Getting things done
After an arts degree and a postgraduate qualification in planning, Eleanor McAllister landed the post of administrator at the Bridgegate Trust in 1984. Three years later she became its director. The Bridgegate, precursor to the influential Glasgow Building Preservation Trust, was established with the sole aim of saving and restoring the Briggait, Glasgow's historic fish market.
As McAllister recalls, this was when Covent Garden was being refurbished for shopping, and Glasgow's aim was to have a similar speciality market, open to the elements. The lack of existing models for such an approach in Scotland did create its own problems and, in its final enclosed form, the superbly restored Briggait could not generate sufficient income to support its running costs. Although it has been mothballed for a number of years, she remains confident that, given other developments in the area, particularly Homes for the Future, it will once again come into its own as a thriving part of the city centre. 'The fact that we were able to save a building which might otherwise have made way for a car park is justification enough,' she says.
Other projects undertaken by the Bridgegate Trust included early works on St Andrew's-in-the-Square, now the subject of a major Glasgow Building Preservation Trust restoration, and Wellpark Women's Business Centre, a conversion of a former school in the east end of Glasgow. Plans to restore the massive Doulton Fountain, a remarkable gift to the City of Glasgow for its major exhibition in 1888, remained an aspiration while McAllister was with the trust, although parts of its fabric were removed and stored for safe-keeping. She is delighted that it will now form part of a major, Heritage Lottery-funded, restoration of Glasgow Green.
In 1992, McAllister became a project manager within Strathclyde Region, procuring and influencing development projects including Dalziel Workspace in Motherwell, the St Francis Centre in the Gorbals and Westwood Business Centre in Easterhouse. All of these were adaptations of existing buildings - a recurring theme throughout McAllister's career.
Her concern with the rationale behind such redeployment of redundant or under-used resources is every bit as apparent as her determination that such reworkings should be of significant architectural quality. She has long fought against the presumption that buildings in peripheral communities need not achieve the architectural quality of those for the city centre or other prime sites: 'There is no such thing as working-class architecture.'
While she has always been keen to push the boundaries of design and perceptions of the acceptable, her task as the client, or client's representative, has also required a significant degree of fiscal prudence. Thus, while content to hand over 'a lot of the power of what the thing will look like' to the architect, she has invariably employed enlightened, but firm, qss, 'to keep the finances on a tight rein'. This process seems to have been successful although, she admits, 'pretty bloody along the way at times'. The reality of the west of Scotland is that 'there's just not much money around', so employing good architects and creating successful projects has given her the confidence and the assurance to persuade funders to put in a little extra.
Two practices have consistently been involved with McAllister's projects - Page & Park and Elder & Cannon. Their styles, she reflects, are quite different. She professes 100 per cent faith in both, but while the former 'needs space to work out what it is going to give you', the latter is much more 'fireworks and buzz'. She appreciates the contrast and clearly relishes the results.
Having spent the last 15 years commissioning work on behalf of the public sector, McAllister has no difficulty with the notion that her task is really that of a civil servant. She does, however, emphasise her continuing responsibility to work with communities to raise the debate. When she was headhunted at the end of 1996 for the task of development director for Glasgow 1999 (she became depute director at the end of 1997), the process seemed to be an appropriate continuation of the previous role.
In talking about 1999, McAllister convincingly follows the familiar mantra that it is a celebration of what's great in architecture and design around the world, and relevant to Glasgow, and about displaying how the process and the objects affect everything. However, her demeanour becomes much more individual and highly charged over the projects whose funding and realisation have become her prime responsibility for the year.
Homes for the Future will be a truly innovative collection of housing designed for a very difficult part of the city. (See this issue's City of Architecture preview, starting on page 26.) McAllister entered the ring when there were mutterings about just how these significant developments might be created on time. Now the process is well under way. Of course, among others, Page & Park and Elder & Cannon are playing a part - and this is a team with a reputation for delivering the goods.