THE FASCINATION WITH SURFACE GIVES THIS MOST BASIC OF BUILDING TYPES AN INTELLIGENCE AND ENQUIRY THAT IS PALPABLE
In 1999, the Glasgow-based practice Glass Murray Architects, which was originally established in 1931, became Gordon Murray + Alan Dunlop Architects (GM + AD). The bulk of its workload has been in Glasgow, including the refurbishment of the Central Station, the Sentinel office development, the Radisson Hotel and Glasgow Harbour Phase Two, a major mixed-use development which is due for completion in 2010.
The Dutch artist Herman de Vries once said: 'When I came to Scotland for the first time I saw on maps the names of many forests, but when I visited these places I found not forest, but moorland, or grazing land. Realising the impoverishment of this landscape, I studied all the topographical maps and made the text of a book In Memory of the Scottish Forests, containing the names of all those lost forests.' a The forests de Vries searched in vain for were felled to fuel the Industrial Revolution. The smelting of iron ore consumed vast swathes of woodland, almost to extinction. Now, in turn, that industrial topography is being erased from the landscape.
Clydebank, like one of the ghosts of the great Caledonian forests, is a spectre of its former industrial self. It was once synonymous with shipbuilding and sewing. The shipyards of John Brown, Thomsons and Beardmores were world renowned for their quality. The Singer sewing machine company employed 5,000 people in 1885, in the most modern and extensive factory in Europe. This rose to 16,055 in 1960. The factory closed in 1980.
Like many areas of post-industrial Britain that were once central to the nation's world power, Clydebank has been retired, marginalised; its heavy engineering skills no longer required.
Clydebank's industrial importance was acknowledged by the commitment and zeal with which the Luftwaffe attempted to obliterate it during the Second World War. It was 'friendly fire', however, that eventually silenced those heavy industries. Britain no longer needs industrial might to further its influence. The virtual has replaced the real. The software, service and financial industries power the new economies. These industries are a challenge for communities like Clydebank that pride themselves on honesty, vigour and directness; communities that originally gathered purposely around a highly visible and virile source of employment and culture.
The poet Thomas A Clark continues de Vries' lament in his haunting poem Forest Without Trees: 'To the north the land hardens/ It meets and challenges the eye/ Sandstone, gneiss, quartzite/ Windswept and empty? Settlement is on the edge/ Of this emptiness/ Survival is accepting/ The wind's caress.' bClydebank Rebuilt, an urban regeneration company established by West Dunbartonshire Council and Scottish Enterprise Dunbartonshire, accepts the wind's caress in laying down an enormously ambitious and committed attempt to inject new vitality and growth back into an area that once armed an empire. A 20-year, £400 million plan addresses economic, social and physical regeneration, driven forward through a partnership of public, private and community interests.
Clydebank Rebuilt is highly motivated, plumbing the deep pride the community has in the achievements of its past.
Led by Eleanor McAllister, it has set an agenda that values good design. McAllister is an influential planner and economist with many significant regeneration schemes behind her. Already, leading practices and urban thinkers, such as David Page, of Page and Park Architects, and Ian White, of Ian White Associates, have been commissioned to masterplan a new Clydebank.
Clydebank is open and expectant, with long views out to hills and the promise of a mythical forested Scotland to the north.
The river Clyde exerts a powerful influence. Into this existing and emerging landscape GM + AD was commissioned by Clydebank Rebuilt to create an enclave of starter industrial units near the main Glasgow Road. These units are designed for small businesses taking that first step into real premises. The brief necessarily called for economy, but also demanded ambition and vision.
The John Knox Street workshops represent regrowth at its most basic level. Continuing the de Vries theme of the natural world, these industrial units could be seen to be pioneering species in plant terminology; invading a disturbed piece of ground first and establishing a colony of annual plant species, which in turn gives way to biennial plants, which are followed by perennial plants.
The workshops are the first phase, 0.8ha of a 6ha site.
The development comprises three L-shaped blocks, of seven units, which define service yards and car parking. They vary in size from 44 - 77m The enclave presents a defensive, if considered, face to the community. The sense from the outside is one of exclusivity. There is a detachment from the street, with all signage, access and activity confined to the courtyard.
The construction approach is straightforward: singlestorey shells; an exposed two-way sway steel frame; fair-faced blockwork at lower levels; and an insulated industrial external wall.
The larger units benefit from toplight and higher floor-to-ceiling heights. The massing is deceptively simple. Alan Dunlop refers to Jenga, the wooden building toy, as a reference. There is a sense of overlapping volumes, a play of addition and subtraction.
Externally, the facades are clad in coloured fibre-cement panels, gold anodised-aluminium panels and discrete elements of translucent triple-wall polycarbonate. The aluminium panels reference the local ship-building heritage, with vertically shifted plates and exposed fixings. The gold anodising subverts this robustness. The architect pays homage to Hans Scharoun and the Berlin Philharmonie with the gold braid of facade conversations.
