Established in 1998, Glasgow-based Gareth Hoskins Architects specialises in cultural and community buildings. Key projects include the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Communication Centre at The Lighthouse in Glasgow, the V&Aand RIBAArchitecture Gallery in London, the masterplan for the Royal Museum in Edinburgh and the Robin House Children's Hospice in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park (AJ 29.09.05).
Travelling from Glasgow city centre to Easterhouse on the eastern periphery, the tight urban grid and inner core of the city give way to a much looser urban pattern. Buildings tend to sit in space; road patterns dominate; and the feeling of approaching a town centre is difficult to gauge. The overall physical pattern is fairly typical of many post-war housing developments in the UK.
In recent years considerable investment has taken place in the Easterhouse neighbourhood, of which a new public building, by Gareth Hoskins Architects, called The Bridge, is surely a major player in providing the kind of facilities that make living in any neighbourhood a more civilised experience.
Indeed, with its theatre, café and library, The Bridge is the kind of mixed-function facility that one expects to find in a city centre and to this end its presence in Easterhouse is most encouraging.
Walking around the area, one is struck by the inux of large retail structures, such as The Forge, which rely heavily on vehicular access and in a sense make it difficult for local people to use. It is almost as though they are for somebody else. Adjacent to the site of Hoskins' new building is a heady mix of facilities, ranging from a shopping centre to a McDonalds, a rather unusual looking Brutalist police station and St Benedict's Church, by Gillespie, Kidd & Coia (recently restored).
The interesting thing about The Bridge is that it endeavours to contribute some real public space that is open to all while resolving the physical constraints of the site.
The greater site is bounded by Bogbain Road, Westerhouse Road and Wardie Road. The actual site is an 'in between' space, a void, that sits between a swimming pool and the new John Wheatley College. The gap covered by a roof structure effectively links John Wheatley College, via a new library, theatre and café, to the swimming pool. An active public space has been created which connects all into a vibrant cultural forum. It is the adjacency of the college and the pool and the connection which contribute to the dynamic of the whole situation.
The brief for the architects was to provide a 210-seat theatre with support facilities, recording studios (shared with the college), a library, a café and a dance studio.
Unusually, the building has three entrances which link through promenades and landscaped elements back to the three surrounding roads. This has the advantage of connecting to the community in many directions and avoids the creation of a backand front-door syndrome.
Internally, control is achieved through the use of a ramp to reconcile the different levels of pool, college and streets while wrapping round the library space and controlling entry from a single reception.
The principal entrance at the reception end of the building, although assertive in its detailing, has an inherent modesty which is partly a response to the competitive nature of the neighbouring buildings, which do not share a collective scale, materials or aesthetic - a difficult context.
However, this is a facility whose beauty is to be discovered on the inside. Entering under a low roof, the visitor is guided towards the reception. Adjacent to this sits a top-lit café. This space is finished in white plaster and concrete and has large folding doors to the adjoining dance studio/rehearsal room. Such exibility will allow the studio to host band evenings and club nights in the foyer, giving the facility another performance space.
Elements such as the timber-clad reception desk have been designed by the architect and contribute to the quality of the space as well as being practicable pieces of furniture.
Adjacent to the foyer are the pool and library spaces.
The pool was already on site and was refurbished by Glasgow City Council architects. The lesson here is that the architects for The Bridge and the pool liaised to ensure that both projects linked properly and both benefited from each other's presence. Indeed, Hoskins cites the presence of the pool as one of four key elements in the overall design, the three others being the oating roof over the library, the timber box of the theatre and the 'push through' of the rehearsal room.
The quality of natural light in the major library space is to be appreciated on a typical West of Scotland day, when the weather changes from sun to cloud every hour and shafts of light enter the library space and move through the interior. As with all interesting spaces, it is the play of light that connects what is essentially a space between other buildings into a place that feels totally connected to the outside and avoids the cliché of the big window.
