Recently CiA were honoured to receive a guided tour the Scottish Ballet Head Quarters in Glasgow, by the project architect, Clive Albert of Malcolm Fraser Architects. The building shares an entrance with the Tramway Gallery, and we although we had been warned about the inauspicious entrance, as we approached the building from Pollokshields station, the building did indeed look almost derelict. The SBHQ is actually entered from a staircase within the lobby of the Gallery, which deliberately encourages interaction between the different types of artist endeavour. The building itself is regarded as a place of work, rather that a place for performance, almost akin to an office and so it has a sense of serine calm and privacy rather than the dramatic flamboyance of a theatre. The dancers and all of the support staff turn up for workin the morning, just as the rest of us do.
The exterior of the building is tough, robust and somewhat uncompromising, however the interior is intricate and fastidious accomplishment. The sheer scale of the dance studios dictates the plan, but even so, these huge orthogonal spaces are skilfully arranged around a top-lit communal area. It is from here that the intricate three-dimensional relationships that have been created within the building are visible.
The timber-clad interior exudes the kind of warmth that the dancers need to keep their muscles supple. The studios themselves are uncluttered and clean. The space is graduated, so that the busy-ness of the ceiling space seems to recede into the greyness, leaving the pure white walls of the lower area to define the studio itself.
It is the fastidious attention to detail that ultimately defines this building. From the vertical timber batons on the interior walls to the deliberate inconsistency of the colour of the exterior cladding, it is clear that the architects have carefully considered the manner in which the building is used, the effect of weathering, and the experience of occupying it.
Buildings Outlast Civilisations. Throughout history buildings have been reused and adapted, they survive as culture and civilizations change. The already built provides a direct link with the past; it is a connection with the very building bricks of our society. The existing tells the tale or story of how a particular culture evolved. A simple building may depict a certain moment in time; it may relate the particular sensibility of specific era. A more complex collection of structures may have a much more elaborate story to tell. Jorge Silvetti describes this direct link with the past as part of our “fundamental urban condition”. He links the physical survival of particular elements of any built environment with the spiritual survival of our civilisation, and it is this visibility and durability of the physical man-made environment that are testimonies to the societies that produced them. “At the risk of sounding too partisan and biased, I would say that even in historic times documents were not always available, and buildings (monuments, vernacular constructions, and public works) are themselves important texts, often providing the first and most lasting impression of a culture.”*
This little building stands as testament to an earlier period; it was previously the storage and distribution point for the village fuel. Achintraid, which is a small village on the edge of Loch Kishorn, on the North-West coast of Scotland, was once difficult to access by road, and as was the norm for these remote shore-side settlements, most of the important provisions arrived by boat. The coal was delivered to this little building, which is situated in a sheltered but accessible point on the bay, and was then distributed to the occupants of the small village. Nowadays, oil is generally used, it arrives by lorry and the coalhouse is no longer needed. More than a decade ago the little shed was converted into a home. The adaptation is very sympathetic, the materials are local, the walls feel as if part of the rocks and the roof is as grey as the winter loch. The internal organisation also reflects the extreme context; the main living rooms are situated on the upper floor, thus taking advantage of the incredible views across Loch Kishorn to the mountains of Skye. Long horizontal windows at first floor reinforce the orthogonal quality of the building while the small windows at ground level reflect the need for protection against the weather. The house does appear to be a product of its particular situation, but does not resort to pastiche, it is appropriate to its time. I have no idea who designed the conversion.
Kenneth Frampton, talks about the need for architecture and design to have the…“capacity to condense the artistic potential of the region while reinterpreting cultural influences coming from the outside”. This building does indeed show a great understanding of both place and tectonics, and…”evokes the oneiric essence of the site, together with the inescapable materiality of building”.**
* Interactive Realms’ by Jorge Silvetti
** Prospects for a Critical Regionalism by Kenneth Frampton