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Ice cold in Greenock

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Leading a regeneration strategy for the Greenock Waterfront, FaulknerBrowns' ice and water leisure complex, characterised by simple materials, strong form and nautical imagery. It has become the second-largest tourist attraction in Scotland

Architect's account


FaulknerBrowns Greenock's past prosperity centred around the River Clyde's shipbuilding industry, and the decline of shipbuilding had a serious effect on the quality of life and environment along the Clyde.

The council, in collaboration with Renfrewshire Enterprise Council, has acted to regenerate this key site, and after an intensive interview process appointed FaulknerBrowns in February 1993, initially to carry out a feasibility study and then to design the facility. The council's objectives were clear:

maximise regeneration of the Greenock Waterfront with a new leisure facility identify the location of a new 25m pool, as the only one in the area had been closed identify the type of ice rink needed determine whether the waterfront site was large enough identify commercial leisure that might be attracted to the site.

From our experience, particularly at Royal Quays in Newcastle, we believed that a leisure-led regeneration strategy could be implemented, and that the greatest benefits would be by grouping all the leisure facilities on the waterfront. We recommended the provision of something for all ages and sectors of the community, creating a genuine town focus which would attract people from beyond Greenock's boundaries.

We developed a series of options with capital costs and approximate revenue/income predictions. The council chose an option with four separate main spaces which could be managed separately or together: a training pool and mini-waterpark in the water area, and ice for curling and ice for recreational skating in the ice area. There is also a dance studio, gym, health spa and cafe.

The building overlooks the river and hills beyond. It is in an elevated position, visible from the main roundabout into Greenock, presenting excellent views of the complex and the surrounding countryside. The building is entered from the south via a ramp or stairs.

The reception is common to all users, with a cafe and seating area overlooking the leisure ice. From here there is a link via a bridge to the health and fitness area or to the training pool. Two staircases run down either side of the bridges linking to either the leisure ice and/or curling, or to the water changing areas.

The long, thin site allowed a simple plan with 'serious' activities in the extremes and recreational and fun areas in the centre. This simple layout allowed us to create connections between the leisure ice and curling ice, as well as the 25m pool and the mini-waterpark. It also opened up the opportunity to link the leisure ice with the fun waters, allowing bathers to swim outside and into the ice rink under an ice trail.

This subtle series of connections allows the building to be used in a multitude of ways. The key to the success of the flexibility is the ease with which visitors can move from the entrance to each of these spaces, whether the facilities are used in pairs or separately.

This is a new civic building which faces the Civic Offices, and is a statement of future confidence. It attracts more visitors than any other building in Greenock, and has an urban form which reflects the strong engineering and shipbuilding past. We built on the tough urban tradition and created a strongly engineered piece of architecture, working closely with Oscar Faber to create an appropriate form for the site and area.

A three-storey concrete frame runs to the south where the best ground conditions exist. A steel 'crane' frame hangs from this, spanning half of the main spaces, against which a light steel frame rests to span the remainder of the space.

The concrete frame is made up of curved 'ribs' emulating the remains of a ship carrying the upper floor and creating stability. It also acts as a tie for the roof 'crane' steelwork.

We have used few materials. Externally, there are concrete tusks, enamelled glass, cast glass, glass, and powder-coated steel rainscreens. The strength comes from the simplicity of materials and strong form. A special glazing system was developed with a manufacturer for the main curved elevation, spanning the full floor-to-floor in an economical and elegant manner.

Since it opened, the complex has become the second largest tourist attraction in Scotland, on target to achieve 700,000 visits in its first year. This is remarkable when the population of Greenock is only 80,000. Existing surveys show that 50-80 per cent of visitors travel from outside the Inverclyde district, with a large percentage from Glasgow. The site, which lay derelict for 30 years, is now fully developed with additional leisure, educational, and retail facilities.

Structural engineer's account


Oscar Faber The building is sited over an infilled harbour.

