A shining future on the Clyde – Clydebank Leisure Centre

Scotland’s dockyards may have all but vanished but a distinctive new leisure centre in Clydebank reflects the area’s heritage to ensure it won’t be lost, writes Steve Menary.

Shipbuilding has been a part of Scotland’s industrial heritage on the River Clyde since the late 19th century. The first ships were built in Clydebank – located to the west of the City of Glasgow – in 1871, and the John Brown shipyards took over the site in 1899.

On 20 September 1967, the Queen Mary was launched from the John Brown shipyards – but now that industry has largely vanished. Today, the only shipbuilding left on the Scottish River Clyde is BAE Systems’ operation at Scotstoun, but thanks to some new schemes, that history is not being lost.

Clydebank’s industrial heyday on the Clyde at Queen’s Quay has been a major influence behind Kennedy Fitzgerald’s design for a new leisure centre on the site of the former John Brown shipyard.

“The intention was that from the river the building would look like the prow of a ship to reflect the industrial heritage,” explains Brian Linden, construction manager on the scheme for BAM Construct, which is building the project out under a Design & Build contract.

The Dutch-owned contractor also has its own history in both Clydebank and the John Brown site. BAM Construct began the regeneration of the area back in 2007, when the company built a new block for West College Scotland and more recently constructed an Asda supermarket across the A814 Dumbarton Road in the centre of Clydebank. Linden adds:

“There’s a general intention to regenerate this area and bring the town centre down here.”

At Queen’s Quay, West Dunbartonshire Council has also committed to investing £15.6m in infrastructure works including new roads to prepare for further developments on the site, which will include an 84-bed care home and day care centre.

Located on the River Clyde, the leisure centre offered an opportunity to make a flagship architectural statement for this wider regeneration and also created challenges for the design and construction team.

Gareth McKnight, the associate at Kennedy Fitzgerald who designed the scheme, explains:

“It was a very complex brief for a sports centre on a triangular site. An eight-court sports hall shouldn’t really fit on that site, so it was a pragmatic approach but the architectural language was looking back at the old industrial buildings.”

The building itself occupies virtually the entire site and West Dunbartonshire Council needed to lease another plot due for development that bordered the site to provide BAM Construct with space for a site office and goods yard.

A complex history

“The only elevation that is flush is Ossian Way, which is on the river,” says Linden, who also had to get to grips with another historical element of the site prior to BAM Construct starting work.

With the Singers Munitions factory located in Clydebank, the area was subjected to heavy bombing by the German Luftwaffe during the Blitz.

Before BAM Construct could begin sinking the five concrete cores to accommodate elements such as the lift shafts and the sheet piling used around the perimeter of the pool, the site had to be surveyed for World War Two bombs.

No unexploded ordnance was found, but the design and construction team had to work around another key vestige of the site’s shipbuilding heritage that the council was willing to retain – the slipway.

With the council keen to keep as many links with the site’s shipbuilding past, Kennedy Fitzgerald used the restrictions of the tight site and need to retain the slipway to create an interesting architectural effect.

The corner of the triangular building facing the River Clyde resembles a prow. This was created by the side of the building facing the slipway featuring a cantilevered first floor, which hangs over the slipway, as a ship would have done a century ago.

“These long overhanging elements hark back to the days of the shipbuilding,” says McKnight, who adds: “It’s quite an elemental building, there’s a lot of life in the design.”

The Belfast-based practice used both design and the specification of interesting materials to try and create a feeling of life and heritage on the external facade. Marshalls paving slabs have been brought in, but the main focus for realising this design intent was via the facade. This features a mixture of glazed brick specified for the ground and first floor with an aluminium anodised rainscreen cladding system of tongue and groove panels used on the upper levels.

McKnight adds:

“The cladding was about having just two interlocking elements with cladding on the top and bricks on the bottom. The old Victorian industrial buildings only had two separate materials externally and the cladding was powder coated so had some life to it. For the bricks, we also liked the idea of a material that had a bit of life in it. On a sports hall, you can get big walls that are blank and the glazed brickwork brings a richness and life to the exterior and also harks back to old Victorian buildings, such as swimming baths.”

This specification of glazed brick-work was the subject of lengthy early discussions between the design and construction teams.

BAM’s Brian Linden explains:

“Early on we carried out a value engineering exercise and identified the bricks as a potential saving. You can only lay a few courses at a time, which makes them time-consuming.” Kennedy Fitzgerald won that debate, and Linden admits: “It certainly looks good now.”

Facilities

Internally, the specification includes British Gypsum plasterboard insulated with Kingspan Kooltherm FM board and Rockwool Firepro but many areas are left exposed, while an intricate steel roof hangs over the sports hall area.

The building was on the drawing board and in the development pipeline for nine years before work actually started on site. In comprising four floors, the building’s form is also different to most traditional new leisure centres.

Linden says:

“Traditionally, leisure centres are flat and low level. This has been squeezed into a triangular site and stacked up.”

The ground level features a six-lane 25-metre competition swimming pool, a learner pool, a wave pool, a children’s pool and a flume. Initially, there was no use specified for the first floor. Uses floated included a library, until the client, West Dunbartonshire Council, opted to turn the first floor into an interactive activities zone.

This pushed the price up from an initial figure of £22m to the current value of £23.8m but also gives the Clydebank centre a key selling point ahead of other local leisure centres.

Standout

BAM Construct has built three leisure centres for Renfrewshire Council in Paisley, Linwood and Johnstone. All three, to one extent or another, will be a rival to Clydebank’s new leisure centre but internally and externally the scheme will stand out.

The design for the second floor, which features a multi-purpose eight-court sports hall with retractable seating, fitness suite and a dance studio, will also help make sure of that. This floor is a square box within a rectangular building and creates the cantilevered exterior.

With the brief to create a building using lightweight construction methods, internally, the Games Hall features Fermacell wallboards on metal stud walls.

“This was to keep the weights and structural loads down,” says Linden.

The building’s structure is a steel frame, which was designed, manufactured and erected by local firm JD Pierce. Two cranes had to be used to erect the frame and the intricate roof spans across the roof of the Sports Hall.

“That was a logistical issue bringing in the big trusses and designing for the cantilevers and the deflections caused by the overhangs,” Linden reflects.

The third floor features a mezzanine fitness suite with dances studios, while the fourth floor is a plant room. The specification for the roof was a structural deck with a torch-applied felt roof system.

“There was no drive for a specific roofing system, but we looked at options with the client,” explains Linden. “You can get single ply systems but the client preferred this because it was more robust.”

A topping-out ceremony was held in September 2016 to mark the completion of structural work and BAM Construct is due to finish overall construction in February 2017.

The centre, which will be operated by an arms-length council-controlled company called West Dunbartonshire Leisure, will open the following month as a replacement for Clydebank’s ageing Play Drome on Abbotsford Road.

As the regeneration of Clydebank continues apace with new homes, offices and a health centre in the pipeline, the leisure centre project will ensure that the area’s industrial past still has a place in the future.

FACTFILE

Project: Clydebank Leisure Centre
Location: Clydebank, Scotland
Value: £23.8m
Client: West Dunbartonshire Council
Architect: Kennedy Fitzgerald
Project manager: Gardiner & Theobald
Structural engineer: Woolgar Hunter
Quantity surveyor: RLF
Mechanical & electrical consultant: TUV-SUD (formerly Wallace Whittle)
Contractor: BAM Construct
Brickwork: Lester Rose
Groundworks: WH Malcolm
Steelwork: JD Pierce
M&E: Vaughan Engineering
Partitioning, screeding and drylining: SCS

All photos © Steve Menary