The Lighthouse, Glasgow
Glasgow 1999 Festival Company
Mitchell Lane, Glasgow
Internal Floor Area
A new life for a valuable endangered building.
In 1995, Page\Park won a limited competition for a new centre of architecture and design in Glasgow, with a related retail function, to generate revenue to support the centre. This project involved conversion and extension of the remaining part of the 1895 Glasgow Herald Building, Mitchell Street, Glasgow. Although the Architects were the local firm of Honeyman and Keppie, it would seem that Charles Rennie Mackintosh who worked in their office at the time was substantially responsible.
Scotland’s National Centre for Architecture, Design and the City was created from two new buildings attached to the existing building. Page \ Park left the fabric of the Mackintosh building virtually untouched, by inserting two new buildings attached to it. The addition on the East side is a vertical circulation and service foyer reaching the full height of the building. This foyer gives access to galleries, education, IT and children’s areas, a café, and finally a new viewing tower with lift access for all. On the South side, the other addition houses essential ancillary accommodation. The ground floor of the existing building is occupied by retail.
In the corner tower of the existing building, which used to house a huge water tank for sprinkler supply, Page\Park have inserted a hanging spiral staircase, connecting the Mackintosh gallery with a rooftop balcony overlooking the centre of Glasgow
How old inspired new
We asked the question “can a tall narrow building on a tight city centre site have an economically viable future that is essential to its survival, and therefore its conservation?” Without this viability, the ultimate result would have been its loss, despite a Category ‘A’ listing and its significance in the early career of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. A building which was derelict for 12 years is not conserved by ‘stuffing’ it with the services and the means of circulation required to achieve compliance and functionality.
Following a thorough analysis and understanding of the conception of the original architect, we evolved a major new structure, with elements derived from and relating to the original. This provides vertical access and drama while releasing the original spaces for gallery, restaurant, conference suite, shop and related uses. The delicate insertion of a contemporary, suspended spiral staircase in the existing tower allows the visitor to see its wonderful stone structure on the way up to appreciate a new rooftop perspective of the city.
This project demonstrates conservation in action, ensuring retention of the original, facilitating access and appreciation whilst contributing positively to the economy and culture of Glasgow.
A journey to the light
The Lighthouse sits at an interesting flaw in the city grid. Parallel to the confident cut of Buchanan Street, West Nile Street terminates in the misaligned veer of Mitchell Street. Mitchell Lane in turn connects the two adjacent streets with a deep incision. The bend in Mitchell Street allows the elaborate corner tower of the Honeyman and Keppie Mackintosh Glasgow Herald Building to terminate the vista looking South, affirming that complex junction.
Seen from above, the new circulation structure notches into the side wall of Mitchell Lane and it is the spatial quality of this notch which characterises the relationship with the existing Herald building and the city as a whole. Mitchell Lane probably represents the city at its most dense. The towering office warehouses seem to squeeze the lane’s vertical volume and were it not for the former BOAC building by Gillespie Kidd & Coia, which cleverly stepped and opened out its functions to the lane at the corner of Buchanan Street and also a series of bar and retail units, it would be almost unbearable. The Lighthouse adds to these ground level moves, allowing the narrow lane to breathe by the inset and extension into the space of the circulation volume, with the promise of a journey up to the light above.
A flower in the city
Our analysis included the reading of a story written into the facades and fabric of the existing building which inspired the design for the new foyer building.
In the early studies for the competition, the artist Jack Sloan put forward an interpretation the symbolic decoration of the existing building’s facades. The building could be read as a transformation of the classical pilaster head detail at the lowest point of the ground floor facade, into the spirited organic and flowering dormer metaphor, at its elaborated top. Each floor thus represents a chronological step in the transformation process from ground to roof level.
In the vertically expressed feature centred on the Mitchell Street elevation for example, such a series of transformations can be observed. If we see the door moulding at ground level as a bulb, the first window as the same bulb lying dormant, the second as roots forming, the third as these roots extending, and the flower emerging at its head to flower in the next window, and in the uppermost window, to wilt a transformational interpretation results, linked to the leaf-like column heads which appear throughout the building.
Interior Design approach
Within the new public extension, construction materials express their nature. Honed slate on the floors, plywood slatted ceilings cut so the ply layers can be seen, the multi-storey curved reinforced concrete structural wall shows the board marks and shutter ties of its construction and the massive steel columns show their raw steel surface, pitted by the rolling process of their making.