Archive records identified original dock walls and a main outfall culvert running beneath the site. The substructure is therefore designed as ground beams and a suspended slab spanning between driven piles. Pre-probing and sonar techniques accurately located potential obstructions, enabling final foundation schemes to be designed. Site investigation also identified pockets of contamination and the presence of land-fill gas. As a precautionary measure a gas-proof membrane forms an integral part of the substructure slab.

With the proximity to the Clyde, ground-water levels are subject to tidal variations. Flotation effects during pool draw-down are critical during exceptionally high water levels. A ground-water monitoring procedure within the buildings maintenance regime ensures the main pool is not emptied in these circumstances.

The length of the building (approx 150m) necessitated provision of two movement joints within the substructure. These are the full width of the building and are coincident with the interfaces of the 'hot' and 'cold' internal environments. The concrete has a high GGBFS content, thus reducing the initial thermal stresses within the waterretaining concrete structures during construction.

The precast-concrete superstructure generally consists of 18 primary frames, each comprising a tusk, raking column and two levels of primary beams spanning between. The primary frames are linked together along the length of the building by pairs of longitudinal beams at each floor level. Prestressed RC double-tee floor units span between the longitudinal beams. The primary frame elements are connected by concealed in-situ concrete stitch joints formed within troughs at the ends of the primary beams, ensuring that the design forces can be transferred between adjoining members while allowing the high-quality surface finish to be maintained.

The roof steelwork reflects the need to create open spaces. Each primary roof element consists of a tapering fabricated plate girder and a light lattice beam and column. These are connected via a cranked moment connection, positioned to form a natural step coincident with the roof clerestory along the entire length of the building. The girder is supported at two points to the PCC primary frames.

The girder tail piece threads through the tusk creating a concealed pin joint, while a corbel on the raking column takes the main thrust.

The precast-concrete primary frames and primary girders/lattice girders act as sway frames to transfer the vertical loads and wind loads to the foundations. The long span of the roof, combined with the effect of the raking column and lattice columns being inclined to the vertical, results in large vertical deflections and sway deflections of the roof frame. Careful detailing of the interfaces between the primary frame elements and adjacent elements was therefore required to allow the movements to occur within the frame.



Professor of architectural history, Univers ity of Dundee As you drive from Glasgow, the M8 sweeps into the Clyde estuary offering one of the most dramatic views in these islands. The river swells out on to an enormous basin, closed by the hills of Cowal and peaks of Argyll, indented for the mouth of the fjords of Holy Loch, Loch Long and Gare Loch.

Mackintosh's Hill House basks on the gentle, sunny slopes to the right. On the left horizon, a thin strip of silver lining the sea heralds FaulknerBrowns' Greenock Waterfront.

To reach it, you pass through the relics and detritus of vanished sea-dependent industries on the margin between cliff and Clyde - massive buildings, sometimes re-used, dual carriageways, roundabouts, vehicle lots and inter-war housing.

Greenock's town centre, seared by redevelopment, is mocked by the 100ft-tall Victoria Tower of the hugely confident 1897 Municipal Chambers, by H & D Barclay, which symbolises its former power.

To its north, the former shipyards and docks west of William Burns' stern Customs Houses (1818) have been repossessed for a small shed-like retail park, a multiplex, and James Watt College.

Neither the cinema (which the council unsuccessfully offered to relocate and improve in design) nor the retail park has any architectural value, and the college - underscaled for its location - fails to contribute appropriate urban form. Its neohistoric details appear toytown. If the complex characterises the design ambitions of the local Enterprise Company, they should be put on a boat and forced to emigrate. Greenock Waterfront faces the Municipal Chambers, and needed to be of a scale appropriate to the newly created urban space.

It was ingenious to exploit the limitations of the site by developing, along the south boundary, a tall narrow structure - resembling Modular man with his arm raised - to provide the height necessary for urban enclosure. Three stacked floors of ancillary functions are set against a single diminishing volume on the sea side, which contains the primary activities of swimming and skating. All is clearly visible - particularly the chunky 30m-long girders which support the sloping aluminium roof and are entirely hung and hinged from the concrete frame.

