/ Nicola Walls / Arts & Culture

‘A linking association between people, things, or events’. As so much of the work we do is with listed buildings, or set within existing environments, inevitably we need to link our new provision, whether a new building or addition, to what is already there. We have to make connections – between users, activities and settings.

It is interesting to reflect on three approaches we bring to bear on this work. The first involves careful surgery to that existing fabric and stitching back together, the second the attachment of the new onto the old in the spirit of what Ranald McInnes from Historic Scotland once described as a ‘battery pack’ and a third, a hybrid play on the two, in the form of the implant.

The roots of careful surgery and stitching and indeed our use of surgical analogies harks back to the work of Patrick Geddes who pioneered the idea of ‘conservative surgery’ rather than wholesale renewal. Looking from today’s perspective Geddes’s approach can be seen to be actually quite radical, cutting away existing fabric to allow the remaining to breathe and establish a renewed ‘historical’ composition. Time has a habit of layering change on any setting and every other generation we need to cut back the evolved complexity to something clearer and comprehensible. Our work at Clydebank Town Hall explores this micro-remanagement of the existing fabric, in connecting the best aspects of all the aggregated changes into a new coherent setting.

Our second approach the ‘battery pack’ we see as an architectural ‘life support system’ for existing buildings often comprising stairs, circulation and support service functions. From early work at Port Glasgow Town Hall followed by the Lighthouse in Glasgow and now the new extension for Scottish Opera at the Theatre Royal, these support building extensions have been conceived as relieving pressure on the existing building to provide a variety of functions never anticipated by the original users. If Geddes saw surgery together with an associated sensitive rebuilding as a form of natural healing, then ‘the battery pack’ adopts more of a pacemaker function, it fits the body but has a distinctive form of its own.

The third strategy, the hybrid form mixes up the two approaches. At its root is the idea of a metaphorical spatial implant into the existing setting or building which provides a new logic for the internal organisation of the building. Often in the form of a circulation system and supporting functions it can be embedded in the fabric or on occasion ‘pop out’ from the fabric. The Portrait Gallery entrance ramp. mezzanine and lift insertions were conceived in this way as such structured insertions perhaps best understood as a ‘ship in the bottle’. Our work at Kelvinhall is also exploring such an insertion.

Each approach is in their own way, a contemporary reinterpretation of Geddesian thinking. In our contemporary variation on his idea about conservative surgery, our adoption of ‘battery pack’ attachments and implants we have built an armoury of tools adaptive to these special historical settings. An interesting extension of this thinking is the sentiment that our built fabric could be seen as a metaphorical symbol of a living thing and our responses therefore can be seen as contribution to its sentient growth.