keith Albarn's sub-psychedelic installation of modular coloured fibreglass units ("Ekistikit") where you walked through various womb-like rooms containing sensory experiences: sounds, lights, hanging plastic objects to push through, and so on.

VADS (the Visual Arts Data Service - worth browsing in general) has an article online with more images: see Funny business at the seaside, Alastair Best, pp 58-61, Design Journal, 251, 1969. As it says, initially the futuristic experience was somewhat diminished by the central dome's incongruous rock garden full of plastic potted plants; a problem explained by a letter in Design Journal 255:

Sir: In "Funny business at the seaside" (DESIGN 251/58-61) Alastair Best made some scathing references to design failures in Keith Albarn's Fifth Dimension Fun Palace on the Girvan foreshore which caused the Fun Palace to fall somewhat below Albarn's fondest hopes.

We should like to point out, however, that Girvan Town Council was not insensitive to the incongruity of plastic rock gardens and revolving daleks amongst feeble strobes, electronic music and easily detected soft floors. These crept into the design when it became obvious that a complete "psychedelic" experience would not be ready in time for the 1969 summer season.

Girvan Town Council has engaged our company to renovate the interior of the Fun Palace. To do this we have rethought the entire interior, including the transparent sides of the building - which have now been made opaque. The result is a stimulating audio-visual and sensual experience throughout.

John Ballantyne, Denis A Barns, Electroscope, 35 Lamerton Road, Cumbernauld, Glasgow

A follow-up review, Fun palace makes good, in Design Journal 260, 1970 (see pp 14-15) was more favourable.

... the interior has been recast from start to finish by two young men calling themselves "Electroscope.'' For Denis Barns, painter (Glasgow School of Art) and John Ballantyne, scientist (Strathclyde University) this is their first big commission. Strobe lights and hanging objects in the dark, hectic colours in patterns and shapes that fight the form, sudden spatial contrasts, eerie lights and an assortment of noises from murmurings to mindmelting screechings are old tricks - but they still work when used with all-round intelligence, as here. The warren of cells and tunnels and sudden loftier chambers presents at least half-a-dozen respectable visual excitements, as, for instance, when the almost subliminal strobe light (black and silver) of one cell slows down and takes on colour in the next.

The ''feelie" element is nowhere as sophisticated as this (near the entrance, for example, you find yourself bound to struggle - and it is a struggle - through a dense forest of heavy hanging objects) although further in there is a pitch-black vault with a teetering floor, where the barrel walls' all repetitive domes and angles like a Camargo relief, invite finger exploration for just as long as the ears will stand a hideous electronic crescendo.

The loftiest chamber, white and luminous, might have come straight from the set of Doctor Who with its do-it-yourself switchboard to alter lights and sounds. Finally another dark tunnel with fairy lights snaking endlessly away to the right (mirrors) leads you through a structure of translucent cubic boxes of coloured plastics sheets, ambigious and rather beautiful in a fairy castle kind of way. Then the boxes solidify, become white and gleaming in what you realise is not electricity now, but sunshine.

A good two shillings worth (children half price) of anyone's money, wet day or fine.

I recall that this was the version I visited.
- Ray


  1. Just found this post today. I visited the 5th Dimension twice as a small boy: probably '69 and '70. Memory plays tricks and I thought the Dalek was a genuine BBC one, not the comical town council version depicted in the VADS article. There is a b/w photo of the attraction in Girvan's McKechnie Institute. Rebuilt, it would revive a currently derelict and sad seafront.

  2. I haven't ever been to Girvan since, but it does look a little desolate from photos. I've just repaired the links to the VADS articles - they moved their archive site for Design Journal.

  3. I remember both versions of the interior and I was terrified of the dalek. I was convinced it would escape and follow me back to Newton Stewart. It was just like a BBC one and not the one in the picture which was a commercially available children's costume. I actually liked the plastic flowers and fountains but then I was only 6 years old. The later version was pretty cool especially the control room which was a bit like the interior of the Tardis with a hexagonal console that had a dome in the middle instead of a perspex column.

  4. Yeah, the console is the one I remember. Very strange concept for where it was: no wonder it sticks in the mind.

  5. My funniest memory was arriving one weekend in winter to continue the interior redesign work we had been commissioned to carry out only to find a large pod floating out to sea with the storm and was rescued later in the day by the local lifeboat and then we had to crane it back into place and spend the Sunday fixing all back epic moment.Denis Barns

  6. OMG. This is THE Denis Barns replying on this thread! (We're not worthy, we're not worthy!)

    The Fifth Dimension cast an astonishing impression/shadow on my life. I had nightmares the very night after I went through it. I also gravitated towards psychedelic music and substances when I came of age.

    I can't thank you enough for making this alien artefact come true in a quiet little West coast town during my formative childhood.

  7. (Same anon as above) My name is Grant, I come from Glasgow and I used to holiday in Girvan often.

    Denis, I wonder if you have any photographs of the redesign you and John created? This was the version I walked through during the early 1970s (with my dad very close beside me!) and I have vague recollections of the various rooms.

    I definitely remember the TARDIS console, and it was interactive with light and sound, if memory serves. More impressions of corridors with swirling black and white lights, a very deep room (possibly the rock garden of the original, replaced with columns of bubbling liquid?)

    Somewhere near the start was a green room, a bit like a santa's grotto, and a pair of throbbing eyes/RAF roundrels which illuminated your legs as you moved from one cell to the next, accompanied by pulsating deep sound.

    The final part of the journey saw you batting sandbags out of the way and clambering over soft play vinyl obstacles.


    I would love to have some kind of confirmation of my failing memories after all these years.

    If you have any photos, cine film etc, would it be possible for you to upload anything to a sharing site such as Flikr or YouTube? Thank you for your indulgence.

  8. When I was a child, we'd watch Dr. Who on BBC then run down here and relive the episodes....