Geoffrey Reid Associates’ World of Glass contrasts an industrial aesthetic with glazed construction in a building which celebrates the heritage of Merseyside’s St Helens
Northern industrial towns followed an ironic and often tragic sequence; boom in the 1880s, industrial collapse in the 1970s and ’80s, and recreation as industrial heritage centres, courtesy of Lottery funding, in the 1990s. St Helens on Merseyside is more fortunate than most; the town still produces glass, a material now being celebrated in a new museum. The World of Glass tells the history of glass and the remarkable achievements of St Helens, which it is hoped will attract visitors and regenerate pride in the town.
The idea of a museum was generated by the £1 million restoration, by Geoffrey Reid Associates, of Windle Pilkington’s Jubilee Cone building, a massive Grade II-listed brick cone structure built in 1887 to house the world’s first continuous glassmaking furnace, on the south-west side of the Sankey canal.Across the canal was the redundant Pilkington glass factory, known appropriately as ‘the Hotties’, and Pilkington suggested that it might be an appropriate site to house its collection of historic glass.The local authority became interested - it needed somewhere to show its collection of local history and art. An organisation was formed, a £14 million cocktail of seven grants conjured up, and the Hotties became the World of Glass, with a bridge springing over the canal linking to the restored Jubilee Cone Building.
Should a glass museum be made almost entirely of glass? Perhaps, but exhibition spaces need solid box-like enclosures, protected from external light and sound. Taking inspiration from the solidity of the traditional glass-manufacturer’s brick cone, and contrasting it with the transparency of its product, the architect has created a neat and logical arrangement. Exhibition spaces and glass-making furnaces are stashed into two massive and solid brick halls while public spaces - entrance, gallery, restaurant and circulation spaces - flow around them in a delicate glass pavilion. This analogy - of solidity and transparency, of traditional construction and hi-tech bolted glass - is reiterated at the entrance to the museum. A 16m high brick cone - a reconstruction of the structure in which glass was traditionally manufactured - stands on the pavement in front of the museum facade, a wall of glass 47m long and 6m high.
To enter the museum you pass through the cavernous space of brick cone, built of 325mm solid brickwork with lime-mortar joints which slope upwards to a glass crown. The journey - from traditional to modern, from darkness to light - is short but powerful. The entrance proper, by contrast, is a wonderful airy space, glazed on two sides (the glass panels connected, naturally, by Pilkington Planar bolts) with reception counter, shop and a gallery selling high-quality glassware.
The virtues of transparency are maintained through the building. The glass pavilion provides a central promenade between the two brick exhibition halls which stand at the sides, and opens out into a restaurant at the far end of the building, overlooking the Sankey canal through a 6m high Planar-bolted glass wall.
The main exhibition hall traces the history of glass, which is enriched by Pilkington’s collection of historic glass artefacts. The first floor is dedicated to a history of the town and an exhibition space. The single storey second hall is for glassmaking demonstrations by young artists using a series of small modern furnaces - the impressive results of which are on sale in the gallery.
Crossing the canal at first floor level by the glass-sided bridge, the cavernous interior of the Jubilee Cone building is now occupied by a video show of actors with flat caps and flattened vowels.
It is more rewarding to visit the basement - a labyrinth of subterranean, vaulted brick chambers which delivered air and gas to the furnace and were discovered by archaeologists, quite by chance, during restoration.
The massive construction of the two brick halls reflects the traditional brick cone buildings.
The battered walls,12m high and projecting above the roof of the glass pavilion, are of solid 215mm thick loadbearing brickwork, strengthened with a series of 328mm thick brick fins at 1200mm centres. The exhibition hall is two-storeys high. The floors and roofs are formed of precast concrete double-tee beams which span 20m to create clear column-free spaces below. The beams sit on the brick fins in precast concrete ‘rib-boxes’ - which allow rotational movement - and project just beyond the brickwork face.
This is big industrial architecture; the brick mass is used as a thermal heat store and the voids between the fins act as ducts for air and services.
Unfortunately it is now encased in an inner skin of blockwork and the projecting beams along the brick walls are the only hint of what is behind.
The bricks all come from Ibstock’s nearby Roughdales brickworks. The entrance cone, of Birchwood Multi Stock bricks makes a good match with the historic brickwork of the Jubilee Cone building over the canal. The new brickwork of the two halls, Ibstock’s Manor Red and Albany Cream respectively, was intended as contrast but the difference in colour is too slight to make the point.
The glass walls of the museum are designed to be light and delicate. The roof of the pavilion, a steel deck and suspended ceiling, tapers away to a delicate glass roof edge which touches the top of the 6m high glass walls a with an almost imperceptible silicone joint (see pages 36 and 37). On the south side, the wall is protected from solar gain by an external screen of Antisun glass panels.
They are slightly canted to throw off rainwater - the architect calls it the ‘armadillo’wall - and cantilever from the ground, seemingly supported only by glass fins and bolted connectors.
