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The Gorbals transformed

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Page\Park and Elder & Cannon’s Lauriston Transformational Regeneration Area updates the traditional Glasgow tenement, retaining its scale while accommodating concerns of light, space and greenery

PROJECT DATA

The conferring of an RIAS Award on Page\Park and Elder & Cannon Architects for completion of the first phase of the Laurieston regeneration in the Gorbals is a fitting recognition of their work. It is also an acknowledgement of yet another great stride forward in the evolution of Glasgow’s understanding of itself and recreation of its urban form.

The £22 million development, The Laurieston Transformational Regeneration Area, has recreated the gridded street pattern of Victorian Glasgow to a masterplan by Page\Park. Both the masterplanner itself and Elder & Cannon have built over that grid largely with updated versions of the Glasgow tenement. The form of these buildings is instantly recognisable as traditional, with the four-storey perimeter blocks around courtyards, but these updates are built in brick and have large windows and generous balconies.

The form of these buildings is instantly recognisable as traditional

In many ways this development can be seen as a culmination of the progress in Glasgow’s urban design, with lessons learned from work done across the previous decades. In the 70s and 80s we saw a revival of appreciation for the urban-living advantages of the Glasgow tenement, with a halt to large-scale demolition, and a turn to refurbishment of the remaining 19th-century stock. From the early 90s the new housing associations began to gradually rebuild, with single new infill tenement blocks  - designed by architects including Page\Park and Elder & Cannon -  springing up in empty sites across the city. The early 2000s then saw the completion of a larger more ambitious scheme at neighbourhood level with the CZWG-masterplanned Crown Street Development. The eastern half of the Gorbals was then rebuilt in grids of new brick tenements after the Modernist schemes there were demolished.

There’s no doubt that the boldness and ambition of the CZWG scheme was a milestone in Glaswegian design. It has, to a great extent, been a prototype for Page\Park and Elder & Cannon’s work in Laurieston. This has also meant that some of the problems encountered and drawbacks exposed by CZWG’s attempt to rebuild ‘Glasgow form’ have been tackled directly by this new large-scale scheme. The Crown Street Development has been criticised, for example for its pastiche reproductions of the Victorian tenement in terms not only of its brick mimicry of the dimensions and proportions of facades (eg solid void ratios of fenestration) but also in its enclosed and difficult-to-access back courtyards.

Perhaps more serious has been the charge that the social success claimed for the Crown Street Development, with its high proportion of owner-occupied homes in an area that was formerly (in its Modernist heyday) 100 per cent council tenants, is merely a result of the exportation of social problems to other parts of the city. A mixed tenure is, of course, a laudable aim, and no one would have wanted a reghettoisation of the Gorbals, but in its most extreme form the criticism asserts that what we have actually seen in Crown Street is a form of ‘class cleansing’.

As regards that first crit, the materials used in Laurieston - brick, glass, concrete, timber - have definitely been deployed in a more authentic and finely detailed way. While the scale of the buildings is still similar to the Victorian tenements, the materials have dictated new sets of formal relationships: the solid-void relation, the gradation of public-private spaces, and the open but protected spaces of the courtyards. They articulate places that cater for the oft-hymned Modernist need for light, space and greenery, while also respecting personal and social boundaries.

That all 200 units are social housing should reassure against crude ‘social engineering’ accusations

This Laurieston site had formerly housed four massive Crudens-built slab blocks completed in 1971. Three of these have already been demolished. Given the gradual depopulation of the area during the wind down to demolition, it would have been difficult to ensure that the ‘same’ Gorbals locals originally resident in the slab blocks would be rehoused in the new buildings. Nonetheless, the fact that all 200 units of this first phase are social housing provided by New Gorbals Housing Association goes a long way towards reassurance that the crude ‘social engineering’ accusation made against the Crown Street Development will never be levelled here.

A number of lessons have been learned from local urban history here, and deployed to great effect. There are still, however, questions unanswered as regards the mixing of commercial units in with what appears to be a completely residential rebuilding of an inner-city area (evidently that’s to come in the next stage), and also to do with the sustainability - and desirability - of a dense residential low-rise building fronting a very busy commuter route (Cumberland Street on the southern edge of the site is totally gridlocked with traffic during rush hours).

These are big problems in general for urban design, and while Page\Park and Elder & Cannon may not have provided a definitive answer here, they have not shirked from confrontation with these problems. For that alone the scheme is a worthy prizewinner and another significant milestone in the remaking of urban Glasgow.

Laurieston Masterplan

PP Masterplan

Project data

Start on site March 2012
Completion November 2014
Gross internal floor area  11,069 m2
Form of contract Design & Build
Construction cost £22.26 million (total project cost, including landscaping and Elder & Cannon buildings)
Construction cost per m2 £1,176 (total project cost per m², including landscaping and Elder & Cannon buildings)
Architect Page\Park Architects with Elder & Cannon Architects
Client New Gorbals Housing Association
Structural engineer Waterman Group
M&E consultant Waterman Group
QS Robertson Group
Landscape architect Ian White Associates
EcoHomes assessor Turner & Townsend
Employer’s agent NBM Construction Cost Consultants
Project manager Turner & Townsend
CDM coordinator Turner & Townsend
Main contractor McTaggart Construction
CAD software used Vectorworks

 

 

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