The huge hinges tempt you to be inside when hit by a Clyde estuarial storm, to watch for the allowed 200mm movement and hear it rattle. From the glowing, double-height reception area on the piano nobile, perhaps the most impressive spatial experience of the building, you can appreciate the scale of the Municipal Chambers and the remains of the town.

The imagery is nautical within and without, consistently maintained by bridges, gangways, and gantries, muted greys and creams, and no-nonsense materials - tiles, plaster, studded rubber (lurid purple in one place), terrazzo and perforated metal.

The linear site meant that the building had to be compartmentalised to separate the warm water and dry ice, so there is less spatial complexity and generosity of volume than at Inverness Aquadrome or Perth Leisure Pool. The sloping roof means that the view from the reception and cafe is mainly of the austere, grey leisure rink, which comes alive at night: you have to be close to ice or water to get good views of the sea. A fine spatial experience is to descend to the (appallingly titled) 'changing village', subterranean within the plinth, and then move to the training pool - out into an explosion of light with a view across miles of sea to the Hill House.

Waterfront is a late twentieth-century physical entertainment building, and must be assessed as such. In plan, it is thrill in the middle, sandwiched by training pool to the east, and curling rink to the west. From Wet 'n' Wild in Newcastle, the architect learned that catering has to be focused on the market and centrally located, and that the quantity of water is less important than the 'experience'.

When all routes are open, a swimmer can shoot down a flume or tyre ride to the shallow leisure pool, move to a wave pool, then to the outdoor water and even under the leisure ice, or the other way into the training pool. If these routes are kept closed, however, the swimming experience could become really shallow.

The nature of the site makes comparisons with other FaulknerBrowns projects largely irrelevant.

The nautical expression elected as a response to the site precluded the timber finesse of the Inverness Aquadrome or Hamilton Waterplace. Yet how does the architect's nautical expression of curving concrete tusks, glass and shiny slightly bulbous curtain walling (let down by its rather ordinary blockwork plinth) equate with Waterfront's role as the north side of a town square? After all, Burn designed his Customs House not as a boat but as a Tuscan temple. Waterfront's facade appears somewhat defensive, entered by a long ramp from the east or up some steepish off-centre steps - very different to the deconstructed timber villa with outdoor sitting and water areas provided at Inverness. By contrast, the sea facade is low and lacy with overhanging aluminium roofs like a shiny boating pavilion.

So, Waterfront is enigmatic. It is a substantial technical achievement as a physical entertainment centre, with some delightful surprises (the fitness and dance studios, for example); an asset to Greenock. But it is not really urban, save in scale, and has forfeited some of the subtleties of earlier FaulknerBrowns leisure pools. We must wait for their next in France to see what develops.

Cost comment


Tozer Capita Decision-making on procurement matters entailed addressing the potentially conflicting needs for flexibility of programming and certainty of outturn cost. The solution was to supplement the preferred traditional main contract with a preliminary site preparation contract and to add a number of separate direct contracts for fitting out and equipping the centre, after completion of the main contract works. An advance works contract allowed an early start on site which enabled the client to maximise grant funding, while design work continued on the main building.

JCT80 was chosen for the main works to allow reasonable cost certainty. However, the selection of specialist contractors for certain critical elements of the work was dealt with either by nomination, in the case of elements with a design input, such as piling, flume installation, water treatment and refrigeration, or by the main contractor's selection of subcontractor from a limited list, as in the case of the main frame, envelope and services elements.

The envelope and services packages were dealt with under the performance-specification provisions to allow the specialist subcontractor's technical input at detailing stage and to achieve the most effective solution economically.

The accepted tender in a competitive market was £13,972,391 which equates to £1479/ m2 (excluding £75/ m2 for abnormals due to poor ground conditions and contamination, £80/ m2 for specialist equipment not normally provided within this type of building and also external works).