The restaurant wall is screened from overhead sun by a projecting glass canopy, supported by glass beams and propped by a series of delicate steel columns.
The building is a good place to be; wanderering in from the town for lunch in the restaurant or on the paved terrace outside; or viewing Pilkington’s works which line the skyline, fronted by the great brick hulk of the Jubilee Cone building. Trains chug to Liverpool over the south embankment and, on the Sankey canal towpath, with wicker baskets and rods, a row of fishermen pursue their fairly fruitless hobby unfazed by the glass pavilion, the tourists, the munching diners. In some way, their acceptance of the changed world around them demonstrates the success of the museum; it has history and culture but it is also a public place, inside and outside, which is available to everyone.
The three 6m high glass walls are double-glazed to 4m high, with 32mm thick units comprising an outer leaf of 10mm Pilkington Optifloat green toughened glass, a 16mm cavity and an inner leaf of 6mm clear toughened Pilkington K insulating glass. The upper 2m high panels are single-glazed in 10mm Optifloat green toughened glass.
The roof edge is 18mm resin laminate with an 80 per cent white dot frit. The laminate consists of an outer sheet of 10mm Optifloat green toughened glass bonded to a 2mm resin interlayer and an inner panel of 6mm heat-strengthened clear glass.
The glass bridge walls are 10mm Optifloat clear toughened glass set into channels at top and bottom.
The entrance cone roof is formed of two semi-circular panels of 18mm laminated glass with an 80 per cent white dot frit. They are supported by two laminated glass fins.
The Sankey Canal conveniently divides the site into two very different structural projects; the restoration of the 1887 Grade II*-listed Cone Building and the new World of Glass.
In addition to general restoration work, instability in the Cone Building was solved by installation of a new plywood roof diaphragm to supplement the existing bracing, rebuilding gable buttresses, and underpinning works that had previously been removed.
A load-bearing brick finned wall construction using lime mortar was eventually adopted for the new exhibition halls. The lime mortar mix was developed to determine the required balance of strength, workability and movement. Wall construction comprised a 215mm external brick skin fully bonded to 328mm thick fins at 1,200mm centres.The fins supported the downstand ribs of double-tee floor and roof units.A precast concrete rib box at each rib support allowed the floor units to rotate under imposed load deflections without affecting the wall construction directly over.
The skyline is dominated by Pilkington’s works.
The site next to the canal and railway embankment has a rich industrial history of coalmining, chemical works and glass manufacture. All this was founded on the geology of Lancashire: sandstone, limestone and coal. Within easy walking distance of the town centre, the site has traces of the dense eighteenth and nineteenth century development, but was blown apart by post-war road widening and the ‘anywhere’ architecture of multi-storey car parks and mass retailing. The aim of the project was to be true to St Helens and its noble history, not to pretty-up the site with a conventional treatment of grass and municipal blockwork.
So the landscape design, like the architecture, consists of two elements new and old, joined across the canal. The new side is simple: paving and a row of new trees (keeping the existing cherry tree) on the town side and lawns along the re-paved canal towpath which retains the eighteenth century edging stones.
The building provides the permanent interest and the story; all that was needed was a stage for visitors to congregate and process, and for fisherman to line the canal.
However, on the Cone Jubilee building the aim was to be more didactic; to provide a landscape with meaning. The original site was a sublime arrangement of coal waste and brick tunnels, dotted with shining green glass cullet.
Initially the proposal was that the surfaces be the same; local sandstone (the origin of the silica used in glass), limestone, coal waste and a mound of broken windscreen glass. Paths were to be in macadam using crushed bottle glass (plate glass would be too sharp and dangerous). The possibility that the patterning of these surfaces could be used to interpret the site history was considered, but the archaeologists at Lancaster University advised against, so arbitrary stripes and circles were specified. The idea is that natural regeneration will lead to a flora specific to geology: maintenance is limited to simple strimming to control shrub growth.
The end result was quite different: the windscreen glass went (too many people thought it was dangerous) as did the coal waste and sandstone (muck costs brass nowadays), but the principle of using limestone and local materials and natural regeneration survive.
Crushed bottle glass macadam was not possible because all the recycled glass in St Helens is sent to Sheffield and it would have been too expensive to buy it back.
