Making Good

/ Eilidh Henderson / Arts & Culture

Unveiling a new building can be a nerve racking experience. Of course to various degrees the designer will have sought to embed or not the new entity in its setting to look like it has always been there, or make a new statement. Historically in our cities a common material bound the various experiments together - stone or brick the expressive qualities being moderated by a certain material consistency.

Our age does not have that consistent palette so the result is that buildings tend to stand out from one another. One way we compensate for this is rather than wiping away the historical residues of any site is to work with them.

In many ways such an approach has been the cornerstone of our practice from works such as the Lighthouse in Glasgow which saw the original Mackintosh newspaper building in close counterpoint with its new neighbouring forms, the CCA which had the original villa revealed as a centrepiece in its patchwork urban wrap, or more recently at Martyrs Kirk in St Andrews or Clydebank Civic Heart.

So where do we go from here?

Learning from and extending this conversation between history and now, a number of strands emerge worthy of exploration – all in some ways elaborated in our project for Scottish Opera. One approach is to seek a formal empathy in the building configuration, plan or proportion where the geometry of the existing auditorium finds form in the access stairs and shaped volume of the foyer floorplates. A second approach might lie in seeking expression of the building’s structural framework where the original building is load bearing wall with supporting flying steel structured balconies so the new is cantilevered wall-like concrete framing elements. A further exploration lies in the material relationship of texture or colour, again at Scottish Opera in the exploration of a contemporary decoration or ‘gilding’ in the form of a patterned timber veneer to the internal concrete expressed surfaces and the building façade with its indented surface patina.

In that respect it is now over simplistic to see as conclusive the initial juxtaposition of old and new. Rather we should seek a deeper relationship, through an intensified understanding of what makes the original significant, in terms of the delineation of its plan and sectional outline, structural expression and elaboration in pursuit of beauty.