The sinuous zinc-clad roof pitches of the Riverside Museum in Glasgow run rhythmically along its double curve until the tunnel-like extrusion is dramatically cut on two sides, one facing the River Clyde, reminding the visitor of its shipbuilding heritage; the other, the city, whose council’s aim is to regenerate the area with the Museum. A variant of this z-shaped form, like a diverted path culminating with a sense of the energy of waves on water, which was Zaha Hadid Architects’ 2004 competition-winning entry for this national museum of transport, the €70 million building, which took three years to build from start of advanced contract works (November 2007 to December 2010). On a site before occupied by industrial sheds and commercial units, it is the first completed project by the practice in the UK, demonstrating that its manipulable design language can be applied to a complex functional brief.
It sits next the river minutes from a main road, the railway line and the park landscape of the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Arriving at the roadside drop off point, the main entrance is part of a 80 metre wide black glazed façade (reinforced glass fibre; 400m2 on the north façade; 840 m2 on the south side) held up by trapezoidal steel mullions concealing the displays within. At night it becomes transparent and light projects out, with the mullions appearing quite filigree in appearance. By day, though, the sober yet tactile grey zinc roof cladding certainly suits the varied and dramatic natural light in Glasgow.
A tour of the periphery reveals Gross.Max’s pixellated clusters of landscape transitioning between a granite blocked public space designed for events with up to 8,000 people, a mist fountain, bike racks, a slipway and pontoon to the Govan ferry service that the architects didn’t design, square bollards with small engravings, customized lighting columns, and a second, equally grand entrance on the waterside facing the 19th century Glenlee Tall Ship. Facing it inside the Museum on one corner of the building is a triple height café which has a terraced area outside. Here through the big picture windows of the café, children can be seen playing on man-made hills incorporated into the landscape design, and you can see long views down the Clyde waterfront with the Clyde Auditorium and Hydro Arena by Foster. Continuing the exterior tour, the z-shaped ground plan makes a final jutting curve, with a further walk taking the visitor back to the north entrance.
The ground floor plan of the Museum maximizes the rhythmic movement of the building’s form and ceiling, by accommodating facilities neatly along the outer ‘pleats’ of the building – a huge wall of cars, shop, information booth, toilets and learning space in a sequence along the north wall; café, toilets, a sequence of recreated period shops, a wall of motorbikes and the offices of the Clyde Maritime Trust and Museum along the south side of the building. The central space of the Z is left column-free and open for freestanding exhibits – and there are a lot of them. The first floor introduces more exhibition space with ample views of the ground floor displays, and the post-industrial landscape of the banks of the River Clyde through big picture windows. This upper level does not fill the whole space, which at its highest point is 20 metres (12.5 metres in the café) below the roof structure (36.6 metres at its maximum height externally), which is self-supporting (a latticework of structural steel weighing over 2,500 tonnes), and in section is a series of continuous ridges and valleys that vary in height and width from one gable to the other.
The collection has always been very popular in spite of the fact that it used to be shown in cluttered, dark rooms that leaked at Kelvinhall Museum; now they are multiplied three times in number, and are arranged in a more integrated way against very subtle pistachio green walls and ceilings with their long lines of cathode neon lights (which have a six year life span). Views out appear in many places, including around the entrances, giving on the city side an appropriate and vivid sense of moving transport (rail and road). Yet the 3,000 exhibits are shielded from the light in this column-free flexible display space, as requested by the clients, and they remain the showpiece. The sheer numbers of visitors in the first weeks (63,000 visitors in the first week) have amazed the staff, and given cleaners a lot of work to keep walls, floors and windows clean. The location, part of the Glasgow Harbour development within the multi-million euro regeneration of the Clyde waterfront, is not as cut off as it appears; it is a ten minute walk to the Partick Interchange transport hub, 15 minutes by car to the International Aiport, and there is a ferry service to Govan on the south bank, the site of a deprived housing estate, but getting more amenities (a bridge planned did not happen).
The precision of the granite paving, and the zinc, and their workmanship, is very strong. It was very difficult to make the 24,000 zinc panels that cover the roof, and to force the standing seam to curve over the edge panels (there are five roofs); a lot of them were made individually and brought to site. Inside the sweeping building most of the round double curved gypsum gables and troughs are moulded by hand, and were made in a workshop in Sheffield, and delivered in small pieces, assembled on the ceiling and stitched together by hand. The services are stored in the roof and air handling is operated from plant rooms above the café: one decision among many that led to the interior architecture to be always seemingly flowing. The roof is the best guide to show you where you are internally, and overall the design, with its crafted public space, is a well judged balance between hermetic and porous spatial expression, creating a museum that joins many of the latest in the UK in genuinely embracing its context, past, present and future.
Location: Glasgow, UK
Client: Glasgow City Council, Glasgow Life
Gross Floor Area: 11.300 m2 (excluding basement)
Cost: 68.681.000 Euros
Architects: Zaha Hadid Architects
Project Manager, Cost Control: Capita Symonds
Venue Operations & Management: Glasgow Life
Main Contractor: BAM Construction
Structural, Acoustic, Fire, Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing: Buro Happold
Landscape Architect: Gross Max
Lighting Design: Inverse Lighting Design
Exhibition Design: Event Communications
Steel Frame: Watson Steel
Thermal, Fire and Acoustic Insulation Products: Rockwool
Precast Concrete Elements: Evans Concrete Products
Exhibition Wall Lining, Internal Plasterboard Walls: British Gypsum
Glazing: St Gobain
Steel Doors: IR Martin Roberts
Fire Rated Steel Doors: Accent Hansen
Glass Doors: Stewart Fraser
Sanitary Fittings: Ideal Standard, Armitage Shanks, FC Frost, Lovair, Dolphin / Prestige
Washrooms Door Furniture and Ironmongery (interior): Yannedis Fire
Curtains: Coopers Blinds
Sliding Folding Partition: Alco Systems
Demountable Suspended Ceilings: Rockfon
Expanded Metal Mesh Panel System: Durlum
Rubber Tiles: Nora Flooring Systems
Carpet Tiles: Ege Carpets
PVCu Wall Cladding, Vinyl Sheeting: Altro
Reception Desk: Rosskopf and Partners
Zinc Cladding : Rheinzink
Unitised Glazing System, External Doors: Schueco
Sanitary Fittings: Duravit
Photo by: 1-16/20-22 © McAteer Photograph / Alan McAteer, 2-4 © Hawkeye Aerial Photography, 3-5/13-21 © Hufton + Crow, 14-15 © Hélène Binet