Quantitate and Qualitative

/ David Shaw / City & Land

Glasgow has inherited many treasures from its industrial Victorian past. These grand sandstone edifices have in many cases functioned without interruption since they were built, whilst others they have found new purpose as offices, shops or restaurants. Many have become derelict, overgrown and neglected, the worst lingering with a question-mark, unable to find purpose in the 21st Century. Empty warehouses colonised and subsumed by nature, teetering on the brink of oblivion. Surplus to requirements you might say, only the requirement is greater than it ever was, with growing pressure to develop brownfield sites and protect our green edges.

One of the skills we have as architects is to see the potential in this neglected heritage. The obvious answer would be to find a use appropriate to the cavernous space: a sports facility, a distribution centre, a venue. Our contemporaries have taken an oblique view on this, reimagining these vacant halls as offices, co-working spaces and start-up incubators. Flexible, functional and collaborative spaces for a new generation of office worker, where the desk is no longer the default, lined up in rows and sectioned off into cubicles.

To become viable in less-than-ideal locations, these buildings must offer something that the others don’t; the promise of Another Way that can free us from the constraints of convention: a desk, a lamp, a chair, a window. Energy and vision not only for the creative industries that thrive on the stuff, but also the peripheral industries and professions that support them and grow from them. Nice ideas, but difficult to quantify and if we are to demonstrate the value of a site then we must find a way to express this opportunity in a tangible way.

We propose an evaluation across four categories of Urban, Historical, Commercial and Cultural value, in each case measured against both quantitative and qualitative factors. We might consider the existing empirical data, such as land values, footfall and accessibility, all of which can be measured and quantified, alongside the ‘soft’ data of public perception, cultural significance and civic opportunity.

We can say that the maximum value of a site is where these four factors intersect; a perfect opportunity where the urban, historical, commercial and cultural value of a site can be exploited to the benefit of both the developer and the city. Of course, reality is not so easily boxed up and perception will change from every unique perspective. There will necessarily be compromise, but as long as a case can be made of the quantitative data, it is the qualitative value that can elevate a project above the ordinary to become a positive icon of intelligent urban development.