As a practice, our 40th anniversary this year has encouraged us to look back at the key points of our past 40 years which have inspired our current form. Here, founding partner Brian Park reflects on the origins of the practice: rooted in his final year thesis project at Strathclyde University, developed in collaboration with David Page and Jim Nicoll. This collaborative approach and their innovative perspective on heritage, regeneration and adaptive reuse have all remained at the core of our architectural practice since.
The roots of the practice lie in the final year thesis collaboration of David Page, Jim Nicoll and myself at Strathclyde University, the subject being what is now a designated World Heritage Site – the Industrial Revolution village of New Lanark. This was presented as “A History for New Lanark” and was a speculative ‘look ahead’ giving the opportunity to demonstrate design, conservation, adaptive re-use and technical understanding of the challenges of working with existing listed buildings, a dramatic landscape setting and an area with opportunities for new ideas.
Our team was invited to hold a public exhibition of the thesis in John Smith’s Bookshop on St Vincent Street, Glasgow and after, it was submitted by Strathclyde University to the Union International Architects Student Awards scheme, focussed on the UIA Congress in Warsaw in 1981.
We were awarded a number of internationally sponsored prizes including being hosted by SARP (the Polish equivalent of the RIBA) for 2 weeks in Poland, one week attending an international student event in the countryside and the other attending the main Congress event in Warsaw, held in the time of political unrest and food shortages. The Chamber of Architects in Bulgaria prize was a two week trip to that country and the Kenzo Tange Prize brought with it a significant financial award.
Towards the end of that same year (1981), the decision was made to establish the practice, this coming less than two years after graduation. The Kenzo Tange prize money, a part-time teaching opportunity and a youthful energy which saw opportunities rather than challenges led to a small office being established in Glasgow. Tenement repair works with high levels of grant, small domestic projects and a range of other modest visitor centre and exhibition facilities gave a foundation to build on through the 1980’s while weekends were spent on architectural competitions.
Significant competition wins included Glasgow Cathedral Precinct – an international design ideas competition won in conjunction with Ian White, Landscape Architect and Jack Sloan, Artist. Also, Scottish Special Housing Association’s competition for new sheltered housing at Sinderins, Dundee (specifically for young architects) gave the opportunity to be mentored by an experienced SSHA architect in the delivery of our competition-winning design. The imaginative Classical House Limited were already known for their careful adaptation of historic listed buildings and engaged the practice for the adaptive re-use of a series of shop and warehouse premises in Glasgow’s Merchant City, resulting in The Italian Centre.
Those were challenging but exciting formative years as we had very little experience working with other practices post graduation. The small team, the energy, the diversity of character and skills and modest opportunities with tenement repair in Glasgow were the foundation. The energy of youth allied with enquiring minds determined to improve our environment were key to all that followed.
And so the foundations were laid over those first 10 years for all that has been achieved since, majoring on historic building conservation work, adaptive re-use of existing (often listed) buildings and new builds in sensitive urban and rural settings.
“We grew out of a city and a learning environment with a social conscience. This was manifest post war with the attempt to mass produce environments for the benefit of all and then by the realisation that what the city had already was an existing sound basis to build on – all it needed was some clever love and care. It was an exciting time as there was very little money about but at the same time a sense that lots needed to be done. The parallels with today are instructive” – David Page, Founding Partner.
“Evocative Black and White renderings showed buildings as hotels and a museum with a cable car system to get visitors down to the base of the valley. More significantly it showed a village sustainable and fully occupied. This project created an intellectual capital of conservation and restoration knowledge which they built upon with early projects such as the Italian Centre and the Lighthouse then restorations of the Mackintosh catalogue – first at Hill House and then Glasgow School of Art. A seminal final year at 131 Rottenrow and a start of a set of lives in architecture.” – Gordon Murray, PPRIAS