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Building study: Page\Park has brought Kelvin Hall back to life

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The Glasgow-based practice has reinvigorated one of its home city’s most recognisable structures


Kelvin Hall is one of the three most distinguished and recognisable structures that dominate Glasgow’s West End. Opposite the hall is the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, recently voted the most loved building in the city. Above that, on Gilmorehill, is the Glasgow University chapel, quadrangle and tower by George Gilbert Scott.  

Kelvin Hall lies on the edge of Finnieston, where Argyle Street bridges the River Kelvin and joins the south end of Byres Road. Named the ‘hippest place in Britain’ by The Times, Finnieston was once a run-down semi-industrial area, but is now transformed by new residential buildings, restaurants, art galleries and bars. The West End is home to young professionals, students, and academics, with almost every brownfield site having been acquired for new student residences.

Most Glaswegians know Kelvin Hall well. It has been part of Glasgow’s cultural and social fabric for 90 years. Designed as an exhibition and entertainment venue by city engineer Thomas Somers in the 1920s, it was intended to house national and international exhibitions. The Glasgow carnival and circus took place there every Christmas and New Year, until the shows decamped to the Scottish Exhibition Centre in 1987. The building housed Glasgow’s International Sports Arena prior to its move to the Emirates Arena as part of the Commonwealth Games campus and the Museum of Transport from 1987 till 2010 which then moved to Zaha Hadid’s Riverside Museum. 

The question Glasgow Council faced was what to do with such a historically important structure once it was empty

The original building has a red sandstone Doric colonnade porte-cochère fronting on to Argyle Street, which formed the entrance to the main hall. On each side of the colonnade are twin stone towers, finished by lanterns topped by bronze globes. Flanking the colonnade are separate wings, ended by domed towers. The sides and exterior of the main hall are constructed from warm red brick with Art Deco doorways on to Blantyre Street and Bunhouse Road. The main hall has an area of 16,000m2, and the building is spanned in cross section by four barrel vaults, constructed in ferro-concrete and top-lit by glass lanterns running the full length of the building. The structure is slender and supported throughout by just 22 columns, creating a stunning interior space. 

The question faced by Glasgow City Council was what to do with such a historically important structure once it was empty. Glasgow Life, which manages the city’s cultural and sporting events, brought together prospective partners, including the University of Glasgow, Glasgow Sport, the National Library of Scotland, and the Hunterian Museum, to agree a way forward. Page\Park Architects was shortlisted following an OJEU notice in 2012, and  prepared a design for redevelopment that took into account the many and complex requirements of the various groups who would occupy the new addition. 

On visiting, my initial thought was why not use the original colonnade – but this is planned to become the entrance to Phase 2, when the main hall will be taken over by the Hunterian Museum. The additional entrance is on the west side from a sliver of site overlooking the River Kelvin on what was the approach to the Transport Museum. The sharp, triangular foyer is permeated by natural light. The redevelopment and addition runs level with the existing hall floor, which is some 1.4m above the adjoining street.

Once through the glass doorway you are presented with steps and a ramp that lead to the main reception. This space is generous considering the site restrictions. To the left, through the retained sandstone Art Deco doorway, is the café, with a continuous roof light separating the new structure from the original. 

Page\Park has worked within the constraints of the original building fabric, recognising what is important to retain

The building parti is clever and the planning clear. From the foyer, an ‘avenue’ and service core splits the sports hall and museum store from a fitness gym, lecture and seminar rooms. The avenue is long but from it you can see into the sports hall and store, and there are audio visual screens, display cabinets, and exhibits showing part of the Glasgow Museum and Hunterian collection. At the end is a much larger animated screen, drawing you to the Moving Image research centre, part of Scotland’s National Screen Archive. 

The building cost some £25 million, one third of which was spent on specialised servicing needs, to safeguard the large Glasgow Museum storage area and Hunterian archive. It was delivered on time and to budget through a Design and Build contract with Page\Park novated to the contractor McLaughlin and Harvey after RIBA Stage E. 

The architect has kept all of the main building features and worked skilfully within the original concrete structure, now painted white and so more clearly expressed. The full-length roof lanterns flood the building with natural light. The finishes are spartan – white plastered walls and ceilings, occasionally interrupted by splashes of colour to denote the entrance to various spaces. 

Graven Images carried out the interior fit-out but its work is less inspiring. The cabinets set out along the avenue are of a dark stain timber veneer, and rather joyless. The café lacks the idiosyncratic flourishes expected from such a highly regarded studio, but during my visit it was, nevertheless, busy.  

Outside, the new west elevation is fronted in large glass sections between the main steel structure, with mullions, base and fascia framed in anodised steel panels, coloured bronze to complement the original red sandstone and brickwork. The addition sits above plant rooms at street level and the base rises to follow the line of the entrance ramp. 

This is a clever intervention which has brought back to life a building of cultural and social importance. Page\Park has successfully worked within the constraints of the original building fabric and has recognised what is important to retain. Where the new addition needs signposting to the street, it has broken free from its simple interior palette to add colour and interest by the introduction of the bronze frame.

