From the archives: The Briggait, Glasgow by Assist Architects, 1986
[ARCHIVE] Edwin Johnston provides the background, Nicholas Falk reports on the financial issues, while Hugh Anderson appraises the concept and execution of the Briggait
The story of making the Briggait happen is a classic of our time. The questions it raises go to the very heart of current debates between city renewal pragmatists and visionaries, particularly those who are provoked by the shared motivation to save an important historic building.
Background - Edwin Johnston
The Briggait development in Glasgow’s former wholesale fishmarket building forms a new node in revitalisation plans for the east end of the inner city. It was initiated by a quantity surveyor, Tom Laurie and the Glasgow architectural practice Assist. On a prominent riverside sIte overlooking the Clyde, and what was once part of the medieval sector of the city, the existing buildings that make up the wedge shaped site occupy approximately one acre, 4. They extend from Clyde Street on the river front to the south, through to a street known as Bridgegate (the earliest crossing of the Clyde) on the north-west. The Briggait is several blocks away from a major new shopping and commercial development by Reiach and Hall, at St Enoch’s Square (AJ 14.4.82) now under construction, 3.
History of halls
The fishmarket was vacated in 1976 and before a feasibility study was carried out by the architects, commissioned by the Scottish Development Agency (SDA), which proposed a viable new role for its future, it faced a prospect of demolition in 1979. Spanning three centuries, the buildings include a Victorian trading hall, 9-a two tier; cast iron structure-by Clarke and Bell (1873), an adjoining single storey hall (1889), 11, and an additional hall previously used for servicing the market (1904). On the north corner of the site was office accommodation dating from 1914. And from the incongruous setting of the office building arises the mid-seventeenth century Merchants Steeple, an historic relic and grade A listed monument that survives from a former hospital and guildhall building demolished in 1817.
Working within the discipline
Public access to the Briggait is by means of the two triumphal arches in the robust and neo-c1assical Clyde Street facade, 4, 7, and also two entrances from Bridgegate, 5, all of which lead directly into the former Victorian trading hall, now renamed the Merchants’ Hall. This is the heart of the new development, a spacious indoor street, 27. It is a lofty nineteenth century market hall with daylighting from roof level and defined by a perimeter gallery at first floor level around the atrium space, 13.
Enlivened by colourful banners and indoor planting, the Victorian market atmosphere of the interior has been successfully conserved by the design decision taken by the architects to work within the geometric discipline of the original two tier cast iron structure. This is reflected in the organisation of the retail outlets, which at ground floor, are clearly recessed behind the cast iron columns, 13, while the width of the shop units, both at ground and gallery level, correspond with the 5-2 m bay width of the columns of the original structure, 26.
Another important aspect of the architects’ approach to the refurbishment lies in the design decision to opt for a modern idiom where new elements have been introduced to the interior, thus avoiding pastiche. This is evident, for example, in the handling of the detailed design of the new steel public staircases to the gallery in the Merchants’ Hall, 21, the treatment of shop facades, 13, and purpose designed mobile trading stalls-a modern response to the traditional barrow, 18, 19. Two warm air ducts are suspended in the roofspace of the indoor street.
At the apsidal end of the Merchants’ Hall, a cafe (incorporating a mezzanine floor) on Clyde Street will spill out into the central street space of the market hall. On the upper gallery level, the Merchants’ Hap is flanked on three sides by the unobtrusively designed facades of the new shop units.
Their entrances are highlighted by the projection of white canvas canopies, 14. An office for the centre manager is housed at gallery level. In the configuration of additional gallery floorspace that occurs the geometry of the plan between the Merchants’ Hall and Clyde Street, the treatment of space is open and relaxed in character. It is, at the moment, a ‘food court’, accessible from the second main public staircase and a lift. Seating for 120 people provides elevated views of the interior space, and also glimpses of the river to the south.
Next door to the Merchants’ Hall, the single storey hall has been refurbished as a food hall accommodating 14 retail units. Blue canvas roller blinds provide an economic yet colourful response to the problem if security screens to individual retail units, during non-business hours, 12. An extension of the food hall on the present gap site on Clyde Street will form part of a future development.
