Putting its bold stamp on a run-down quarter of Glasgow, gm+ad's Radisson SAS hotel is spearheading the city's hopes for regeneration
It is a reflection of Scotland's two principal cities that the contextual, though Modern, Westport office building by Reiach and Hall (AJ 24.4.03) is to be found in the polite city of Edinburgh while the gm+ad (Gordon Murray + Alan Dunlop Architects) hotel, the Radisson SAS, stands on the more abrasive streets of Glasgow. Daring to be different, gm+ad's building, notably the sweeping plane faced in green copper tiling, has caused controversy; but not among the planners, who take this landmark building as a symbol of regeneration in this quarter of the city.
Heading west under the ornate glazed rail bridge, known as the Heilanman's Umbrella, over Argyle Street - restored by gm+ad as part of its Europa Nostra award-winning refurbishment work to Central Station - Glasgow's economic vibrancy falters. And it does not pick up again until, veering south, there comes the run of new mega-offices along the north bank of the Clyde.
The city has ambitions to create its own Wall Street out there, away from the centre.
Today, there is only the occasional scaffolding to mark such a rebirth, much else is dereliction.Among the casualties, within view of the Radisson, is a 'Greek' Thomson office standing neglected on Wellington Street.
The hotel site had itself been derelict for 15 years when gm+ad won a limited competition. It is an area people did not want to walk through at night, so the planners are pleased to have new development, particularly the magnet of an upmarket hotel and conference centre.
It is a truism that you cannot have a good building without a good client. Alan Dunlop praises developer MWB for its design competition and its commitment.After a hiatus of 18 months the hotel design was developed and discussed with the planners. They responded supportively and permission for the £30 million project was gained in eight weeks. Only then did owner MWB interview potential hotel operator-tenants. Radisson was chosen, its preference being for four stars, rather than the envisaged five, and for a more US patternbook approach to what constitutes a four-star Radisson hotel, a formula somewhat evident within. Radisson has a design bible covering materials, bars, stairs, rooms, customer expectations and more.
There is a sense of gm+ad getting into its stride, as evidenced by the book of the practice published earlier this year which, not for nothing, is subtitled, Challenging Contextualism. Two nearby gm+ad jobs finished in 2000 feel mainly gestural - the sawtooth of Bewley's Hotel on Bath Street and particularly the nearwindowless, silvered, curved soft metal end to Spectrum House facing on to Blythswood Street. The curved facade of the Radisson is a more integrated part of the architecture.
Of course, this green plane stands out as it is meant to, a prow intended to evoke Glasgow's shipbuilding heritage. But it engages with the context, rather than ignoring it.
While the 60m sweep is made a lighter plane by strips of glazing at either end, hardly attaching it to the main body of the building, it does broadly follow the height and grid line of neighbouring buildings.
The main body of the building rises two more storeys behind, and in being set forward on the site, the projection provides shelter and creates a broader pavement for arriving guests and passing Glaswegians.
This site has been tightened up, like the dense building around, rather than opened up. Its curved plane is a simple move, which is, to use one of Gordon Murray's favoured quotes, 'reduced to the maximum'.
Behind the green plane, cladding wraps from Argyle Street down both side streets, terminating on Robertson Street in a retained, Grade B-listed 1905 Baroque facade by Steele and Balfour, also part of the hotel. Its grand entrance could become an entrance for the function suite. In gm+ad's architecture of contrasts, it is no surprise to find the rest of the building's cladding to be a finely wrought exercise in rigorous geometric patterning. This refinement is evident elsewhere, such as in gm+ad's reclad glazed facade of Spectrum House or its A3 spec business building at Edinburgh Park. The drama of contrast is important, though as Dunlop says of future gm+ad work now on screen, 'the curve is not an imperative'.
Once through the glazed entrance wall, the hotel foyer has the necessary scale for a 250bed hotel plus conference centre. It soars up to full height on a Benson & Forsyth museum scale, though the principal wall is faced in dark timber rather than white plaster, making the individual feel less diminished by this scale and creating a more tactile backdrop at each balcony/lift lobby level.