Due to very difficult ground conditions, piling and substructure works continued over 13 months and the main building works took a further 19 months. The extent of site contaminat ion encountered was limited to localised areas, and the associated costs proved to be less than originally anticipated. Additional costs did, however, result from the finalisation of interface details between the structural-steel and precast-concrete elements, which proved to be more complex than anticipated.

Cost analysis


FOUNDATIONS/SLABS £205.45/ m2 Precast concrete piles; in-situ concrete pile caps, ground beams, gas-proof membrane, floor slabs and walls forming pool tanks, plant rooms and services ducts. There was a considerable degree of abnormals associated with very poor contaminated ground, amounting to £75/m

SUPERSTRUCTURE 2High-quality precast concrete frame to three-storey areas.

Structural steel plate girder and lattice truss arrangement over main ice and water areas

UPPER FLOORS £20.82/ m2 Precast concrete double Tee units spanning between longitudinal beams. In-situ concrete structural topping 2Trapezoidal energy roof system

STAIRCASES £44.54/ m2 Precast and in-situ staircases generally. Steel-framed cantilevered ramp to main entrance pod. Feature staircases to and from first-floor reception area


EXTERNAL DOORS Structural glass Planar to the entrance pod; structural glass with thermal insulated bonded and unitised panels to the curved south elevation; double-glazed curtain walling system to the north and part east and west elevations; structural spanning lining panels with aluminium rainscreen to east and west elevations; profiled structural glass to recessed gable elevations

INTERNAL WALLS AND PARTITIONS £100.30/ m2 Steel-framed, insulated Trespa-lined walls subdividing the main ice and water use areas; blockwork and timber-framed plasterboard-lined partitions elsewhere; structural-glass dividing wall between water and ice zones

INTERNAL DOORS £48.05/ m2 Laminate-faced solid-core doors with glazed panels, hardwood frame, and stainless-steel ironmongery

INTERNAL FINISHES WALL FINISHES £24.50/ m2 Ceramic tiling to pool and changing areas; rubber and high-density polyethylene sheeting to ice areas; render and paint to ancillary areas

FLOOR FINISHES £56.46/ m2 Ceramic tiling to pool, reception and cafe areas; rubber sheet to ice areas; carpeting to administration and fitness areas; sprung timber strip floor to dance studio

CEILING FINISHES £16.20/ m2 Perforated aluminium foil profiled suspended ceiling to reception and areas of ice and water; metal-plank suspendedceiling system generally to remaining areas

FITTINGS AND FURNISHINGS FITTINGS AND FURNISHINGS £161.34/ m2 Lockers and cubicles; reception servery and bar counters;

flume and tyre rides; audio-visual special -installation; kitchen and catering equipment; vanity units; signage; loose furniture/equipment. This figure includes approximately £80/ m2 for specialist fixtures and fittings not normally provided in this type of building


SANITARY APPLIANCES £12.52/ m2 IPS units; WCs; basins; urinals; sinks; spa pool


INSTALLATIONS Conditioned fresh air distributed from three plant rooms via builder's work ducts and sheet-metal ducting; PC-based building management control system. low-temperature hot-water heating supplied from natural gas fire modular boilers; underfloor heating to changing areas; cooling by evaporative air cooled condensers; domestic hot and cold water storage tanks, pump and distribution; cast-iron drainage installation

ELECTRICAL SERVICES £84.28/ m2 Installation comprising the following systems: high-voltage switchgear and distribution; low-voltage switchboards and distribution; fire alarms; emergency lighting; security system; lighting and small power; public address; lightning protection; communications containment

LIFT AND CONVEYOR INSTALLATIONS £6.16/ m2 Two passenger lifts, one service hoist, one disabled lift

WATER TREATMENT £66.55/ m2 Sand filtration, chlorination and chemical treatment to training pool, ozone treatment system to leisure pools, distribution by floor and wall inlets, base outlet transfer channels and balance tanks

REFRIGERATION £54.71/ m2 Refrigeration system for curling and leisure rinks based on the vapour-compression system cycle with evaporative condenser and heat-recovery systems; micro-processor control system