The 1904 service hall retains its traditional function for the vehicular delivery of goods, but within this volume a new upper floor level to provide accommodation for studio workshops will be added as part of a future phase. On Bridgegate, five new shop units, each incorporating a mezzanine level, have been sensitively inserted to take full advantage of the fenestration pattern of the existing fabric, 5. These enhance the appearance of the street. In addition, there will be a cafe-theatre from where visitors can gain admission to the spiral staircase of the Merchants’ Steeple, leading to commanding views of the city and the Clyde. Two new staircases also entered from Bridgegate provide access to 273 m2 of lettable office space at first floor level.
Financial story - Nicholas Falk
The recently opened Briggait in Glasgow is a major breakthrough on a number of counts. First, it has involved the refurbishment of the kind of listed buildings, which present particular problems because of their vast space and off-centre location.
Second, it is one of the largest schemes ever to have been promoted by a development trust, involving an investment of over £2.5 million. Third, this investment is not all public money, but involves a complex partnership between the voluntary, public and private sectors, a format that is high on the propaganda agenda for current government solutions to decaying sections of our environment.
Searching for finance
The Bridgegate Trust, perhaps because it was formed by a voluntary group of people, has deliberately set out to pursue a number of objectives simultaneously.
The project was initiated by the Glasgow architectural practice, Assist and surveyor Tom Laurie, who at the time was looking for a place to set up a cafe-theatre. They were joined by an ex-British Steel Corporation manager, Douglas Hadfield, who since having the idea for Clyde Workshops, had wanted to set up a scheme that used old buildings to help small businesses.
A trust steering group was formed in March 1981 and George Dunlop, a leading businessman, agreed to become chairman.
Favourable terms were negotiated with the owners, Glasgow District Council, to secure a 125-year lease for a peppercorn rent, rising to 10 per cent of net rental
income after five years on a retrospective agreement formula.
The city also offered a grant of £250 000 towards the cost of refurbishment. The regional council, Strathclyde, added £100,000, and further grants were obtained or promised from the Scottish Historic Buildings Council of £85,000, and the Scottish Tourist Board of £134,000 (although this was later withdrawn).
Public and private finance
The key to the initial success in raising finance was the commitment of the members of the trust, and the work of the trust’s administrator, Hadfield, who was unpaid for a year until an urban programme grant was secured to cover the costs of running an office.
The Scottish Development Agency (SDA) then helped by financing a feasibility study costing £14,000 which identified and costed the work that needed to be done. Although there was no market assessment, the report indicated that the scheme would cost £1 .4 million and would be viable if half the costs were obtained in grant.
The SDA then agreed to provide a leg-up grant (the Scottish equivalent of urban development grant) which meant that the trust now had access to £750,000 (although only after many struggles), provided it could raise the balance from the private sector.
Making commercial sense
None of the merchant or clearing banks approached were interested in funding such an unusual scheme, and the project could well have collapsed if the Prudential Assurance Company had not agreed to come in with an investment of £750,000.
While its interest was undoubtedly sparked off by the scheme’s potential for contributing to urban renewal (the Pru had been represented on the Government Financial Institution Group) and the unusual nature of the organisation, the funds were only made available on terms that made some commercial sense. First, it wanted an equity share, that is, a proportion of whatever surplus was created, which should grow over time.
Second, it wanted a 50/50 interest in the project, which was achieved by setting up the Briggait Company Ltd which was part owned by the trust and the Pru to take on the lease. To make it ‘tax efficient’, its investment was in the form of a ‘variable rate debenture’, that is, a long term loan, whose interest rate varied with the company’s income.
Altering the concept
When this agreement was finally reached, work started on making the building windand watertight. However, as problems arose with the roof, and costs began to exceed predictions, a new study was commissioned by the Briggait Company from surveyors Richard Ellis, which was presented in December 1983.
The study recommended altering the concept in order to go more upmarket, with a higher level of finishes, including provision for heating in open areas, and the introduction of a ‘food court’ and food hall to help draw in visitors, particularly during the week. They stressed the idea of creating a lively market scene.