Costs based on the contract sum
FOUNDATIONS/ SLABS £70.55/m2 Excavation/disposal and surface treatments, piling, site upfilling with hardcore, pile caps and ground beams, brickwork in substructure.Ground floor slabs
UPPER FLOORS £24.63/m2First floor double-tee floor units including 75mm structural concrete screed, prestressed hollowcore floor units with 75mm structural concrete screed, superstructure concrete, metal decking
ROOF £96.25/m2 Double-tee roof beams including 75mm structural concrete screed, warm deck roof covering to metal deck roof and precast concrete roofs including vapour control barrier, insulation, waterproof membrane and surface protection, pre-stressed hollowcore roof units with 75mm structural concrete screed, waterproofing, metal decking
STAIRCASES £33.28/m2 Three precast staircases plus access to plant room, single glazed toughened balustrade (£571.48/m), metal balustrades and handrails (£374.89/m), sundry metalwork
EXTERNAL WALLS AND WINDOWS £251.40/m2 Lime mortar facing brick structural diaphragm walls and external wall to entrance cone, single and double-glazed planar units for facades including armadillo wall, doors, cafe canopy, screens to library and archives
INTERNAL WALLS AND PARTITIONS £31.07/m2 Blockwork internal skin of fin wall, blockwork internal skin of glass faced wall, internal blockwork, plasterboard partitions, WC cubicles
INTERNAL DOORS £20.52/m2 Timber flush doors - approximately £733 each
WALL FINISHES £9.63/m2 Plaster, paint
FLOOR FINISHES £27.12//m2 Water-based epoxy resin, timber floor and balustrading
CEILING FINISHES £18.37/m2 Acoustic ceiling, perforated metal tiles, Gyproc MF ceiling system
FITTING AND FURNISHINGS
SERVICES SANITARY FITTINGS £6.20/m2
SYPHONIC DRAINAGE £4.49/m2
MECHANICAL AND ELECTRICAL SERVICES £283.18/m2
LIFT INSTALLATIONS £20.92/m2 One passenger lift and one goods lift
BUILDERS’ WORK £63.63/m2 Including perimeter roof housing for services and plant room on exhibition hall roofs
PRELIMINARIES PRELIMINARIES £131.22/m2
CONTINGENCIES AND DAYWORKS
CONTINGENCIES AND DAYWORKS £56.13/m2
DEMOLITIONS DEMOLITIONS, ALTERATIONS AND SITE PREPARATION £6,532.00
EXTERNAL WORKS LANDSCAPING £722,395.95 Drainage, access and parking, works to tow path, landscaping around Cone House and main buildings, paving around entrance cone, paving, services yards, vehicle control barrier and bollards, substation, removal of Bailey bridge.Footbridge with piled foundations, steel structure, glass assembly walls enclosing sides and metal deck roof
Cost per m2 Per cent (£) of total
SUBSTRUCTURE 70.55 6.17
Frame 26.74 2.34
Upper floors 24.63 2.16
Roof 96.25 8.42
Staircases 33.28 2.91
External walls and windows 251.40 21.99
Internal walls and partitions 31.07 2.72
Internal doors 20.52 1.80
Group element total 483.89 42.33
Wall finishes 9.63 0.84
Floor finishes 27.12 2.37
Ceiling finishes 18.37 1.61
Finishes total 55.12 4.82
Fittings and furnishings 7.69 0.67
Sanitary fittings 6.20 0.54
Syphonic drainage 4.49 0.39
Mechanical and electrical services 283.18 24.78
Lift installation 20.92 1.83
Builders’ work in connection 23.63 2.07
Group element total 338.42 29.61
PRELIMINARIES 131.22 11.48
CONTINGENCIES AND DAYWORKS 56.13 4.91
TOTAL 1,143.02 100.00
Costs supplied by Catherine Wilde, Gleeds
TENDER DATE 23 June 1998
CONTRACT SIGNED 2 September 1998
START ON SITE 14 September 1998
CONSTRUCTION PERIOD 57 weeks
CONTRACT SUM £5,781,499
GROSS FLOOR AREA 4434m2
FORM OF CONTRACT JCT 80 Private with Quantities incorporating Contractor Design Portion Supplement and Sectional Completion
CLIENT The World of Glass
ARCHITECTS Geoffrey Reid Associates: Colin Calderhead, Isabel Carmona, Robert Dalziel, Paul Green, Jenny Harborne, Anne Kelly, Paul Warner, Andy Watts, Gary Wyatt
STRUCTURAL AND M&E ENGINEER BDP QUANTITY SURVEYOR Gleeds
LIGHTING DESIGNER BDP Lighting LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT Holden Liversedge
CONTRACTOR Taylor Woodrow Construction
PROJECT MANAGEMENT/ PLANNING Carmichael Project Management
EXHIBITION DESIGNER Ideas
SUBCONTRACTORS AND SUPPLIERS structurally bolted glass facades and balustrades Pilkington Planar; flooring Armorex; main brick supplier Ibstock; toilet cubicles Thrislington Cubicles; syphonic drainage Fullflow; single ply roofing Sarnafil, metal roof deck TAC; Kalwal Stoakes Systems; slimdeck flooring Richard Lees Steel Decking; piling, pedestrian footbridge Roger Bullivant; ceilings Dampa, MG Ceilings & Linings, metal doors Fenlock Hansen; ironmongery Allgood; glazing installation Pendant Aluminium, Hi Tech Glass; structural steel and metalwork Wesfab Langlawn Construction; concrete floor slabs Tarmac Precast Concrete; concrete stair Bison Concrete Products
Geoffrey Reid Associates www.geoffreyreidassociates.com