Glencairn House

Glencairn House is the oldest surviving building in Dumbarton. Built in 1623 for the 7th Earl of Glencairn it has a significant history as a townhouse for powerful Scottish families in this Royal Burgh. It sits at the heart of the High Street in Dumbarton, a testament to the rich history of the town. We were commissioned by West Dunbartonshire Council (WDC) to transform this Category B listed building into a new public lending library and local history museum for the town.

Glencairn House presents a rare and exciting opportunity to take the assets of the museum and library services and create something greater than the sum of those parts. From a user/visitor perspective, there is a chance to create a hybrid environment that focuses on the core element that links both services – story. Glencairn House will become a place that you visit to get stories and to share them, to learn the story of your community and to gift your own story to that community.

Our proposal involves the full renovation of the existing building and construction of a new three storey extension to the rear of the 17th century townhouse to facilitate access and create additional space for the library. A medieval pend runs through the building, connecting the High St to the River Leven. At the end of the pend there is a mature Norway Maple tree that will become the centrepiece of our new children’s library garden – a storytelling tree. The children’s library is a standalone pavilion sitting within the garden with views to the river and Dumbarton Rock beyond. The project is conceived in three parts; the past, present and future. The original house telling the stories of Dumbarton past, the new extension providing services for the people of Dumbarton today and the children’s library with it low carbon CLT structure and glossy ceramic cladding looks to the future.

Architectural Concept

The architectural concept for the extension to Glencairn House takes inspiration from the illustrious history of industry and manufacturing in Dumbarton. The oil painting titled ‘Dumbarton in Glassmaking Days’ by Alexander Brown (1792-1844), held in the WDC museum collection, is an extraordinary image of Dumbarton. Dominating the townscape on one side are the tall conical forms of the glasswork chimneys and on the other side the tall conical form of Dumbarton Rock. Both structures, manmade and natural, symbolise aspects of Dumbarton. The glassworks a symbol of industry and innovation, the Rock a symbol of power.  The glass objects are fused under immense heat within the chimneys and the Rock is a volcanic plug formed under pressure and heat in the earth’s crust. As symbols of the town, these tall conical forms are very powerful. Of course, the glassworks chimneys no longer exist, but the Rock and the legacy of the glassworks do.

Our proposal takes inspiration from these forms and looks to interpret this heritage, unique to Dumbarton, in the architectural language.  The roofs of the new extension and children’s library are tall conical forms reminiscent of the glassworks chimneys. From Riverside Lane, these two “modern chimneys” will be seen in context with the Rock. These visual connections to Dumbarton Rock underpin the planning of the site, with the form of each building shaped to open up towards the Rock, linking these three structures together.

The extension and Children’s Library will be clad in bespoke ceramic cladding. Initially we were inspired by the quality of the glass objects in the museum, as well as the landscape around Dumbarton, when developing the concept for the cladding. To develop this idea, we worked with artist Helen Kellock to create a colour and texture to the ceramic glaze.

Helen is an award-winning illustrator and children’s book writer based in Glasgow. At the heart of her practice is a love of drawing, narrative, and making picture books. She has a strong sense of colour with the ability to astutely observe the particularities of colours that manifest in each individual place. It was important to us to capture the handmade quality of the historic glass objects as well as the intangible colour and tone of the landscape around the town. After spending time drawing and taking photographs along the River Leven, at Dumbarton Rock and studying objects in the museum collection, Helen found a cohesive colour palette beginning to emerge. She was particularly drawn to the glints of aqua, turquoise, and lime green seen, for example, in the glass turtle friggers, the glass obelisk and Roman coin in the collection, as well as the boats, buildings and rope found along the River Leven. Through working with Helen, and architectural ceramic specialists Darwen Terracotta, we have developed a handmade bespoke glaze that is uniquely “of” Dumbarton.

After several rounds of samples with Darwen Terracotta, we arrived at the final glaze where glints of lime green shimmer subtly against aqua blue. As the daylight changes through the day, and year, the lighter tones will pick up and sing through. The contrast is strong enough to give a sense of movement. The overall effect is light, vivid and reflects both the museum’s glass objects and the waters of the Leven.  It is uniquely of Dumbarton.

Sustainable Design

The approach to sustainable design started with retaining as much of the existing building as possible with minimum modification. This ensured good material was kept on site with its life extended into the future. We then took a fabric first approach insulating walls, floors and roof of the existing building with bio-based insulations and beyond the regulatory minimum towards more aspirational industry standards such as LETI. The u-values achieved ensure the building fabric is working efficiently and reduces space heating demand. The new build elements have a CLT structure to reduce embodied carbon. We took a ‘lean’ approach to build ups, using the CLT as structure, sheathing board for the cladding system and internal finish. The building will be heated by air source heat pumps and will be fossil fuel free.

The building is playful, joyful and optimistic. It looks to support a journey of discovery, both of the objects and stories within the building but also within the town. Glencairn House started in April 2024 and is due for completion in 2025.

Glencairn House History and Brief

Although a townhouse for many years, substantial renovation works were carried out in 1924-25 when Glencairn House was converted into a gas appliances showroom on the ground floor with the town’s health department in offices on the upper floors. At this time the front steps and chimneys were removed and three large double height arched windows were inserted in the front elevation creating a shop front. This building has a history of dramatic renovation which has created a palimpsest of architectural language.

In addition to creating a library and museum, West Dumbartonshire Council is looking to support long term town centre regeneration plans by providing a striking modern extension facing the River Leven and linking Glencairn House to Dumbarton Rock. The new ‘Arc of Attraction’ tourist route will link Dumbarton train station, through Glencairn House onto the redeveloped riverside walkway, past the Maritime Museum terminating at Dumbarton Rock. The design proposal takes cognisance of Glencairn House’s role within this broader town centre development plan with the design responding to the broader town context.

Dumbarton in Glassmaking Days

Project Info

West Dunbartonshire Council
Graphic Design
Project Manager
Turner and Townsend
Structural Engineer
Will Rudd
M&E Engineer
Fire Engineer
Jensen Hughes
Cost Consultant
Clark Contracts
Exhibition Designer
Lateral North