The changes to the specification caused the costs to escalate even more, and the project now involved an investment of £2.6 million to provide 24,400 sq ft. Work on the managed workspace part of the scheme in another hall which involved a further 24,000 sq ft had to be deferred. The bulk of the extra money could only come from the Pru and the SDA, who together put in a further £1,1 million. The Pru’s share of future rental income was increased proportionately (although the estimated return now fell below what would normally have been expected on an investment of this kind).
Richard Ellis was appointed as project manager to co-ordinate the work of the design team and the builders, and the revised contract was let following a competitive tender to a major contractor. A year after work started the building was ready for occupation.
Lettings and rents
The tenants, who are mainly on one to five year leases, have been chosen on the basis of fitting in with the concept and having sound business plans. Forty per cent are new enterprises and, for many of the remainder, this represents their first retail sales venture. Seven of the companies are selling goods they manufacture elsewhere in Glasgow.
The Briggait was widely advertised as ‘one of Glasgow’s most exciting mixed retailing developments designed especially for independent retailers and small traders’, and more than 500 enquiries were received. However, it has proved harder to find takers for the food hall and ‘food court’.
Facilities and events
There are 43 units in all, and rents are typically £7/sq ft for the internal ground floor units, and £5/sq ft on the upper floor. For example, the total cost of a 192 sq ft. unit would be £4,400 which includes all services except electricity. In addition, there are 18 stalls let on a daily or weekly basis at £10 a day. Tenants range from someone selling hand-made children’s clothes to makers of designer glassware to someone doing ear-piercing, while the food hall contains a popular farm produce shop as well as the more predictable butcher and baker.
The central square is also used for entertainment with paying events in the evening, such as concerts, plays, charity shows and balls.
The Briggait’s history yields a number of ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ for those seeking to fund unusual urban conservation schemes. First, with the right vision and persistence, backed up by an organisation that embraces the main interests concerned, it is possible to push imaginative schemes through and even create partnerships between the public, private and voluntary organizations in situations where public funds are available.
Second, the public funding of feasibility studies (in this case £14,000 by the SDA), is crucial to rallying public and institutional support. However, even then costs can rise beyond what was predicted (in this case repairs to the roof), which makes it essential to have an adequate contingency fund and control over how money is spent.
Third, raising funds in these situations depends on skills in ‘packaging’ grants and involves breaking down complex projects into elements that appeal to each of the possible funding sources. For example, the initial £750,000 of grants came from five different sources. Finally, where complex projects are involved, public-money is paramount, but private funding can sometimes be attracted provided there is some commercial ‘logic’ and the deal is structured correctly.
In this case it meant the Pru taking a quasi-equity stake in the development company, rather than lending to the trust on fixed interest rates. In return it received a ‘top slice’ of half the profits, with the freeholder, Glasgow City, receiving the bottom slice of 10 per cent.
Yet by careful structuring the Pru was able to take its money out as interest income rather than dividend.
Although the scheme must be judged a success in terms of one of its goals, namely preserving an historic building, and while it may provide a ‘shot in the arm’ for a run-down part of the city, the project’s original job creation aims (200-300 jobs) are unlikely to be met, at least in the’ short term, as the funds are not available for developing the managed workspace part of the scheme.
The overall impression is that projects of this kind cannot be left to property professionals to design and manage. Business flair and the entrepreneur or product champion cannot be dispensed with, even when a development trust is used to achieve multiple objectives.
Appraisal - Hugh Anderson
When will we know whether the Briggait has been a success? The fact that it has happened at all is a major triumph and great credit must go to the dedicated souls who nursed it in its early days and those institutions which lent it weight when it needed it.
The builders are now off site and about 85 per cent of the units are let. The public are gradually finding their way there too and a couple of occasions like the official opening by Princess Margaret and a recent concert have drawn large crowds. But the Briggait’s summer has not yet come. No one can pretend it is a constant buzz and it’s early days to know whether it will perform financially. And when this day of judgment finally comes, how much of the test will be a question of architecture anyway? It depends possibly on what one terms design and, in the case of the Briggait, to what extent there has remained a wholeness between conception of the original idea, detailed design, marketing and management.
When one looks at the centre and follows the history of its evolution there is evidence of a breakdown in this wholeness and several lapses of confidence, which I fear will make the going uphill.
