ls Glasgow selling the CLYDE down the river? In the first of a series of three articles on the state of Scotland’s biggest city, architect Adrian Welch analyses the plans for its riverside buildings, and the spaces between them.
Iasgow‘s entire regeneration of the Clyde has been called into question. Leading architects. in town for the international design event. Archiprix. criticised the council for having ‘no vision‘. At an architecture conference about the Clyde in 2004. there was also stinging criticism and a call for a single authority to oversee the river‘s urban revitalisation. It would be easy to dismiss these attacks as
just the tittle tattle of a jealous bunch of
egomaniacal designers. After all. the area in question includes an impressive number of new buildings on both banks. from the city centre downstream to the old dockyards. It is split up by the council into different zones. such as 'Partick to Govan‘ and ‘Tradeston to Broomielaw". where each zone has a 'visioir and most have serious amounts of construction going on. There is a healthy mix of architects. from the international jet set to local designers. and much of the design is boldly contemporary and quite innovative. And the building boom is providing much-needed urban housing and masses ofjobs. So what‘s the problem‘.’
Part of it is that any redevelopment of such a colossal size will unleash criticism. especially from designers and architectural journalists. In Iidinburgh the I.eith/Granton waterfront areas are undergoing a similar transformation and have also been criticised. But the points raised by critics of both redevelopments range from issues of quality to infrastructtu‘e. Although there are landmark buildings it is felt that overall. too many of the designs fall below par. Furthermore. there are worries that more car journeys will be created with not enough new public transport links. and concerns that facilities such as schools and clinics will become overloaded.
Some are also critical of the masterplanning. feeling that development has materialised in an ad hoc way. This is probably true of any citywide redevelopment but the council must address the gaps and links between different masterplans. the landscaping around and between projects. Leading architect (‘harlie Sutherland suggests the 'buildings are not linked or integrated very well' and that more focus is needed on the whole development ‘rather than individual development opportunities'. l'nkempt weeds line parts of the river. for example. below
the parapet walls along (‘Iyde Street. These areas of wilderness aid the city's biodiversity but look more forgotten than planned.
Are these various accusations justilied‘.’ The easy answer would be that it is hard to say. given that much of the area is a building site. but let's try to reach some conclusions.
The council‘s plans for the Clyde are outlined on its website (ww'vv.glasgow.gov.nkl. The fact
that each area has a masterplan and wedge of
text suggests that there is an overall vision:
whether it is a good one and whether
developers are adhering to it is a valid question. especially since the council’s recent track record with architecture seems blighted. A city that allows great works such as Alexander ‘(ireek‘ Thomson‘s (‘aledonia Road
(‘hurch and St Vincent Street Church to wither
and decay appears to lack the credentials to carry through a major piece of contemporary
‘ALL PARTIES NEED A BALANCE OF HUMILITY AND COURAGE TO CREATE A NEW FUTURE FOR THE CLYDE'
masterplanning. Iiormer council leader (‘harlie Gordon is quoted as saying at Archiprix that architects should be humble in Glasgow due to their track record. pointing to buildings such as Queen Iilizabeth Gardens (designed by Basil Spence) in the (iorhals as being mistakes. Fair point: architects in the (ills probably did get a little lost. but it was the council that gave the go ahead for the huge housing estates and the roads that ruptured communities. In the last month the M74 extension go—ahead has reopened these old debates. All parties need a balance of humility and courage to create a new future for the ('Iyde.
()ne of the criticisms of planning in the 60.8 was that it adhered to the principle of zoning. in which residential. indtistrial and other types of activity were kept separate. Bearing in mind Gordon’s criticisms. the council and the architects collectively ought to have learnt from past mistakes: residents should not. for
example. be marooned far from services such as shops or bars. But a cursory glance through the various (.‘lydeside developments reveals scant evidence of mixed-use neighbourhoods. It looks suspiciously as though the developers are running the show - luxury apartments make a better return than shop units which may take years to let -— and the council will often kowtow to them as the benefits to the city are so great. namely houses and jobs. But why the rush'.’ One wonders whether the regenerators have looked at. and visited. best practice in other cities with a largely successful waterfront such as Copenhagen or Stockholm.
What about the new buildings themselves: are they of good quality‘.’ There are definitely some strong contemporary buildings along the riverfront and over time they will form an interesting cityscape. I suspect Glasgow is hoping to emulate Bilbao and Sydney with their iconic waterfront set-pieces and certainly the ‘Armadillo‘ seems designed for its silhouette. There‘s nothing wrong with wanting to create a dynamic skyline as long as the buildings are solid — like the Sydney Opera llouse— rather than paper-thin and shoddily built like Bilbao‘s Guggenheim. Buildings like the Armadillo are one-liners. fun and memorable from a distance. but simplistic close up. Instant icons can do more harm than good to a city's long-term reputation.
The key new buildings on the Clyde tend to he designed by international ‘starchitects‘: B BC Scotland by David Chipperfield. 'I‘ransport Museum by Zaha Iladid. Glasgow Bridge by Richard Rogers and the SECC Arena by Iioster & Partners. which previously designed the ‘Armadillo'. A decade ago Pacific Quay"s ‘entertainment‘ buildings were the focus of the lledgling regeneration. Most of the recent work is residential apartments by respected Glasgow architects such as RMJM. Cooper (‘romar. gm+ad architects and Iilder & Cannon. Glasgow has mostly evaded the ‘magic roundabout' of masterplanners witnessed at Iidinburgh waterfront. and this should aid quality.
But even the landmark buildings have their downsides. Despite the BBC‘s intriguing section. on viewing the river frontage recently with a range of clients and architects. the consensus was ‘oh dear'. Iixisting buildings
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