Project architect Reiner Nowak skilfully articulates ideas of colour and materials in the building fabric. Each of the three groups of units takes a colour theme, the result of extensive exploration. In a further elaboration, the panels are embroidered with an applied screen print that implies stitching. The stitch pattern, named 'Castle', is a decorative stitch. At night, coloured lights animate the polycarbonate elements, transforming the light collectors into light emitters and revealing a more commercial concern.
Mark Pimlott, in his essay 'Ornament and Picture Making', outlines this current fascination with decoration.
He writes: 'The new tendency to fetishise construction has been pursued by architectural practices worldwide since the 1980s.
The development of openly decorative or ornamental ideas applied to the surfaces of architecture is most evident in - and has become central to - the work of Herzog & de Meuron. Their buildings of the 1980s and 1990s seemed fixed on aspects of their making:
on process, assembly, and material; on gravity and equivalence;
on pictures. But Herzog & de Meuron freed themselves from conventional 'architectural' considerations to pursue speculations about image, signification, making and picture making. There was no content to signify or reify within these new buildings. The enclosures could be constructed on their own terms, for their own sake. Since they were autonomous, they could be self referential.
They could appear to be something significant, something templelike. They could look important without having to be important.'
cGM + AD mentions Herzog & de Meuron's Ricola warehouse at Laufen, with its Blossfeldt plant print alluding to the herbal nature of the sweets stored in the building. The influence of the young German practice Hild und K, particularly its 'Arran sweater' of a brick house at Agstall, is also acknowledged. Both of these examples illustrate Pimlott's point that an ordinary brief is promoted in significance through an elaboration of the facades.
The workshops explore this fascination with the fetish of surface. These most basic of building types display an intelligence and enquiry that is palpable. The massing is elegant;
the cladding is tailored and well cut.
Within the centre of Glasgow, GM + AD has realised a series of striking commercial buildings. The Sentinel and Spectrum buildings particularly appeal, hailed not only by the architectural community but also in the local press. The practice's work has been referred to as 'totems of Glasgow's cultural confidence' and tellingly, GM + AD has 'keenly embraced the modernisation of Glasgow's commercial city centre.' Located away from the concerns of Glasgow's celebrated and design-conscious centre, the workshops appear effete, fragile, and provisional, a familiar characteristic of a pioneering species when contrasted with a disturbed and sober industrial landscape.
With this considered and modest project GM + AD has fruitfully ventured out from the core of its work to date, the city centre, to explore more difficult and marginal territories, where growth is more speculative and dependent on a fair wind.
Costs Costs refer to gross internal floor area.
Cost analysis based on tender sum.
SUBSTRUCTURE Foundations/slabs £73.83/m 2Shallow in situ reinforced concrete semi-raft foundations;
slab with a power-floated finish providing the wearing surface to the workshops SUPERSTRUCTURE Frame £90.92m 2Single-storey two-way sway frame structure with rigid moment connections Roof £69.94/m 2Kingspan roof panels External walls (including cladding) £204.25/m 2Kingspan wall panels with a 2.5m-high blockwork perimeter wall on inside; decorative layer of Eternit cement panels or aluminium panels External doors £30.87/m 2Lowland Ensor PPC steel doors Internal walls and partitions £27.09/m 2Blockwork and plaster partitions Internal doors £4.93/m 2Standard painted timber doors INTERNAL FINISHES Wall finishes £3.86/m 2Painted plasterboard with ceramic wall tiles to wet areas Floor finishes £1.93/m 2Vinyl flooring to toilet areas; power float to workshop areas Ceiling finishes £4.57/m 2Painted plasterboard in toilet areas; exposed Kingspan roof panel in workshop areas FITTINGS AND FURNISHINGS Furniture £16.22/m 2Tea preparation area fit-out; toilet fit-out SERVICES Space heating/air treatment £53.89/m 2 Gas-fired warm air heaters with destratification fans Electrical services £67.43/m 2EXTERNAL WORKS Landscaping, ancillary buildings £350.69/m 2Soft and hard landscaping; road and pavement works PRELIMINARIES AND INSURANCES Preliminaries, overheads and profit £83.42/m 2 Cost summary Cost per m 2 Percentage of SUBSTRUCTURE 73.83 SUPERSTRUCTURE Frame 90.92 Roof 69.94 External walls 204.25 18.85 External doors 30.87 2.85 Internal walls and partitions 27.09 2.50 Internal doors 4.93 0.46 GROUP ELEMENT TOTAL 428.00 39.49 INTERNAL FINISHES Wall finishes 3.86 0.36 Floor finishes 1.93 0.18 Ceiling finishes 4.57 0.42 GROUP ELEMENT TOTAL 10.36 0.96 FITTINGS AND FURNISHING 16.22 1.5 SERVICES Space heating/air treatment 53.89 4.97 Electrical services 67.43 6.22 GROUP ELEMENT TOTAL 121.32 11.2 EXTERNAL WORKS 350.69 32.36 PRELIMINARIES AND INSURANCES 83.42 7.70 TOTAL 1,083.84 100 Cost data supplied by Cathal Heron of Gardiner & Theobald