Creating uplifting interiors for Glasgow Film Theatre – Blog by Brian McGinlay

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Climate change is one of the biggest issues facing Scotland and the world today. The materials we choose and how we design our buildings have a significant impact on responding to a changing climate and helps us reduce carbon emissions. This is explored in the Best Use of Timber Awards Exhibition.  We spoke to Brian McGinlay, of McGinlay Bell, on the process of creating a new and accessible space for the city at Glasgow Film Theatre.


Why Timber? 

(Brian McGinlay) The Glasgow Film Theatre has always had a rich history of expressive interiors. Since opening in 1939 the interior has acquired heritage value for creative timber applications. For us, in taking clues from the cinema’s heritage, our chosen palette of materials was very much inspired by the original designs. Timber seemed appropriate but, as a place of leisure and entertainment, we also recognised that wood, and timber environments, have uplifting qualities and offer positive effects on our wellbeing.

Architecturally, the principal aspirations for the project was to sensitively insert new programme whilst re-instating new interior elements and surfaces that made visual reference to the cinema’s former glory. Our Client’s brief wished for quality but equally good levels of robustness and a sense of timelessness. Key to the making of the interiors was the craftmanship produced by the workshop of specialist contractor Thomas Johnstone. Local wood manufacturing expertise allowed us to develop workshop precision and controlled craftsmanship. Innovative methods of jointing and off-site fabrication allowed for greater control and quality.

For us we see the project as a walkthrough project defined and expressed by timber detailing whether by sliding doors, counters or concealed cupboards all in which embrace the design ideals and visions of bespoke shopfitting carpentry. The project now offers a new purposed-made wood interior crafted with great attention to details offering a new sense of permeance.

What was your favourite part of the Glasgow Film Theatre project process?

McGinlay Bell believe that great buildings, places and interiors are fundamentally inspired by passionately driven clients. The Chief Executive of The Glasgow Film Theatre, Jaki McDougall, is quite simply a visionary client. An extremely passionate, creative and well-focused individual whose significant contribution and energy has now delivered the two-phased refurbishment project over the past eight years.

Jaki’s aspirations for the redevelopment was clear from the outset. My fond memories of Jaki turning up at the office with her scrap book of images referencing modern boutique European art house cinemas. We had many in depth discussions of the GFT’s heritage, its 1939 grandeur but with a strong focus on Jaki’s passion to embrace modern technology and to move the GFT experience, its educational outreach and its film festival programme forward for future Scottish and International audiences while designing spaces fitting for the next generation inspired us. From start to finish, Jaki figure-headed all discussions from principle design sessions, progress meetings, attending material and component mock-ups and enjoyed the collaboration – a very much hands on client!

What is your favourite aspect of the finished project?

As a practice we like rooms. In Adolf Loos’ essay ‘The principles of cladding’ he writes ‘Architecture comes from the making of a room’ where he emphasises that the chief concern of the architect is with the room and its surfaces. Loos believed that what is beautiful must also be useful. His interiors were highly complex spatially and made by luxurious use of natural materials. Inspired by these thinkings we were fascinated by these notions of the makings of a room – the contained space or volume, adjoining similar spaces and the atmosphere of a space.

As a much loved and treasured landmark in the city the refurbishment was always going to be a sensitive and challenging project to tackle. We questioned how the building and interiors could be transformed and reinterpreted while creating familiarity, variety for all, accessibility for all, and principally to establish a new generational project, space and better place for people.

The design created a series of layered spatial sequences by walking through, contained or overlooking. These spaces, created from a carefully selected and researched palette of materials (terrazzo, timber and brass), established an inherent sense of quality, luxurious comfortable and a new uplifting set of interiors.

The essence of the project cues to tackle ‘Access for All’ improving accessibility, circulation and wayfinding throughout the building. Spatially however the project focuses around the creation a new foyer or ‘new room in the city’ that generates a distinctive operational space to organise and direct film goers around the building but equally offering a flexible space out with the auditoriums for users to meet, to gather and to relax.

The most formal element to the works, and probably our favourite, is the formation of a new stairway leading up to the upper balcony and the main Cinema 1 screen. As a central piece of drama or ‘theatre’ to the project, the proposal re-introduces and re-interprets the cinema’s original 1930’s butterfly staircase.

Can you say something about the commissioning/procurement process?

To enable the project to be financially resourced a prior condition was that the cinema must remain partially operational. The complete closure of the building was considered within early appraisals, however, the forecasted cost of doing so was greater than the burden of daily building handovers. This was an important client condition to prevent the works impacting on cash reserves but also ensuring that existing customers did not fall out of habit of attending and provide a sense of ownership of the development.

The programming of the construction period was critical to ensure that the limited screening time during the construction coincided with the lower attendance periods (May to October) thus to mitigate the financial burden to the client. This opportunity presented the design team with the task of co-ordinating construction around this period of time.

The project adopted a traditional form of contract and to mitigate potential delays early appointment of a contractor was considered through a two-stage tender procurement. This brought advantages over single stage tender, as it would enable tenders to be prepared in sufficient time to preserve the proposed site start date.

Often changes on site are a result of the unmitigated risks or unknowns contained within the risk register that fail to be discharged prior to commencement on site. An advantage for us adopting this procurement method was the early appointment of Thomas Johnston Ltd who were able to carry out intrusive surveys instructed by the design team to form these residual risks. In going through each of the design packages the contractor also had the opportunity to flag any potential risks unidentified by the project team and propose alternative solutions either for phasing, methodology or construction phasing.

Despite some delays, fairly common when working in existing buildings, the end result is an extremely well finished building exceeding the expectations and functional needs of the client. The phased development has enabled the project to be delivered with a reduced impact the client’s public programme and offered greater flexibility within the constraints of their existing building. The Glasgow Film Theatre project has been extremely well received by public audiences and recently awarded the Scottish Design Awards Architecture Grand Prix Award.

Glasgow Film Theatre project features in the The Best Use of Timber Awards Exhibition runs on Level 2, The Lighthouse, until 6 April 2020.

Updated February 2020

Best Use of Timber Awards Exhibition

Best Use of Timber Awards: projects range from small to large and from domestic to commercial – showcasing the benefit of timber in new architecture

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