NORD Architecture (Northern Office for Research and Design) was formed in June 2002 by Robin Lee and Alan Pert, who had previously worked together at Zoo Architects. NORD won the AJ small projects award in 2005 for its extension to Bell House in Stirlingshire and is one of the AJ/Corus 40 Under 40 architects. Pert was also selected as Young Scottish Architect of the Year for 2001-2002. Other projects include a set of 10 dwellings for Havelock Street Mews in Glasgow's West End.
Dalmarnock Road is an arterial route into the centre of Glasgow from the south east. The urban scene is one of 'dross space' - i. e. a space of low intensity - as coined by Lars Lerup in 'Freeway City: From Theatre of Conflict to Public Domain'. The territory has been shaped by the relentless progress of transport routes into the city. A community once clung onto the vigour and potency of these connections to the city centre, now all that seems to remain are the indelible marks made by the road and rail tracks; a redundant high-level railway sweeps over Dalmarnock Road; a live, low-level rail connection to Central Station has an exit at Dalmarnock Station. Grafted on to this intersection is a typical industrial shed complex: the East End Sawmills. A surprisingly and refreshingly small extension by NORD has recently been added, forming a new, fresh addition to the industrial accumulations of the sawmill site.
In January 2006 the East End Sawmills suffered a fire which destroyed the showroom and office that once fronted directly onto Dalmarnock Road. NORD was commissioned to replace the lost facilities with a temporary building (the new extension has to renew its planning approval on a yearly basis).
Courageously, given the way the original showroom building was lost, the new building is constructed entirely of timber. But - phoenix-like - the fire has actually encouraged new growth in this disturbed area. The new building is constructed from products and materials sourced from the sawmills behind; the mills themselves were only saved from the conflagration through the integrity of a single fire shutter.
From its expression and delicate constitution, the new building looks as though it should be located in some wooded Highland estate, in a landscape of birch and Scots pine. Its form suggests a building conceived as an abstracted cuboid, grounded and crafted in the very landscape and elements from which it was made; an orthogonal rendering of timber components both in form and assembly that contrast with and reveal the natural forest.
It recalls the fine Landmark forestry visitor centre in Carrbridge in the Highlands, built c.1970 by John L Paterson and sadly now engulfed and overtaken by the trappings of the entertainment industry. The Landmark Centre had a direct relationship to the forest; its low, elegant and considered timber structure located on the margins of hushed, dense Scots-pine trees.
The forest is now filled with screaming rides and amusements for a generation incapable of enjoying silence. Within the Landmark attraction there is, however, a working steam-driven sawmill.
Like the main visitor centre, it is a long, low, timber structure.
The sawmill reveals a linear process from log to plank, and it is given a simple sheltering roof. There is something apposite in the ground-hugging linear plan and elevation that is common to all these structures: the once singular vertical tree, now felled and split into many timber products, is reconfigured in a remarkable horizontal linear form.
Meanwhile, back in a clearing of a once-urban area of Glasgow, the forest has been brought into the city, albeit in a manufactured way; the smell of sawn timber fills the air. Although, optimistically, the bed of the high-level railway has been colonised by the indefatigable pioneering tree species of birch and alder, a new kind of urban forest now snakes above the traffic into an uncertain future.
The overall intention behind the proposals was that the new building should somehow signal to passing traffic the nature of the business it fronted. The building itself acts as a physical sign for the sawmill. Its western red cedar louvres, as well as being solar screens and providing physical protection to the large expanse of glass, have become a symbol of the works. There is a certain courage in the delicate selection of material and the use of a veiled, obscured expression for what is, in effect, a shop window.
The facade consists of three layers: the external cedar louvres, a layer of glass and a line of diagonal trusses. The louvres effectively give the facade its expression during daylight hours, but as the light fades the facade, now artificially lit, is transformed, with the diagonal framed interior taking over.
NORD was recommended to Stewart Frew, the owner of the East End Sawmills, through its reputation for directness and its capability of realising striking solutions on a budget.