The triangular space of the library is formed not by an architectural affectation, but by reconciling the awkward geometry between the pool, theatre and college. A slow ramp rises to reconcile with the first-oor level of the college and club room, while another descends through the library space itself and connects to ground level on Wardie Road.
The feel of this space is visually a shift away from the high-stacked brown-shelved library with which we are all familiar. Book stacks are low and carefully lit, giving good visual connections across the space. The library itself is set out on a series of large steps, with the bookcases taking up the change in level.
The overall feeling is one of openness, to the extent that a visitor can buy a coffee in the café and take this into the library space to relax and read.
Noise levels seem well managed, with the background excitement of a children's storytelling session integrating well with the overall ambience of the building. Looking up to the ceiling, the varying sources of natural light can be detected.
Circular rooights over the library space cast light down the columns from a 'hidden source', a reference to the Treptow Crematorium in Berlin. This brings luminance to the columns that form a 'forest' in the library. The proximity of the column centres provides a certain intimacy to the interior and assists in controlling the scale of the space to the reader. The play of scale is evidenced further when the visitor moves from the narrow end to the wide end of the library plan. From the 'sharp' narrow end the space seems intimate and the scale appears to be well controlled; from the other a more monumental and tall space is presented to the visitor.
The roof next to the timber box changes to a broad glazed rooight and announces the entrance to the theatre at the lowest level of the section. Also at this level, usefully tucked below the steps of the library, are the recording studio space and the practice rooms, which are shared with the John Wheatley College. The timber-clad wall of the theatre is fitted with hanging rails and is intended as a gallery hall for artwork. On the oor moving towards the theatre entrance is a text-based artwork set into the polished concrete.
The theatre has a capacity for 210 seats, or for an audience of 650 people standing. This performance space is supported by a costume workshop and backstage workshop.
Aesthetically, the interior takes the form of a simple black box, but already the theatre is playing host to a varied programme of performances.
The theatre space is ventilated by six shiny stainless-steel tubes that break the skyline of the building on the outside and give the appearance of organ pipes attached to a large wooden instrument. In a sense, they signal The Bridge's presence in the local community.
This project has been five years in the making. The architects note that with this gestation time, re-nement and editing were brought to the design, strengthening the project. For instance, a club room evolved from an organic form to a simple timber box.
Gareth Hoskins' project is important for two reasons.
One is that with the public realm under pressure from commerce it is becoming more and more difficult to create genuine public space that you are not necessarily charged to use. And second, this scheme demonstrates that when an inspired brief and a skilful architect come together, a dynamic can be created which assists in developing and supporting the everyday life of a community, both in simple and more complex ways.
Costs refer to gross internal floor area.
Cost analysis refers to tender sum DEMOLITION/ALTERATIONS £9.83/m 2SUBSTRUCTURE Foundations/slabs £85.90/m 2Plain and reinforced-concrete (RC) strip and pad foundations; RC slab and fully tanked ventilation ducts to theatre area; radon barrier under all slabs SUPERSTRUCTURE Frame £90.75/m 2Structural steel framework; hollow circular sections in library; reinforced in situ concrete wall Upper floors £29.33/m 2Reinforced concrete, power floated finish; stepped RC slab to library area and sloping RC slab to community room, steel-framed gantries Roof £62.44/m 2Flat roof construction: part reinforced concrete on permanent decking, part plywood decking, with vapour barrier, expanded polystyrene slab insulation, polymeric roof covering; metal cladding Rooflights £30.48/m 2Strip rooflight and support system and circular rooflights at column heads within library Staircases £10.98/m 2Galvanised-steel fire escape staircases from standard section steelwork in theatre area;
steel feature staircase between levels one and two External walls £144.59/m 2Exposed reinforced concrete, curtain walling, blockwork with wrought hardwood timber cladding;
stainless-steel windposts Windows and external doors £14.42/m 2Double-glazed units, automatic sliding doors Internal walls and partitions £92.97/m 2Generally fairface blockwork or metal stud partitioning with some concrete and plywood Internal doors £24.13/m 2Solid core, timber faced with painted finish;