We note with dismay the current proposals for the proposed demolition of two listed buildings within the Glasgow Central Conservation Area for the development of a “headquarters development”. Located on Argyle Street and bounded by Robertson Street and York Street, the project would involve the full demolition of the Category C-listed 321-333 Argyle Street and the adjoining Category B listed 335-245 Argyle Street. Both buildings are currently listed on the Buildings at Risk Register and are believed to be in a “fair” condition.

 

Led by Cooper Cromar on behalf of Vanguard Real Estate, the developers have been quoted by Urban Realm as stating, “As considerate developers, we fully appreciate the challenge of building within the city’s historic environment. Our team of professionals has been chosen for their skills in understanding such places and posing alternatives where we believe that these are justified. Our proposals will be explored fully by our team in their consultations with Glasgow City Council, Historic Environment Scotland and the wider city community.”

We trust that these are words that the developer is willing to stand by, as the development of their design progresses. This proposal forms a critical and distinct position at the entrance to the Central Conservation Area from the west end of Argyle Street, and is also a key gateway to the city due to its location adjacent to Central Station. The current condition of this part of Argyle Street is one of regret and any development on this prominent site can and should act as a catalyst for improvement.

However, the current proposals are uncharacteristic of the local Conservation Area, and appear to produce a case for demolition in order to (as is now customary of our commercial architecture) to replace imagination for spreadsheet-driven profiteering. The images released to date highlight the development of yet another inarticulate showcasing of curtain wall glazing systems, to be masked by a five-storey steel girder, tokenistically gesturing to the industrial heritage of the area. This unimaginative response is somewhat typical of the new vernacular that has sadly been allowed to develop in the Broomielaw in the last few decades, paling in significance to the quality of the under threat Victorian warehouses. On the opposite side of Robertson Street, we would urge the developer to look at how to the successfully integrate a daring and high quality intervention into the heart of the Conservation Area: the Radisson Blu Hotel - a strong testament an understanding of the city - by Gordon Murray & Alan Dunlop.

This is a site not without history and the current proposals come forward following the demise of a previous scheme for a 6-star hotel development. The previous approved consent on the site involved demolition of 321-33 Argyle Street with partial demolition and facade retention of 335-345 Argyle Street, which included the rebuilding of mansard roof corner elements.

Although we strongly believe that wherever possible that our architectural heritage is retained and reused within the city, we are also realistic as to the challenges and economic viability of such an approach. A clear, and substantial, case was made for the partial demolition of the 4-storey and attic building as part of the 2007 application. Articulated by Simpson & Brown Architects, as conservation architects for the applicant, in their Historic Buildings Report the argument and approach remains valid in terms of the viability in developing this important site adjacent to Central Station and at the edge of the International Financial District. Rather than wholescale demolition, we believe this consent should form the starting point of any discussions between developer and the planning department, with the previous scheme carefully and thoughtfully integrating a 26 storey tower into the urban fabric, whilst respectfully stitching in the historic buildings.

Glasgow’s new City Development Plan expects that all new development is “design-led” whilst “protecting the City’s heritage” by “respecting the historic and natural environment by responding to its qualities and character and encouraging their appropriate use”. This must be carefully balanced by the need and requirement to support new investment in the city and encouraging a diverse and sustainable economy. This is critical to maintaining the richness of environment we benefit from whilst also taking cognisance of the mistakes of the past in the wholescale demolition of far too much of the cities heritage in the name of commercialism and progress. What is lost, cannot be recovered.

Ultimately, however, in order to protect and enhance our urban fabric and rich architectural heritage we would anticipate that Glasgow City Council will act diligently in guiding the applicant of any development within the city centre in line with their own City Development commitments. As such we would urge them not to support the proposals in their current form on the grounds that this constitutes a “development that would have a negative impact on the historic environment” and most certainly a detrimental impact on the Central Conservation Area.

This key development site within the city offers a strong and lasting opportunity to revitalise a key avenue whilst retaining parts of the historic city fabric. Let’s seize that opportunity, and not be swayed by the pressures of developer-led speculation. We would urge civic Glasgow to show the same resolve in opposing this development as was shown by the concerted efforts to protect the Mackintosh Building and Sauchiehall Street late last year.