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Raincoated Modernism

June 1, 2011 \ Heritage & Conservation
by Justin Fenton
Raincoated Modernism

As Historic Scotland continue to review the listing of post-war architecture, we find our conservation projects increasingly involve modern buildings. Our work to bring them up to 21st century technical standards, while respecting the architectural and historic significance of the buildings, raises interesting challenges.

‘Raincoated Modernism’ deals with projects completed by Page Park which conserved and, in many cases, upgraded the skins of buildings, focusing on post-war listed structures.

Historic Scotland Review

Ranald MacInnes, Head of Heritage Management at Historic Scotland, provided an introduction to set the scene by giving his views on Scotland’s Post War heritage and outlining Historic Scotland’s current policy with regard to listing of buildings from that era.

It takes a great deal of effort to persuade people that Modernism could andshould be preserved. The Modernism that developed in Glasgow shared the international aspiration of its forbears and consequently lacked a particular connection to place.

With the 1950s proposals for ‘Glasgow’s Cultural Quarter’, the old mechanistic modernism met participation and contextualism, cities began to be appreciated as set pieces and the Glasgow grid began to be valued. The ambitious plan to create a kind of Lincoln Center at the top Buchanan Street on the site of today’s Bus Station was stopped by protests from Glasgow architects, including Jack Coia, who were concerned at the impact the proposals would have on the city. This was a big moment for Modernism, around 1968 when things started to change.

From 1972 there followed twenty years of vilification of Modernism as crude, space-hungry and alienating. As Ranald pointed out, Victorian architecture was at one time dismissed as a gigantic lapse of taste and now it’s Modernism’s turn.

After 20 years of denigrating Modernism, certain people began to look at it again. DOCOMOMO had a dream that the conservation of Modernist buildings would become a technical issue and that conserving such buildings would become accepted, and this was discussed at their conference in 1992. At the time Ranald and others recognised Scotland’s phenomenal wealth of monumental modernism and drew up a list of 50 Modernist buildings in Scotland for DOCOMOMO. Ranald also presented the list to Historic Scotland.

Since then Historic Scotland have gone on to list modern buildings including Lanark County Buildings A-listed in 1993, Anniesland Court A-listed in 1996 and the Edinburgh University Library listed in 2006.

Ranald MacInnes was involved in writing ‘Scotland: Building the Future. Essays on the Architecture of the Post War Era’ which was published by Historic Scotland in 2009 with the stated intention of continuing, and informing, the debate about the protection of Scotland’s post–war buildings.

Repairing Gillespie Kidd & Coia

St. Margaret’s Church, Clydebank, 1974

Up until the late 1950s, Jack Coia designed a succession of Italian Baroque-style brick churches, this changed in the mid-1950s when Isi Metzstein and Andrew McMillan, inspired by Le Corbusier, pioneered a new sculptural approach in a series of single volume, top-lit churches of which Our Lady of Good Counsel and St. Margaret’s are typical examples.

This single-storey church has external walls of facing brick and a free-spanning space frame structure supporting a flat roof which was originally finished in felt. The fabric was in poor condition and leaking.

The aim of the project was to improve the rainwater disposal from the roof and ensure better maintenance in the future. A key challenge was to find a way to drain the large expanse of roof, which had limited outlets, within the constraints of its category B listed status.

Today’s expectations of thermal comfort and standards of sustainability have improved considerably since the 70’s. Global climate change is resulting in greater volumes of rainfall and harsher winters. Rather than simply carrying out like-for-like repairs, we gave careful consideration to sensitive upgrades which would ensure St. Margaret’s is better adapted to face future environmental change.

With a new single ply polymer roofing membrane in place of the felt, upgraded insulation throughout the roofs, and double glazed rooflights the thermal performance and weather resistance has been significantly improved.

Our Lady of Good Counsel, Dennistoun, 1965

This bold form was awarded a regional RIBA Bronze Medal soon after its completion. Although relatively simple in plan, the clever trapezoidal copper-clad roof plane enfolds a dramatic interior volume, with roof lights and coloured glass sidelights bringing light into the heart of the timber clad interior.

In 2005, the copper clad roof was failing and water ingress was rife. A combination of poor levels of insulation and single glazing were causing significant condensation throughout. Our brief was to address these issues, to replace the copper cladding, and improve the insulation levels as far as possible without affecting the original character of the design and to do so with continued operation of the building during the works.

The use of an innovative cladding system by WB Watson Ltd, provided a neat solution. Their patented and tested system for continuously ventilating the roof, negated the need for a large ventilation gap, thus reducing the overall depth of the construction.

The existing copper cladding was overlaid with new insulation and a new copper skin, transforming the existing retained cladding into a vapour barrier.

This approach and use of innovative technology, resulted in an increase in depth to the roof of only 75mm, enabling a sensitive reworking of the edge details and retention of the original character of the design.

Fraser Building, University of Glasgow, 1965

Built as part of the great expansion of higher education in the late 60s early 70s, the University of Glasgow’s refectory was conceived by Frank Fielden as an enclosing wall to the garden setting of T.J. Hughes Reading Room, a civic bridge that had extended the campus northwards and across University Avenue in the 30s.

The building was disconnected from its wider setting, following the alignment of the Gilbert Scott Building rather than the grid of the Hillhead Conservation Area. It was also disconnected from its immediate setting, with no direct access from Southpark Avenue and an unsatisfactory connection with the T.J. Hughes Reading Room

The concrete structure and cladding were in good condition but subject to draughts and condensation and the facilities did not meet the current needs of the University. The tired image of the building meant it ceased to be an attractive home for student services unable to compete commercially with Byres Road.

We made three moves: filling in the residual spaces with simple sandstone pavilions that realigned the building with the Hillhead grid; opening a new south-facing public space enclosed by the Wellington Church, the rear elevation of the Reading Room and the liberated space from the previous basement of the Hub building; wrapping the existing exterior with a continuous skin that takes advantage of the thermal mass provided by the concrete.

The result is a friendly and attractive, highly insulated building that will provide extended service to the University and become an attractive asset for a new generation of students.

Careful Conservation

50 George Square, University of Edinburgh, 1970

The building at 50 George Square was designed by Robert Matthew and completed in 1970. Category B listed and forming part of an A listed grouping, including the Adam Ferguson Building and David Hume Tower, it is one of the key examples of Scottish Modernism.

The refurbished building will be the new location for the School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures. The existing building has an inflexible plan, poor insulation, single glazing and electric heating. These issues need to be addressed to bring the building up to current day standards and improve its performance as a place to learn.

To protect the building appearance, all the improvement works to the fabric will happen on the inside face of the building. These improvements include improving insulation levels and air tightness and new double glazing.

The use of thermal and daylight modelling has informed design development and helped develop solutions to increase natural daylighting and ventilation into the centre of the building. Linking in to the University combined heat and power system will further improve its energy performance.

These improvements will fulfil the University’s brief to reduce the energy consumption of the building and extend its life by another 60 years.

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