Since the days when Glasgow was a bustling port with the river full of ships from all round the world loading and unloading their cargo into warehouses and dock buildings running along the riverside, the city has lost its connection with the river, with some exceptions such as the former City Inn near the Scottish Conference Centre and Zaha Hadid’s Riverside Museum. On the south side of the river, the modernist Glasgow College of Nautical Studies, designed by Robert Matthew, Johnson Marshall and Partners was a landmark building that retained a link with Glasgow’s history as a major port. Opened in 1969, to train Merchant Navy personnel from across Strathclyde, over the years it became Scotland’s premier college for naval subjects, with other fields such as engineering added alongside.
The College recently merged into the new City of Glasgow and the 1969 building has now gone, being replaced with the new Riverside Campus, opened in 2015 which, quite rightly has been shortlisted for the Stirling Prize, (the results of which will be announced this week). The new campus demonstrates an exceptionally high quality of design and construction to provide 21st century learning and teaching environments through a Private Public Partnership (PPP) delivered by the Glasgow Learning Quarter consortium led by Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd as part of an overall £228 million consolidation of the City of Glasgow College from several sites across Glasgow onto two, which have both been completely redeveloped for the 40,000 students and 1,200 members of staff.
Designed by Michael Laird Architects and Reiach and Hall, the new building sits on the riverfront with activities on the river itself, and is planned around a new public square which is part of a city strategy for a new landscaped route from the Gorbals to the riverfront, bringing people into through the College, with a ground floor atrium space that is accessible and open, with security set back from the main space, a similar philosophy to that seen at the Cathedral Street campus.
Spaces flow through the building as the architects have sought to meet the brief in a way that is sustainable, minimising mechanical plant and its associated space demand, and questions the need for walls to separate different activities, such as in the main engineering workshop, thus allowing light and volume to flow, creating a much more pleasant environment, which is more spacious and more flexible, with many spaces throughout the building for informal study, project work and meetings.
Continuing this theme, all the spaces in the building (with a few exceptions for technical reasons) have daylight and views either into the full-height atrium or out to the city of Glasgow itself, thus connecting the building with its urban hinterland.
The engineering facilities provide a range of engines and systems, including, on the one hand, a working engine room of ship and, on the other, a state-of-the-art 3D 360 degree simulator of a ship’s control room to enable students to experience different seascapes around the world and react to different scenarios of weather, emergency and other situations here within the College itself.
The new campus includes residences for international students and, like the College’s Cathedral Street Campus, has the potential to act as the catalyst for the revitalisation of the area in which it sits which, while located only ten minutes away from the shopping areas of Argyle Street and the St Enoch Centre, had become a little of a no-man’s land. Having stayed at the nearby Premier Inn on occasions (because it had a car park – a great boon), the walk into the City Centre was not very pleasant; hopefully with the new campus and the proposed new landscaped connection to the river, this will improve and other things will follow.