RMJM’s Commonwealth Games Athletes’ Village is a world-class housing project for Glasgow’s neglected East End, writes Jude Barbour
Glasgow is scrubbing up in preparation for the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Shop-fronts are being painted, banners erected and open spaces enhanced. However, the preparations are not purely cosmetic. The re-use and enhancement of existing venues such as Scotstoun Sports Centre and Cathkin Braes Country Park is based on a pragmatic sporting strategy that has already seen a significant increase in local access to facilities. Unfortunately, the city also hosts the mundanely bombastic Emirates Arena and hostile East End Regeneration Route. These projects scream of historic bad planning and development that fly in the face of current thinking and national design policy.
So, among the complexities and contradictions associated with delivering an international sporting event, it is heartening to see that the most ambitious and significant building project of the 2014 Commonwealth Games is a new residential neighbourhood in Glasgow’s East End. These properties will host 6,500 athletes during the games, before being reconfigured to form 700 new, mixed-tenure homes. Glasgow’s East End suffered dramatically from Scotland’s post-industrial decline and this, in turn, has led to extreme health inequality and unemployment. It was therefore a bold and opportunistic decision to site such a significant new development in this part of the city in a challenging landscape adjacent to the river Clyde.
The masterplan, developed by RMJM as part of the City Legacy consortium, is formed around a series of robust and legible street patterns that make strong links to the Clyde. A pedestrian bridge that will be built after the games will unlock access to the biodiverse landscape of the Cuningar Loop and the existing cycle path along the Clyde has been enhanced to link the site to the city. The development is currently set up as the Athletes’ Village, with areas of storage, pavilions dotted around and a security fence to its perimeter. Only time will tell how residents will actively engage with shared public areas. However, the site arrangement and permeable links suggest these will be well overlooked and well landscaped.
maisonettes, flatted blocks and a supported care home. The terraces and flats can be readily altered from temporary shared accommodation to family homes, and offer the opportunity for future adaptation of roof spaces.
Walking around the site, it is immediately apparent that both the architectural language and spatial organisation of the housing seek to establish a bold alternative to typical low-rise suburban estates. The development is fresh and outward-looking in its articulation, and feels akin to developments such as Borneo in The Netherlands or Freiburg in Germany. Flanked by compact terraced housing, the water corridor near the centre of the site creates a strong axis that is inherently pedestrian-focused, and linked to a broader sustainable water-management design strategy. The positioning of flatted blocks to the water’s edge allows each generous balcony and roof terrace to connect the home with the surrounding landscape and Glasgow’s idiosyncratic skyline.
It is an incredible achievement to have completed such significant infrastructural engineering works, and to have incorporated district heating and sustainable drainage features into the development without in any way compromising the architectural quality of the housing itself. The design and detail of the houses and flats is restrained, well built and clearly articulated. Only the feature gables stand out as a particularly unnecessary architectural flourish. Architects, engineers, developers and builders have evidently worked together to ensure that housing quality is maintained at every level in the development. Off-site fabrication combined with a well-managed construction process has no doubt gone a long way towards this.
The Commonwealth Games Athletes’ Village has received special attention both locally and nationally to ensure it fully embraces Scottish government design policy. The project team has created an example of good practice which enlightened built environment professionals, clients, developers and authorities can bring to those who remain stuck in 1980s planning policy.
Any sportsperson will tell you that the race to the finish line requires sacrifices to be made along the way. RMJM has much to answer for in the way it has treated its staff in recent years. Those who have worked tirelessly to deliver this project should be doubly applauded for their efforts in designing a temporary home for sporting excellence and creating a world-class housing project for Glasgow.
Jude Barbour is director of Collective Architecture