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McGinlay Bell scoops Dundee print works conversion contest

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Emerging Scottish practice McGinlay Bell has won an invited competition to design a 18,580m² creative hub inside a former DC Thomson print works in Dundee

The practice was set up in 2015 by Brian McGinlay and Mark Bell, who worked together at NORD for nine years. It was chosen ahead of three unnamed teams for the masterplanning commission.

The phased project aims to transform Dundee’s 18,580m² West Ward Works factory into a cultural and creative hub, featuring a range of possible uses including a venue, business incubator and innovation centre.

McGinlay Bell will complete a masterplanning exercise for the historic Guthrie Street complex, which produced comics such as Beezer, Twinkle, Black Bob, Sparky, and Topper before closing its doors seven years ago.

Commenting on the win, studio director Brian McGinlay said: ‘The West Ward Works project is an exciting prospect for all involved and an inspiring opportunity for our practice to be involved in the redevelopment of a significant building for Dundee.

‘West Ward Works is a building of historic, architectural and cultural significance. McGinlay Bell looks forward to contributing to the history, future vision and wider ambition of what is an important project, especially in the context of Dundee’s bid to win European City of Culture 2023.’

The project is backed by the West Ward Works trust, which has been set up to oversee the conversion of the building over the next decade. David Cook, former chief executive of Wasps Artists’ Studios, was named project director of the development in March.

Commenting on the appointment, Cook said: ‘We’re delighted to be moving forward with proposals for the building and working with McGinlay Bell who have experience designing creative and cultural spaces which are in tune with the needs of creative practitioners.

‘This study will provide a design framework for phased redevelopment and set the scene for later work on what is an exciting cultural development for the city.’

McGinlay Bell’s appointment comes four years after NORD’s £3.5 million South Block scheme for Wasps was the surprise winner of the 2013 RIAS Andrew Doolan Best Building in Scotland Award.

Other ongoing schemes by McGinlay Bell include a refurbishment of the Glasgow Film Theatre and the transformation of St Peter’s Seminary Cardross into a new arts centre which is being developed in partnership with Avanti.

West Ward Works

In 2010, West Ward Works was closed after more than half a century of magazine and book production by DC Thomson. Originally production took place at Bank Street before moving to Guthrie Street in 1949.

This site was home not only to the printing and binding of DC Thomson titles for over 60 years, but also to the transport department, accommodating fleets of cars and lorries in the basement. Titles including Beezer, Twinkle, Black Bob, Sparky, and Topper were all produced at this site. Perhaps the most famous of all are DC Thomson’s annuals, including the famous Christmas stocking-fillers Oor Wullie and The Broons. In the late 1960s and early 1970s more than five million books were being produced each year.

During that time, up to 200 people worked on the site. A vast array of other material was also produced including internal stationery and contract work – in particular the binding of holiday brochures in the 1990s. Runs of half a million copies were not uncommon. Over the course of the life of West Ward, generations of people worked in the building – some starting their employment as 16 year olds fresh out of school and leaving as grandparents.

West Ward Works has also seen generations of printing equipment. To begin with, letterpress platen and flatbed printing presses were used to print The Scots Magazine and annuals alongside other titles like the Commando. It was very labour intensive and a slow process.

The West Ward building was extended to include a new bindery in 1963. The firm’s first and second digital printing presses were housed at WWW, with the latest moving to Meadowside. The site was fitted out with the latest computer-to-plate-making technology with the KBA printing press added in 1996 and the Muller Martini binding lines in 2002.

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