Location, location and location
The Briggait has a basic problem of location, or rather location linked with timing. Being optimistic, one might describe the Briggait as being a stone’s throw from Glasgow’s main shopping area and overlooking the Clyde, now infinitely cleaner than it was and with proposals for landscaping already under way.
Being a little more realistic, the stone’s throw would be a pretty impressive one over the long term blighted area of St Enoch’s now and for the next year or so, a massive building site, 3. The improvements by the river bank are as yet patchy and, along with Paddy’s Market, 16, offer convenient resting places for drunks and winos. In time, St Enoch’s will be completed and the street named Bridgegate is planned for pedestrianisation.
There are even plans afoot for the total revitalisation of the Broomielaw area to the west, 2. The Briggait might then form a trendy alternative to the main scene. But until then either it has to accept that it is on the wrong side of the tracks or it has to develop a fantastic reputation. It is too late to adapt the former and it is going to require sustained confidence and investment to develop the latter.
A basic conundrum
How did this problem come about? A nice building came up and it happened to be in an area which needed help. The opportunity could not be passed up. It illustrates the basic conundrum at the heart of so many architecturally attractive, but economically and socially run-down areas.
Which should come first, the buildings or the revival of the local economy? Is it possible to use buildings to attract people and regenerate an area or must one wait for market forces to edge their own way forward.
One major development within the project took place at a relatively late stage when a large number of people were already emotionally, if not financially, committed to the project. The original concept for the Briggait back in 1981 was for a working community. When the fishmarket building became available it seemed feasible to link the idea of a working community with retail outlets ‘downstairs’ and maybe a ‘cafe-theatre’.
Then in 1984 after several years of hawking the scheme around charitable bodies, with stage one (the building repair) already complete and stage two (the conversion) all set to go, Richard Ellis, the property agent, suddenly joined the team. It recommended various changes, namely that the scheme move further upmarket and model itself on the examples currently coming out of the US in Baltimore or South Street, Sea Port Development, New York, with its ‘food courts’ and festival shopping.
The working community concept went out of the window. The reasons for Richard Ellis’ introduction seem fair enough. With phase one overrunning its programme and estimates ’ for phase two rising, the SDA (now a major party to the project) not surprisingly took fright and questioned the commercial basis of the whole scheme.
Base building or myth making
The change in direction came, however, not as a result of market research based on actual opportunities but as something of a necessity. Changes to the drawings turned out to be deceptively minor which possibly disguised what was happening.
The difference, however, was between something which recognised the limitations of its situation and reckoned to grow out of what existed and something which needed to be exciting to attract its own market. If the first of these had problems in taking on a building and building works too grand for the revenue it might ever expect to earn, the latter called for the creation of a myth requiring a team extending well beyond an architect and a letting agent.
There was never any doubt in any of the parties’ minds that design was all important. The money was made available and although everything now had to be formally submitted through Richard Ellis (the project manager), the designers were left to get on with what they considered best.
Interventions and alterations
For their part, the designers were given a relatively free hand. The project is executed in a pleasant consistency of good materials, 13, (not necessarily flashy) and good workmanship. The style of the place is distinct; nothing pseudo, nothing that is likely to disappear with the passing of the next fad. As much as possible they have left the old building to speak for itself.
Shop units are set slightly back and kept to the module of the original building so that the columns run through, sweeping up into the roof with its filigree ironwork, 13. The original name boards on the fishmonger stalls were retained and re-used for shop signs, 22-24. This restraint was not always so easily accomplished. The balcony rail, for instance, besides being in poor condition, was set too low for modern regulations.
To overcome this, the whole balustrade has been lifted 150 mm and yacht wire run across its backside to reduce the openings to less than 100 mm, 17. Any necessary alterations have been with modern simplicity, contrasting with the original structure but not competing with-it.
Thus the two new staircases to the upper level, 20, 21, are done in steel and concrete as sculptural objects but without being heroic. The large ducts delivering warm air into the main hall are more obtrusive.
Alternative arrangements, trying to make use of local delivery points were apparently investigated, but proved too expensive. But faced with the problem the designers have done well. The ducts are painted white and suspended on a simple lattice of yacht wire.
Most striking of these interventions are the mobile stalls (the ‘barras’) on the ground floor, 19, and the canopies over the stalls on the upper deck, 14, and in the food arcade, 12. These are done in tubular steel with white or blue ‘canvas’ awnings.
