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Sub-urban Gorbals

Frank Arneil Walker reviews award-winning housing in Glasgow

The old Gorbals was black. Ordered streets of four-storeyed, stone tenements charred with the polluted smoke of Victorian industry. The not-so-old Gorbals of the 1960s was grey.

Slabs and towers of concrete, brutally big and as brutally bare, indiscriminately scattered (or so it seemed to the pedestrian) on the tabula rasa of comprehensive redevelopment. The new Gorbals is red - and cream. Brick terraces back to street scale. But is it urban?

Perhaps it is too early to say, for Glasgow's second resurrection south of the river is still only beginning. But the signs are good, the potential recognised recently by the Saltire Society's awards to two related housing projects added to the new brick world across the Clyde.

Moffat Gardens

Moffat Gardens is part of the regeneration programme for East-Gorbals where the New Gorbals Housing Association, founded in the early 1990s, is building on a number of derelict cleared sites. The achievement, largely funded by Scottish Homes, is considerable. First, a masterplan was prepared. Stimulated by its enterprising director, Fraser Stewart, the association entered into discussions with members of the local community. What emerged as a priority was a desire to avoid the monotony and repetitive boredom of the 1960s and 70s. Consequently the plan devised by Page & Park Architects envisaged a variety of housing types and the creative involvement of several architectural practices. Their cooperation would not be limited to the design of particular housing blocks but would extend to collaboration on the choice of materials and forms and, significantly, to decision-making affecting the design of the public spaces unifying the overall layout.

Like most other areas of Gorbals, the site at Moffat Gardens had all but lost its urban coherence. Some two- and threestorey housing had already been built to the south and west while a small factory and a single-storey public house had survived the ubiquitous demolition. The association's plan introduced three new housing blocks, arranging these in a co-ordinated relationship which reinforced the street grid, re-established three- and four-storey scale, and created a small park at the centre of what is a deceptively simple rectilinear layout. Two of the three blocks were completed in early summer 1998. Page & Park has laid a strong three-storey wall of terrace housing (Phase Two) along Hayfield Street, toughening the urban edge of the site opposite the open park. In the park itself, Elder and Cannon provided what it describes as a 'villa block', a three- and four-storey building of flats (Phase Three) standing alone south of Hayfield Street. Yet to be completed, the third element in this collaborative composition is a clever aggregation of street ranges (Phase One) designed by Simister Monaghan Architects to mark the North-west corner of the Moffat Gardens site.

Brick wall - street wall

Fundamental to the urban intention of the whole project is the 'wall' of housing along Hayfield Street. This incorporates 21 two-, three- and fourperson flats, most of which look south across the street to the park. The wall is of red wire-cut bricks with a rusticated texture chosen to maintain design decisions already made in earlier neighbouring projects, their planar consistency of colour intensified here by matching pointing and a total abstinence from any kind of patterning or decorative detail. This principal elevation is, however, indented at several points to create balconies; some merely hole-in-the-wall, but two which are recessions rising through two storeys to the overhanging eaves of the monopitch roof. These inner planes are lined with silvering western red cedar boarding which runs horizontally with the brick coursing. This layering of the facade has been exploited asymmetrically to relate to the park opposite and undoubtedly adds shadow interest, material change and proportional intrigue to the street wall. Windows, painted a dull battleship grey, exert a regular underlying rhythm along the wall but the seeming arbitrariness of indentation and change of material remains troubling, somehow less than urban, while the sparred soffit of the tilted jutting eaves is already a cliche.

Brick returns at the ends of the street block but is progressively peeled away as public space becomes private. Creamcoloured render is used on the rear elevation, though here, too, some cedar boarding provides relief. The monopitch roof dipping to the rear reduces the scale appropriately and allows some variation in ceiling heights in the cross section. But the large overhang to the north, impairing the light quality in the second-floor bedrooms, seems again an unfortunate surrender to questionable architectural fashion.

Tenement in the park

While the unfinished corner housing across Moffat Street from the west end of Page & Park's terrace will add more street ranges to the new red brick Gorbals, Elder & Cannon's tenement in the park does not. Its open space location, with only minimal obligation to respond to the lines of Hayfield Street and McNeil Street, required - and received - something completely different.

Fourteen two- and three-person flats are housed in a free-standing villa block of two elements - a four-storey 'tower', elliptical in plan, linked to a threestorey oblong wing. The curving north and south walls of the ellipse are built in buff bricks, a change of colour from the dominant red but one justified by the special nature of this object building and indeed by the nearby use of similar bricks in a secondary role to the red. At the east and west ends, where the ends of the ellipse have been snipped off, the living rooms are fully glazed. Raised over the third floor, which has been copperlined above sill height to detach it visually from the brick below, is a daring elliptical slab of a roof. It too is copper-clad, oversailing walls and glazing - a strange chocolate nougat wafer pressing down on the creamy brick below.

To the south is the lower block, sensibly reduced in height to relate to neighbouring housing. Render dominates in this three-storey wing, a piece of design which in itself is persuasively redolent of the 1930s.

Sub-urban success

In almost every way Moffat Gardens is an exemplary success. It testifies to the value of consultation with the local community. It shows what a forceful enlightened client can achieve. It proves that leading architects in the city can compete and collaborate creatively. Above all it creates a place, distinct and pleasurable. If there is still rather more space than place in these open streets, perhaps it is because in a shrinking city the new Gorbals must inevitably become sub-urban.

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