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Come together: Maryhill Burgh Halls by jmarchitects

jmarchitects’ rescue of the Maryhill Burgh Halls preserves it as a building for the people, writes Alan Dunlop. Photography by Andrew Lee

Maryhill is a working-class area in north-west Glasgow with a reputation for civic-minded design. Most famously, McGurn, Logan, Duncan & Opfer’s circular housing block (AJ 10.05.89), winner of 1984’s 21st Century Tenement competition, is located there, but so too is one of Glasgow’s first Carnegie Libraries. Maryhill is also home to Partick Thistle Football Club, Mackintosh’s Queen’s Cross Church and, significantly, has links to five previous winners of the Turner Prize, including Douglas Gordon and Martin Boyce. Another of them, Martin Creed, has a personal connection to the district’s latest public project, jmarchitects’ refurbishment and extension of Maryhill Burgh Halls - his father, craftsman John Creed, designed gates on the main street-
side elevation.

The halls are situated on Maryhill Road, a busy thoroughfare and major route into Glasgow, and at the entrance to what was the Gairbraid estate. In 1760, having no male heir, the laird left the estate to Mary Hill, his daughter. Much of the land was sold in 1768 to facilitate the cutting of the Forth and Clyde canal, linking Edinburgh to Glasgow. At its height in the mid-1800s, the canal moved three million tonnes of goods. New locks were established at the confluence of the river Kelvin and the canal and a large basin was constructed alongside, where boats could be built and repaired. Trade sprang up around the Kelvin Dock and Maryhill locks, which prompted a range of new industries to emerge.

In 1870 a meeting place was proposed to enable tradesmen and merchants to come together. A police and fire station was also required to serve the rapid rise in population. A competition was won by Glasgow architect Duncan McNaughtan and the building opened in 1878 with a ‘cake and wine banquet’.

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The centrepiece of McNaughtan’s design was the Civic Hall, a handsomely scaled meeting place with large windows opening onto Maryhill Road and incorporating an ornate post-and-beam timber roof structure. The windows included a series of 20 stunning etched and hand-painted stained-glass panels by Stephen Adam, depicting the trades, craftsmen and women of Maryhill. Annexed to the halls was the police and fire station, with a tenement above to house the firemen. When Maryhill became part of the City of Glasgow in 1891, the Burgh Halls lost their civic function but remained an important social gathering place. A swimming pool and wash house were added alongside by city architects.Maryhill was heavily bombed during the blitz of nearby Clydebank in 1941, and since the 1950s has seen the loss of much tenement fabric and the movement of people to peripheral estates, replicated across Glasgow.

The Burgh Halls continued to be used for social gatherings but, starved of investment, fell into decline, becoming derelict in the 1980s. In 2004, a plan to restore the halls was revived, and a trust was formed which included the Maryhill and Cube Housing Associations, community groups and interested locals. The stated aim was to ‘bring Maryhill Burgh Halls back into the heart of community’, and in 2009 the building was acquired. The restoration was initiated with financial help from the Scottish Government, Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic Scotland and Glasgow City Council.

jmarchitects won the competitive interview and set about the project with community groups, project co-ordinator Hunter Reid and the trust’s heritage development officer, Gordon Barr. Their first task was the preservation of the Grade B-listed hall. Stephen Adam’s unique stained-glass panels were rediscovered - hidden in the basement of Glasgow Museums - and brought back to form a fundamental part of the work.

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A programme of selective demolition and facade retention removed the police and fire station and cleared the area around the hall to create a new entrance courtyard. Access to a new leisure centre and the Burgh Halls proper is via this courtyard, through ‘Fireman Gates’, designed by sculptor Andy Scott.

The leisure centre build and restoration of the Grade B-listed swimming pool, carried out by Glasgow City Council, was completed before the Burgh Hall, with Historic Scotland insisting that the huge exposed gable to the pool be finished in grey harling. This overwhelms the courtyard, making it gloomy, and the entrance to the leisure centre lacks finesse. The heavy mood is lifted on the opposite gable, also mandated to be grey harling, but relieved by the inspired introduction of white-glazed brick salvaged from the demolition of the fire station.

Inside, the double-height foyer is light and airy, with ambient light permeating the building. This is a welcome feature of the redevelopment throughout. Here are a café, gallery and meeting area with a floor-to-ceiling timber screen onto a new courtyard ‘garden room’. Offices, studios and a nursery surround the courtyard. The restored civic hall is transformed into a quality recording studio and, although the large windows front onto the busy Maryhill Road, there is no noise leakage and the acoustics are impressive.

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The hall is once more the centrepiece for social gatherings, and Adam’s stained glass panels have been cleverly reset into frames in front of the new windows. There are newly commissioned contemporary stained glass panels by Alec Galloway and Margo Winning opposite. The threshold between the garden room and civic hall is lit by skylights, which mark the transition, and large sliding glass doors allow this space to open fully to the courtyard.

A bespoke staircase leads from the foyer café to the first floor and has transformed the circulation, making movement around what could have been an awkward planning arrangement much easier. From the first floor landing there are views to the courtyard garden and easy access to community rooms, offices and social spaces. From the start the project set out to be financially sustainable, but the restrictions of the site inhibited adding additional space at ground or first floor. The architect’s response was an attic and new deck to the main hall, and these new spaces in the roof area are quirky but functional, opening up vistas to the courtyard and various Maryhill landmarks.

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The palette of materials used throughout the restoration and new build is restrained, with colours limited to muted greys and charcoal, and complemented by neutral but well-detailed timber screens. The larch cladding around the courtyard garden will eventually also weather. The new-build nursery elevation onto Maryhill Road is clad in zinc and granite, and recessed where it abuts the Burgh Halls. This gives the original building standalone presence.

To some, Glasgow can often appear to be a divided city, the community split north and south of the river and between the historically poor east and richer west. Modern architecture is a mix of prestige ‘starchitecture’ or community-led building projects. In this last instance, jmarchitects is in the unusual position of having a hand in both, as the delivery architects of Steven Holl’s new Glasgow School of Art building. Its achievement at Maryhill has been in bringing together the aspirations and requirements of the many and various community groups, and to respond in an architecturally appropriate manner that sees the viable restoration of this iconic building.

Alan Dunlop is director of Alan Dunlop Architects and visiting professor at the Scott Sutherland School of Architecture

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