The steel work to the canopies is triangulated and cantilevered to create the one slightly jokey, festive element within the building and the mobile stalls with their bright fresh colours have a suitable look of impermanence which contrasts with the traditional colours and more established feeling of the rest of the building.
However, the proportion of shop units to stalls, brought about by the original configuration of the building, is questionable. The contrast with Covent Garden is instructive, (AJ 27.5.81). The mobile stalls function well with their power pole connections and the capacity to be wheeled through to the adjoining hall when the main space is required for concerts.
A matter for management
Probably most important in this appearance of quality are those simple, usually unsung, details like the quality of the concrete paving, the steel skirting/crash bar and the straightforward but elegant joinery which should keep the building in trim for years to come. The paving in particular (laid to fall to gullies for simple cleaning) shows what can be done with a relatively cheap material.
All this is good solid stuff but, good location or not, it hardly adds up to a festive atmosphere. But, to my mind, the fault is not in the interior design. We are not looking for ‘disco architecture’ and any more banners or dangling pub signs would detract from the elegant spaciousness. The breakdown occurs in what life there is.
The difference is managing the place like a public library or like a theatre. The Briggait is clean, and I daresay the rents are collected, and there have been attempts at promoting events but there were several examples of what I took to be a breakdown in communication between the attempts by Richard Ellis and the Board to lift the centre into the festival shopping league (by spending another £280 000 in heating the place) and what was actually taking place on the ground.
In this last and most crucial phase the wholeness of the design appears to be breaking down.
Bring on the impressario
The big failure of the Briggait so far is in its ‘food court’, to be honest a cafe in all but name. It came late in the design as a result of Richard Ellis and as that essential ingredient which would lift it into the big league. The designers have not helped. The preparation areas are too small and inadequately serviced and the open fronts to the counters have an unfortunate trestle table look.
Thereafter, the shape of the original building is inappropriate. Eating tables strung out and interfering with the main circulation dissipate rather than concentrate the effect of the multiple outlets. As regards management, proper lettings have not yet materialised and the current food court operators are apparently not permanent.
But paper cups and homemade hamburgers to launch a major shopping enterprise, suffering from a poor location anyway? Cry for me South Street, New York! At the time of my visit also there was an ‘art’ exhibition of doubtful quality, the pictures strung out in a line, torn masking tape stuck at crude angles direct to the walls for labels.
Add to this the outbreak of mechanical rocking horses and amateur caricature artists and casual street musicians rather than professional buskers, the fact that shop owners are not being made to confine their signs to the format of the signboards provided, 22-24, and the fact that while some of the merchandise is quite good it is nowhere near the standard of Covent Garden let alone the US, and we start to have something which does after all reflect a ‘provincial’ mentality and rundown economy-in spite of all the hard work and investment.
We have had the entrepreneur but where is the impressario?
Ambitious visions required
It is easy to blame the person who is last in line and it is important to mention the
excellent events which have taken place such as jazz evenings during Glasgow’s Mayfest, the Ossian Concert, the Charity Ball for the Glasgow Print Studio or the visit of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre.
The problem is more that the management of the Briggait has now become such a cumbersome affair involving a whole series of individuals and institutions responsible for its creations, funding and management.
It is all but impossible under such conditions to have clarity of vision. Who at this stage can stick his neck out, increase the promotional budget, and give the Briggait the leadership it requires?
Its problems are familiar ones to projects where business and philanthropy get confused, where an economic formula is grafted on to something which has already gone too far down an uneconomic route. The problem with the Briggait at the end of the day might be, not that it was too ambitious, but that it was not big and ambitious enough.
If the management can muster one final act of confidence, the public might just catch the fever and the project could succeed. Alternatively, if the Briggait can hold on until the completion of the St Enoch’s Centre in several years’ time everything might be a lot easier.
Maybe it should have waited until this was complete-an idea put forward by Richard Ellis-but it was never clear at that stage how long St Enoch’s might take and the old empty market building might not have lasted until then. Certainly enthusiasm would have drained and one thing everyone is agreed on is that after a ‘project champion’ enthusiasm and momentum is everything.