166 Gorbals Street, Glasgow
Southside Housing Association
Gorbals Street, Glasgow
The last remaining listed building of the old Gorbals
Page\Park have helped Southside Housing Association to refurbish one of the last remaining tenements in the Gorbals. Lying empty for a generation the category A-listed building has emerged into the new neighbourhood of Laurieston as a solitary link to the area’s Victorian past. The surrounding area had lain blighted for three decades until 2015 when new-build housing was given the go-ahead.
The building had been commissioned by the British Linen Bank to house a branch of their bank within the then thriving commercial area of Glasgow’s Gorbals. The bank’s architect was James Salmon Junior, the third generation of the Salmon dynasty, a contemporary of Mackintosh and arguably second only to him as a proponent of Glasgow Style architecture.
Salmon was within his most productive period, producing designs for two of the city’s foremost and most innovative buildings of the period: the Art Nouveau style Hatrack office building which used the new architectural style to maximize light penetration into its narrow Georgian house site and the Lion Chambers of 1904, a very early use of reinforced concrete.
The Arts and Crafts styled tenement utilised current construction techniques: a concrete floor at first floor level separating commercial from residential and extensive use of steelwork to enable architectural freedom in the design of the front façade. The building builds on the practice’s previous classical design ethos but with flourishes of continental Art Nouveau notably in its top floor arched openings and decorative ironwork to rear stair and oriel balcony.
The building sits in the heart of the original Gorbals Main Street and, when originally proposed, between buildings of lower height and value. Salmon anticipated the demolition of the two-storey block to the north, wrapping the plan around an original turnpike stair but setting back the building line to match that of the more recent public baths and creating a tower over the bank entrance.
Following closure of the bank in the early 1980s, the upper floor flats had been vacated by the early 1990s. Following several years of deterioration, in 2007 the building fabric was mothballed with temporary measures taken to arrest the decay until funding could be found to restore the six flats and ground level commercial accommodation.
Heritage & Conservation
Our brief was for careful and sensitive restoration of the building to current needs, modern two-bedroom flats for mid-market rent on upper floors with the former ground floor premises converted to a café/restaurant. This was planned to become an important social hub and historical anchor to the newly developing Laurieston residential area and to the new cultural quarter, centred on a refurbished Citizens Theatre.
Over-cladding of the roof had provided protection at roof level but below this, ongoing water penetration had resulted in total loss of internal structural timbers and finishes. A slow process of reinstatement built on limited evidence gleaned from archive drawings and remaining within the building itself, reconstructed the tower, unrecorded except on Dean of Guild drawings and lost at an early stage in the building’s life. These drawings suggested the tower was topped by a bell-shaped slate roof with dormer, lantern and finial but there were no photographs of the tower and there was speculation that it might not have been built. The condition of the building meant that investigations were not possible in advance however access to roof did uncover raggle lines that suggested its former existence. Salmon’s delicately pencilled finial detail was purely speculative and was developed with the blacksmith to provide a crafted arrangement based on a flax plant.
Similar collaborations with craftsmen can be seen on the lead hopper to front elevation. This supplementary feature was added to provide emergency fabric protection, an overflow facility to a single outlet from the front roof. The principal lead-worker cast the box complete with dates and a lead salmon in homage to the architect, affectionately nicknamed the ‘Wee Troot’.
Although remnants of the original interiors remained, structural and decorative timbers were generally in poor condition and condemned wholesale due to widespread dry rot. Ornate picture rails were replicated in flats with period doors while the hybrid window design was updated to satisfy modern thermal and safety standards.
Floors and support walls had to be replaced wholesale and in a sequential basis down to the concrete floor at first floor level. This floor’s construction, of an early concrete with in-laid steel joists, is prone to failure but mostly survived testing while the pen-checked close stairs required cautious engineering. The close tiling has been replicated and this new finish offset by new doors has managed to recreate the original.
The incorporation of new kitchens and built-in wardrobes was planned within central areas overlaid by lowered ceilings that echoed the former bed recesses while enclosing the full range of modern services. These services were gathered in a new riser space, accessed from concealed doors from each landing to exit in grouped terminals on the rear roof slope.
The biggest challenge was in the squaring of two competing demands: the incorporation of new and fully serviced modern flats (for mid-market young professional tenants) while remaining faithful to the restoration of a building of one of Glasgow’s most important architects, from the city’s culturally, most important period.
Salmon’s own importance is celebrated by a sculptural framework across the north gable, a geometric pattern conceived by local Gorbals Arts Project team that is based on Salmon’s own design for the buildings metal balustrade. Utilising 8mm steel panels that heralds the city’s shipbuilding past, this cor-ten tower will oversee a new linear park onto which will open a new restaurant/bar planned within the former bank premises. It is hoped that the bar’s patrons will be able to appreciate the genius of one of the lesser known exponents of the Glasgow Style enshrined within this cornerstone to the new Laurieston.