Within a couple of days of the original building being destroyed by fire, the sawmill was operating once more, initially from a couple of temporary Portakabins. The sawmills employ more than 40 people, many local, so the business needed to get back on its financial feet very quickly. With the help of the local authority's planning and building-control departments, the new building was operational by May 2006 - three months from fire to completion, with two weeks of intense production from NORD.
The brief called for the building not only to be economic, but also to be capable of being resited in the future. It had to express the use of timber in its structure and finishes. Both designer and client were very keen on the direct use of the material available from the sawmills themselves. The construction of the building is as candid as its expression. Brick piers were constructed off an existing in situ concrete slab. Diagonally braced trusses form the perimeter walls and also run down the centre of the plan.
The timber joisted roof and floor planes act as horizontal diaphragms. Orientated strand board (OSB) was chosen for floor, wall and ceiling linings.
The plan could not be more straightforward: a rectangular space, simply articulated by a core containing WCs and a store.
Fronting the core is the administration area and reception desk, with a flexible office space divided by three sliding doors.
The sales area has a large single-glazed shopfront to the south, with the layered facade to the south west. The detailing throughout is honest and simple - for example, the OSB sheets are simply routed to form oor-heating grilles.
The palette of materials is highly controlled and consistent, creating a sense of material that is palpable. The pre-occupation photographs show an interior space devoid of people and merchandise - the oor and ceiling planes seem to shimmer. The shifting texture and pattern of the OSB sheeting cause the air itself to almost hang with motes of sawdust. The combination of the smell of sawdust and the optical effect of the internal surfaces makes the space seem almost claustrophobic.
The effect brings to mind the work of Kengo Kuma, who constantly divides and cuts to make his material - be it stone, timber or glass - more vivid. Kuma's intentions, however, are the opposite of NORD's. Kuma diffuses the effect of the object to 'erase architecture.' NORD uses similar strategies of layering and a restricted range of finish and material, but the intention is to establish a stronger character for the object.
European connections are strong. There are shades of Austrian practice Baumschlager and Eberle, notably of its Kern House, Lochau (1996) and the Sirch Factories in Bavaria. This is a practice which plies its craft with an enviable lack of anguish and an almost graphic ease. NORD's Alastair Forbes acknowledges the inuence of the Swiss, and the work coming out of the Vorarlberg - he himself is a student of the inuential ETH in Zurich.
While the building is indeed arresting and while its design currency is of the moment, the veiled facade conceals a project of ambition and social awareness. The temporary nature of the building is down to the entire site having been designated with a compulsory purchase order which imagines a reconfiguration of the road and rail intersection and a related redevelopment of the surrounding areas, presumably for the ubiquitous speculative housing market. The East End Sawmills finds itself out of sync with this urban sprucing up; the authorities would prefer it if they moved further out of town. This is surprising, given the area's sense of emptiness and the crucial role the sawmills currently play as the one focus of meaningful employment and activity.
However, East End Sawmills would prefer to stay, and to that end NORD has prepared studies that envisage a more fundamental reworking of the entire site that accounts for the new intersection, while retaining remodelled and reconfigured sawmills.
The bigger plan sees the removal of the modest temporary showroom, its job done in raising the game. So while the design of this modest building is in itself notable, its role as a possible step towards a more comprehensive reworking of the area is architecturally even more significant.
Costs refer to the gross internal floor area of 243m 2 and do not include professional and statutory fees, nor VAT on both work and fees DEMOLITION/ALTERATION £8.23/m 2Demolition of existing building damaged by fire SUBSTRUCTURE £75.25/m 2Excavation, concrete-strip foundations to walls;
blockwork walls to raise floor level SUPERSTRUCTURE Frame £30.86/m 2Roof trusses utilised as building frame Upper floors £54.07/m 2 Timber raised ground floor; 18mm OSB finish Roof £73.27/m 2Single-ply membrane on rigid insulation; 100 x 50mm TSW cut to fall on 225 x 50mm on 18mm OSB External walls £77.98/m 2Insulated timber-frame walls; ply finish;