Unsupported browser

For a better experience please update your browser to its latest version.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We use cookies to personalise your experience; learn more in our Privacy and Cookie Policy. You can opt out of some cookies by adjusting your browser settings; see the cookie policy for details. By using this site, you agree to our use of cookies.

First look

Collective complete restoration of Grade 'A' Watt Institution in Greenock

  • Comment

A tight budget for external conservation has been intelligently stretched to include significant internal improvements to accessibility and natural lighting 

The Watt Institution, named after inventor James Watt who was born in Greenock, has been renovated by Collective Architecture in time to mark the bicentenary of his death. 

The Grade ‘A’ listed institution consists of a museum, art gallery and library along with a large hall for temporary exhibitions and community events and houses collections ranging from artworks to artefacts and local archives.

The client had an extremely limited budget to address the serious deterioration of the fabric of the building and carry out external conservation works. But through careful control of the costs, the project has seen some of the available funds used to address some issues internally as well. 

Watt institution external 6

Watt institution external 6

Source: Collective Architecture

Working closely with Historic Environment Scotland, the external work entailed extensive works to the slate roof and leadwork, stonework, timber sash and case and leaded-glass windows and rainwater and drainage elements.  A number of important features were reintroduced, included the tall chimney stacks to the library gables, restoring the proportions of the façade.

Openers in the leaded-glass windows have been restored by remaking matching ironmongery, enabling building users once again to be able to naturally vent rooms when required. 

A major change has been the reintroduction of the rooflights to the museum space, which had been coated with light-blocking paint in the 1980s.  While due to weight restrictions, double-glazed units could not be fitted, instead a lightweight glazed sandwich panel has been used, which reduces and diffuses direct light and improves insulation in the space.

Collective wattinstitution johnsinclair v2 dec2019 040

Collective wattinstitution johnsinclair v2 dec2019 040

Source: John Sinclair

Accessibility issues have been resolved through the opening up of a hidden historic doorway between the library and the rest of the building and the installation of a platform lift to the art gallery, as well as a new accessible toilet.

Wayfinding signage has been introduced to create an unified identity and clarify the public route around the building, while new lighting has been installed  and redecoration carried out throughout public spaces.  The museum layout was rationalised, reducing the retail space through the insertion of a new reception and display area which allows more space to be used for both museum displays and a community area for use by local schools and groups.

The work was carried out principally by local contractors. The main contractor and timber-window manufacturer are based in Greenock while the stonemasons and leaded-glass experts are from Ayrshire. Replacement stone was sourced from quarries in the north of England quarries and replacement slate from north Wales. 

Collective wattinstitution johnsinclair v2 dec2019 046

Collective wattinstitution johnsinclair v2 dec2019 046

Source: John Sinclair

Architect’s view

Although ostensibly an extensive external refurbishment of a Category A-listed building the budget, albeit very limited, was able to be stretched to allow carefully chosen improvements to the internal spaces providing an unanticipated bonus for the client. This was undoubtedly achieved by the collaborative approach between the design team, contractor and client and a shared desire to end up with a project we were all proud of.

Some of the internal changes were fortuitous, an historic doorway hidden inside a cupboard re-appropriated as the new entrance to the library. The undersized accessible toilet, removed to allow a platform lift to be installed, found a larger space following rationalisation of the staff toilets.

The challenges thrown up with working with an existing building are enjoyable. Struggling with the roof loading for the replacement ridge rooflights we opted for lightweight sandwich panels instead which we could simply demonstrate were substantially lighter, with no complicated calculations necessary. Outward opening leaded-glass casement windows with low cills were solved collaboratively with local specialists crafting bespoke matching ironmongery with restrictors, visually identical but with the health and safety nightmare resolved.

There was always an underlying concern from the client side that monies spent on essential repairs to the building fabric would not necessarily be appreciated by a public prevented from visiting while the works were underway. The favourable feedback once the building reopened rewarded the effort and commitment of all concerned.

Justin McNeil, architect, Collective Architecture

Collective wattinstitution johnsinclair v2 dec2019 068

Collective wattinstitution johnsinclair v2 dec2019 068

Source: John Sinclair

Client’s view

The McLean Museum and Watt Library were originally constructed as two buildings, but attached. The library first in a Gothic Revival style in 1837 and then the museum in 1876 which from the outside complements the architecture of the first but on the inside has a lightweight large span steel roof structure so characteristic of the Victorian period. The buildings were a much loved jewel in the Greenock crown but had become jaded, tired and worn.

Collective Architecture were originally appointed to repair the external fabric of stonework and slate roof within a modest budget but the aspirations of both the Architect and Client pushed the brief to its limit. Stone repairs were fastidiously matched and sourced. The feature of the glazed roof to the museum had previously been painted over to reduce damaging light to the artefacts and to reduce glare and overheating. The Architects introduced a lightweight, translucent, insulated material which allowed significantly more light, while reducing the damaging UV light, reduced glare and insulated the roof. The result is a breath-taking space for the museum which lights up the artefacts but also expresses once again the elegance of the lightweight structure of the roof.

On completion of the restoration the buildings were reopened as the Watt Institution and this much loved jewel now sparkles to everyone’s delight. Job well done and greatly appreciated.

Watt Institution

Wattcomplex groundfloor plan

Wattcomplex groundfloor plan

Source: Collective Architecture

Ground floor plan

Project data

Start on site November 2017
Completion date November 2019 (open ceremony February 2020)
Gross internal floor area 1902sqm ( Works carried out in 1447 sqm)
Construction cost £1.5 million
Architect Collective Architecture
Client Inverclyde Council
Funding body and conservation advisors Historic Environment Scotland
Structural engineer Pick Everhart
M&E consultant Inverclyde Council
QS Inverclyde Council
Project manager Inverclyde Council
CDM coordinator Collective Architecture
Main contractor WH Kirkwood
Leaded-glass subcontractor Rainbow Glass Studio Limited
Stonework subcontractor Freel and Beattie Masonry
Rooflight sandwich panels subcontractor Kalwall
Timber sash and case windows subcontractor Blairs Windows
Slate subcontractor Siga Natural Slate
CAD software used Vectorworks

  • Comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions.

Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.