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Enhancement of the Clydeport PLC HQ, Glasgow (2000)





The Clydeport HQ (formerly known as Clyde Port Authority & Clyde Navigation Trust) is found aptly at the former head of the navigation on the Clyde. It was designed by JJ Burnet and was built in two stages, firstly in 1886 on Robertson Street before extending seamlessly around the corner onto the famously known Broomielaw in 1907 as one building. It is a combined showcase of mastery in Architecture, sculpture, crafts, and nautical livery, seamlessly joined in spite of the 21 year gap, and is also one of Glasgow’s most opulent examples of the Beaux-Arts style.


The masterpiece was at each stage readable as both a completed opus and/or as an overture and was contextually significant as follows. 


My chosen site was aptly between the HQ and a consistently long run of Edwardian warehouses that drew consecutively closer to the HQ, i.e. from 190m (and two corners) apart to within 95m (and one corner) apart by c.1907.  These warehouses had perchance boasted datum lines that matched the HQ's* despite being on the other side of the block at Oswald Street.  This was the bold residual gap site - once earmarked by the expanding HQ - that framed or marooned the group of smaller outmoded warehouses that came to form the indefinite gap-site against the HQ for years to come, one of which was almost entirely cleared in around the 1970s.


Further site clearances westward (along the Broomielaw) in anticipation of the riverfront's redevelopment as a prime offices quarter had in turn, during most of the 1980s, overexposed the HQ's asymmetrical state and therefore temporarily invoked the unintended appearance of a partially developed HQ and Beaux-Arts work, i.e. until the first wave of redevelopment works in the late 1980s was able to reframe it within its Robertson Street setting.


Its original induction on Robertson Street rather than the riverfront may have been strategic to ensure stature during growth!  A riverfront induction would have certainly been less forgiving due its openness regardless of grandness and apparent completeness. 


This decision also relieved the expectation on the riverfront block ends to be consecutively grand, albeit such was being evidenced contemporarily on the other side of the river along Morrison Street in the Coop Buildings facing Kingston Quay.  Furthermore, the HQ’s presence on the riverfront, i.e. on the minority of its perimeter, despite being immensely bold and pivotal also exonerated any prospectively adjoining development of grandeur due to being cleverly bookended to receive, at once, either the less exalted or yet further stages of extravagance.  Again, neither has yet occurred!


The aforementioned earlier warehouses and the adjoining gap site formed the curtilage in my thesis proposal to enhance the HQ.


My argument was to enhance the masterpiece (programmatically) with an ample archival repository, exhibition spaces and a reading facility, etc.  My intervention was annexed to the HQ - thereby replacing the marooned buildings in between the HQ and the grander warehouses - to consolidate the block mass and therefore visually enhance the streetscape elevation.


It also attempted to answer how the envelope of an extended Beaux-Arts style building might extend or unfold further to address the problem of inherent symmetries while also addressing the riverfront.


Eventually adopting and developing the tutor’s suggested plan diagram resulted in successfully punctuating the site with a stilted drum in front of a setback elevation.  This was in appreciation of the new context and character of the Atlantic Quay masterplan, its materials of metal and glass, and its attention to the public realm.  


Despite my general advocacy of stone, metal was chosen to accentuate the original HQ against the new primary material of the Broomielaw [like a gemstone in a bracelet], not to compromise - but to successfully temporize - by using a similar metallic colour to that found on 1 Atlantic Quay on the opposite side of Robertson Street.


The neighbouring metal buildings along the Broomielaw, to a point, appear to have perchance played a similar game with luscious natural stonework at key points.  These were office blocks that were built consecutively westward from the HQ over the last two decades.  Such a philosophy may not have been intended by the individual architects nor anticipated earlier by the masterplanners.


Click here for drawings.


In postscript:


Eleven years on, the site is unchanged, although recent alterations to the adjacent 1907 warehouse in around 2005 has lessened Oswald Street's association with the masterpiece.  The developing context of the office block masterplan is however finally softening the impact of the HQ's mass. 


The HQ is proudly stewarded and preserved by Clydeport and can be visited on Doors Open Days.  There indeed remains no requirement to expand on office space.  Certain departments including archives have either downsized or relocated.  Unused space is leased out to affiliated groups and Clydeport is now amalgamated with Peel Ports as the UK's second largest group of ports.


Tenant growth looked possible up until the world slump of the 1970s although up to this point the Clyde was often cited as a repressed asset.  A Europort feasibility study had come to light slightly later.  Perhaps from that came the ambition to have an internationally significant coal transhipment terminal at Hunterston although much more than this was previously envisaged.  The prospect of such tenant growth would have incurred a quite different thesis in argument for the administrative expansion of the HQ.  Despite the Clyde’s feasibility as Europe’s main transhipment port, a functional shift from defence and shipbuilding has always remained highly improbable even after the end of the Cold War in around 1991.


However, by comparison, accommodating an administrative expansion would in today's terms 1) be likely to extend the existing nature [programme] unsuccessfully around the historical edge of the block; and would 2) not be greatly amenable to new and other uses without overdeveloping the site; and would 3) be too hypothetically based on the Clyde being realised as a major transhipment locale with adequate world class transport networks, etc...


The chosen and preferred thesis was none of the above.  New uses beyond the existing ones were largely applied instead: 1) to greatly expand upon the current archive hall with a tailored facility that would retain the archives in-house; and 2) to offer space for education (for the nearby nautical college in particular); and 3) to improve the river authority’s civic role, i.e. beyond the Doors Open Day experience.


However, on the contrary, the justification and ambition for a much larger and busier HQ (and port) will always have an appeal given what's been built so far, or previously envisaged, and because of the largely untapped potential and quality of the waters as follows. 


The Firth of Clyde has been said to be "the finest navigable waters in Europe", unsurprisingly, given the troubles of the North Sea, which was partially inhabited until the tsunami flood of ca.6100BC when Britain was severed from mainland Europe. 


The river's imprint on the Atlantic Ocean's edge or signature (across both hemispheres) is also undoubtedly significant.  Its estuary is the natural destination after each consecutive narrowing of the widest distances between peninsulas across the entire East Atlantic seaboard, excluding islands (except as countries) in-between.  This is mirrored by the St Lawrence in respect of the entire West Atlantic seaboard. 


Glasgow therefore might have twinned more with Montreal, as a port, had defence and shipbuilding not been so crucial on the Clyde.  Montreal on the St Lawrence is the largest inland port in the world!


I had incidentally compared Montreal’s evolution as a grain terminal with that of Glasgow’s in Chapter One of my dissertation “Grain Silos: With Special Reference to Meadowside” due to seeing comparable source material during my research.  Meadowside formed a major Chapter in Clydeport’s history – see diploma 'special subject' page – and was fully devised at the HQ, i.e. by the trustees; special sub-committees; and not least an impressive 'Engineer in Chief' lineage for well over half a century.  My dissertation cites information from the relevant business records at the city archives.


The decision making process on all major port business was conducted within the Trustees' Hall at the HQ. 



* an exact alignment of arch and sill heights were noticed accidentally when stacking tracing paper drawings of the unconnected buildings together.  The use of a theodolite to confirm how close the levels actually are would possibly make an interesting surveying project for students. 


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examples of work