Issue 196
Winter 2016

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Oct 22, 2017
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    An Engine Shed for architecture

    THE OPENING of The Engine Shed in Stirling, now the conservation hub of Historic Environment Scotland (HES), was marked by this year's annual convention of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland. Originally used by the military for shunting engines, the building has been converted into a visitor centre, complete with a theatre, exhibition spaces, retail area, offices and labs. And, as its Director of Conservation, Dr Dr David Mitchell, said, one of the aims of the building is to get rid of the impression that the HES "is a bit weird and tweedy."

    Converted by HES with help from Reiach & Hall Architects, The Engine Shed is intended to demonstrate how an empty building that had lost its use can be given a completely new role and a contemporary image with the use of traditional materials such as glass, stone, flint, birch and larch.

    There seem to be only two flaws: visiting the building for the second time, I found that the lifts in the pedestrian bridge that crosses the railway line were no longer working; and (on the first visit), it was difficult to find the entrance because it is located in a discreetly angled recess in one of the glass fa├žades.

    On entering the building, and passing the reception area, one reaches the exhibition spaces where there are both permanent and temporary displays. The former consists of sections dealing with materials that range from Thatch and Fired Earth to Timber, Stone, Metal and Concrete that include both information and examples of the materials themselves.

    In another space, there is an exhibition called Buildings through Time that demonstrates how these materials have been used, beginning with earth and timber constructions such as a crammond of 8500BC and crannogs that date from 80-500BC, to the Roman fort at Ardoch in Perthshire of 100AD and the Pictish stones at Aberlemno in Angus of 700-800AD.

    The exhibition then takes in medieval buildings, including St Magnus Cathedral on Orkney and Glasgow Cathedral before demonstrating the Scottish Renaissance as seen in Falkland and Holyrood Palaces.

    Wemyss Bay station

    Then come the Adam and Classical styles that are represented by Duff House in Aberdeenshiore and Edinburgh New Town, followed by the Scottish Gothic/Baronial style enthusiastically advocated by Sir Walter Scott in his house at Abbotsford.

    This coincides with buildings reflecting the Industrial Revolution, including the Glenfinnan viaduct and the curvaceous railway station at Weymss Bay. After that, there are the more sober and restrained Arts & Crafts buildings represented by Sir Robert Lorimer's Hill of Tarvit mansion house of 1902.

    As for Modernism, this is represented by the 1930s Pavilion in Rothesay on the Isle of Bute and, after the war, by Cumbernauld New Town and the house designed by Richard Womersley for Bernat Klein in Galashiels in the 1950s that has just been put up for sale. Apparently, when his daughter went to school, she wanted to live "in an ordinary house like everyone else."

    Finally, the exhibition comes up to date with the Queensferry Crossing. Building through Time is an excellent introduction to Scottish architectural history that is brought to life by short lengths of film.

    In the exhibition space devoted to temporary exhibitions, there are panels devoted to the restoration of buildings that have been severely damaged, including Coventry Cathedral, Uppark in Sussex, Clandon in Surrey, and the Morgan Academy in Dundee.

    But what will most interest the visitor are undoubtedly the panels on Glasgow School of Art. Those of us who watched the fire that engulfed the building on 14 May 2014 on tv thought that it had been lost forever but, thanks to the great skill of the Glasgow firemen, serious damage was restricted to the west wing, including the library.

    According to the panels, restoration will take five years and is being divided into five stages, beginning with weatherproofing and repairing the roof and, as the second stage, restoring the west wing. There is no mention of stages 3, 4 & 5.

    The displays in The Engine Shed, together with a wide range of free literature on building materials and techniques, provide a wealth of information that is compact and easy to digest, while the building itself marks the beginning of the redevelopment of Stirling's Forthside.

    It includes a new building for Stirling Council to be opened in 2019, a new home for the Scottish Tartans Society and an amphitheatre by the river. In this, Stirling seems to be following the policy adopted by Dundee that is spearheaded by the V&A Design Museum, due to open next year. And, like Dundee, Stirling hopes to become a tourist hub for a much wider area.


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    An extensive new preface by the Ross Herald of Arms, Charles Bunnett, Chamberlain of Duff House