EXTERNAL WORKS LANDSCAPING, ANCILLARY BUILDINGS £553,850 Cost summary Cost per m Per cent (£) of total

SUBSTRUCTURE 205.45 12.57

SUPERSTRUCTURE Frame 229.56 14.05 Upper floors 20.82 1.27 Roof 68.83 4.21 Staircases 44.54 2.73 External walls, windows, 198.62 12.15 external doors Internal walls and partitions 100.30 6.14 Internal doors 48.05 2.94 Group element total 710.72 43.49

INTERNAL FINISHES Wall finishes 24.50 1.50 Floor finishes 56.46 3.45 Ceiling finishes 16.20 0.99 Group element total 97.16 5.94


SERVICES Sanitary appliances 12.52 0.77 Mechanical & public health 130.25 7.97 installations Electrical services 84.28 5.16 Lift & conveyor installations 6.16 0.38 Water treatment 66.55 4.07 Refrigeration 54.71 3.35 Builder's work in connection 10.80 0.66 Group element total 365.26 22.35

PRELIMINARIES & INSURANCE 94.46 5.78 Total 1634.40 100.00

CREDITS ARCHITECT FaulknerBrowns: Neil Taylor, Stuart Hendy, Andy MacDonald, Bryan Wildsmith, David Whitfield, Tania Love, Steve Dickson, Neil Wilson, Ian Dugdale, Mark Hudson, John Harvey, Justin Smith, Grahame Bevan, Steve McIntyre, Richard Tomlinson, Maria de Haas, Linda Bainbridge





MAIN CONTRACTOR Mowlem Scotland Ltd

CONTRACT TYPE Scottish Building Contract with Quantities (Jan 1992 rev. ) with amendment sheet No.1

START DATE January 1995


TOTAL COST £14.25 million


SUBCONTRACTORS AND SUPPLIERS suspended ceilings Allied Acoustics, sampling & analysis of soil samples Altec Laboratory Services, balustrades and sundry steelwork Annandale Design, spiral stairs, level 3 handrails Ballantine Engineering, water treatment Biwater, rollershutter doors Bolton Brady, render Burns & Laird, sundry metalwork C & C Engineering, hole coring Central Drilling, precast Costain Building Products, lockers & cubicles De t le f Mu l ler, Junkers floor ing Devar Flooring, Trespa & joinerwork Firside Joinery, isocrete screeds D Fisher & Sons, concrete cutting H & F Drilling, health-suite glass bridges and floor lights Haran Glazing, mastic Haran Sealant Services, painterwork T Heaton & Sons, balcony screen Henshaw & Sons, piling Hercules Piling, ramp, pier, stairlink, bridge and balustrades Hescott Engineering, sewer infill Industrial Municipal Projects, in-situ concrete & internal underground drainage John Doyle Construction, progress photographs Kingsley, sliding doors, curling stone store doors, ice barrier Leisure Engineering Projects, fireproofing MPE Fire Protection, curtainwalling Maghull Structural Fixings, mechanical & electrical Matthew Hall, footbridges A McIntyre Joinery, landscaping Mitchell & Struthers, curtainwalling Nelson Techtonics, specialist joinery Newman Scott, sauna/ steam Nordic Saunas, glazed partitions Norwood Partitions, grouting PCE Products, surfacing Pirie & Co, roofing and rainscreen Price, stairs 5 and 7 handrails Profab Engineering, louvres RCM, glazing Reglit Profiled Glass Architects, plumberwork Richard Irvin, floor coverings Robertson Locke & Heggie, lifts Schindler Lifts, door sets Shapland & Petter, Planar glazing and internal screens Solaglas Architectural Systems, refrigeration systems Star Refrigeration, lake liner Stephens Plastics, flumes & tyre ride Stuart Leisure, silicone glazing Systems Aluminium, tilerwork Tedesco Tiling, Sarnafil roofing Topec, structural steelwork Watson Steel

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