Judging by the crowds of people using the building on a rainy day in March and the number of institutions that now occupy space within it, I have no doubt its reinvigorated influence will continue.  

Kelvin hall 9

Kelvin hall 9

Source: Andrew Lee

Project data

Start on site  August 2014
Completion August 2016
Gross internal floor area 17,500m² net
Procurement route Design and Build
Total cost  £35.5 million
Construction cost per m² £1,500/m²
Architect Page\Park Architects 
Client Glasgow Life
Structural engineer Woolgar Hunter
M&E consultant Harley Haddow
Quantity surveyor Gardiner & Theobald
Lighting consultant  Kevan Shaw Lighting Design
Interior designer Graven Images
National Library of Scotland interior and exhibition design Stuco Design
Project manager Gardiner & Theobald
CDM co-ordinator Gardiner & Theobald
Main contractor McLaughlin & Harvey
CAD software used Autodesk Revit 2013
Annual CO2 emissions 38.02 kg/m² (estimate based on the energy performance certificate data, achieves BREEAM Very Good)
On-site energy generation 33%
Annual mains water consumption 110m³/occupant
Airtightness at 50pa 12.61m3/h.m²
Heating and hot water load  242.47 kwh/m²/yr
Overall area-weighted U-value 0.54w/m²K

Client’s view

The redevelopment of the Kelvin Hall forms part of Glasgow City Council’s and Glasgow Life’s wider cultural and sporting vision to inspire Glasgow’s citizens to lead richer and more active lives through culture, sport and learning.

Working with our partners – the University of Glasgow, the Hunterian, the National Library of Scotland and the Moving Image Archive – we wanted to reinvent this culturally significant and much-loved landmark building, and create a cultural hub for collections storage, teaching, research and engagement, combined with a modern sports and leisure facility. This is a new and innovative service offer which provides the opportunity for the people of Glasgow and visitors to further engage and participate in culture and sport.

A demanding client brief and the physical constraints of a listed building presented a challenging proposition for the architects. However, the team worked well with the various stakeholder groups and our partners to deliver a design solution that maximised the potential of the existing building and wider site. 

Orientation was a key part of the brief with so many different activities within the building. This was successfully delivered by designing a simple but inspired central circulation route now known as the Avenue. Another great design intervention is the new extension and façade treatment. This not only captures additional internal footprint area but brings transparency to the building and animates the street.

Since the Kelvin Hall reopened it has been a huge success, attracting around 25,000 visitors each week. Combining the success of this first phase with the future development of the remaining available space has the potential to make the Kelvin Hall one of Scotland’s most significant visitor destinations. 

Robert Gartshore, Special Projects Team, Glasgow Life

Engineer’s view

To ensure simplicity of the new-build interventions, we had to work closely with Page\Park to effectively design out the mechanical and electrical services where possible, by using the architecture to assist with the environmental conditioning of the spaces.

The new entrance was thermally modelled in detail to assess thermal efficiency of the envelope, air tightness, solar performance of the glazing and roof lights and beneficial thermal mass. Through the use of materials and the fact that the new entrance abuts the existing exposed stone façade, thermal mass was maximised, providing a thermally stable environment.

Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) was used and an options appraisal undertaken to investigate natural ventilation options for controlling air quality, minimising overheating risk and providing a means of ‘purging’ energy from the thermal mass. A bespoke system has been designed into an overhang at the building’s perimeter. This allows external air to be introduced at low level on the building’s edge. The air is controlled via a modulating damper, and is passed over a heating element to minimise cold draughts in winter. The strategy relies on air stratification through the space, relieving at high level via openable rooflights.

The entire system is controlled automatically by the building management system, which monitors temperature and air quality and modulates the perimeter dampers and rooflights to maintain conditions.

Marc McLuskey, Harley Haddow 


Kelving detail

Kelving detail

The entrance foyer is the most prominent external aspect of our interventions to the Kelvin Hall. It picks up on the vertical rhythm of the existing Argyle Street façade to create a piece that acts as a marker, sitting on the junction of Argyle Street and Bunhouse Road. The external faces are clad in ‘Rose Gold’ Rimex stainless steel, picking up the tones and colours of the existing building’s red sandstone, red brick and orange glazed bricks.

The lower profile communicates its internal physical function by sloping from ground level to the internal ground level of the existing Kelvin Hall. The roofline creates a datum tying in with that of the Argyle Street column datum.

The key challenge was to keep the external profile as slim as possible to create a regular proportion to all elements. To do this the main structural frame is pulled away internally from the façade and held by cantilevered outriggers at top and bottom. All glazing is fixed with natural ventilation through a damper system in the lower sill. The roofline proportion is kept to a minimum by creating a hidden gutter behind the eaves with the single-ply roofing system creating the falls beyond.

Anthony Newman, architect, Page\Park

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