The immediate foyer is populated by the reception, a bar and seating area, a broad stair to the first floor flexible conference suites and meeting rooms, and a small bistro adjacent to the westerly corner, all by gm+ad. The front sweeps away to create a full-height glazed slot, which is a natural entrance flowing into the foyer from that direction. Unfortunately, Radisson has so far decided it wants only one entrance, directly opposite the reception desk, so the glass doors remain for emergency escape only. The view out from upper floors, as well as from the foyer, has an element of architectural games, with both 'Greek' Thomson's offices and a James Thompson bank (now a bar) in view. Behind the foyer are two restaurants, one Spanish-themed by Pentagram opening onto Robertson Street, and at the easterly end of the foyer there is a bar on Argyle Street, also open to the public, by Graven Images.
The three levels of rooms immediately behind the curved plane are residential suites, though gm+ad's original idea was to make these part of the business centre, hence the generous spaces (formerly break-out areas) fronting them. They are reached by bridging the floor across the foyer, visible from below as a glass floor, maintaining some visual detachment from the front of the hotel.
Above these, emerging from the lift on the sixth floor, there are views out and an enclosed space on top of the rooms, which gm+ad would like to set up as a private bar, looking down dramatically on both sides into the foyer. Radisson has yet to be convinced, although it is early days in working out how best to use the building, and so far facilities manager Frances Hope professes herself very happy with gm+ad's work.
Apart from the first-floor function rooms, the layout is of modular-sized rooms, double banked on spine corridors around an interior court. This court, over the conference suite, is finished as an outdoor space, already furnished with trees and lighting, and gm+ad is trying to interest Radisson in the idea of making this space accessible to guests.
The long corridors are well broken up by indents and by lighting, both along the walls and immediately above door recesses, emphasising rhythm rather than long vistas.
The rooms, as containers, are simple white volumes, shaped by drop ceilings around the perimeter - a modern-day cornice - minimally designed, with floor-to-ceiling glazing.
This contrasts with Radisson's preference for filling spaces with furniture and pattern.
gm+ad's general simplicity did not come easily - coordinating services was, Dunlop says, one of the hardest parts of the job.
If development continues as hoped, there could be 5,000-6,000 people working in this area in a few years' time and a vibrant nightlife. The hotel contributes to the nighttime animation, its lighting mainly coming from within, the curved plane not highlighted. It is almost restrained. Perhaps Gordon Murray and Alan Dunlop are looking for work in Edinburgh.
MWB Argyle Street www. mwb. co. uk
Gordon Murray + Alan Dunlop Architects www. murraydunloparchitects. com
Thomas and Adamson www. thomasandadamson. com
Blyth and Blyth www. blythandblyth. co. uk
New Acoustics www. newacoustics. co. uk
Kevan Shaw Lighting Design www. kevan-shaw. com
HBG Construction www. hbgc. com
TENDER DATE February 2000
START ON SITE DATE August 2000
CONTRACT DURATION 27 months
GROSSS EXTERNAL FLOOR AREA 20,931m2
PROCUREMENT Client Amended Design & Build (JCT 98 Contractor Design)
TOTAL COST £31.8 million
CLIENT MWB Argyle Street
ARCHITECT gm+ad (Gordon Murray + Alan Dunlop Architects): Lucy Andrew, Maggie Barlow, Alan Dunlop, Alison Gallaghar, James Liebman, Andrew Millar, Karen Macdonald, Gordon Murray, Rory Olcayto
QUANTITY SURVEYOR Thomas and Adamson
STRUCTURAL SERVICES ENGINEER Blyth and Blyth
ACOUSTIC CONSULTANT New Acoustics
LIGHTING CONSULTANT Kevan Shaw Lighting Design
MAIN CONTRACTOR HBG Construction
SUBCONTRACTORS AND SUPPLIERS Copper cladding KME/TECU, John Fulton; curtain wall, glazing Henshaws; slate cladding Stirling Stone; Planar system Pilkingtons; roofs Miller Roofing, Sarnafil; timber cladding Brynzeel/ Multipanel; glass flooring Haran Glass; Quarella floors CTD; joiner Jamieson Contracting; mechanical FES; electrical ELG; lighting Terkan; bathroom pods RB Farquar; fire protection Kenstallen; ceilings Soundtex; fit-out Elmwood