Overt operation

There’s nothing undercover about the imposing Scottish Crime Campus by BMJ Architects and Ryder Architecture, which brings the country’s crime agencies under one roof.

Bar code shading on the ETFE, and the rhythm of the internal facades to the atrium, make a varied space. In use it is populated with café-style chairs and tables – for informal but secure conversations.
Bar code shading on the ETFE, and the rhythm of the internal facades to the atrium, make a varied space. In use it is populated with café-style chairs and tables – for informal but secure conversations. · Credit: Scottish Government

The Scottish Crime Campus is the country’s new national base for fighting drug dealers, fraudsters and terrorists. Once you have got past the various security barriers the atrium opens up ahead, light and unexpected in this concrete building, with oversized globe lights hanging from the ETFE roof. Unbidden impressions of Niels Torp’s BAA Water­side near Heathrow spring to mind – its tall, light atrium that brings together office workers. Oversized steps dividing and linking this space recall Chipperfield’s BBC Scotland HQ, down the road in Glasgow. Rarely has a ­building reminded me so clearly of other, particular ones. Yes, of course, the two practices that conceived this building, BMJ ­Architects and Ryder Architecture, were influenced by and visited both those projects with their client, the Scottish government. 

At the heart of both BBC Scotland and BAA Waterside lies the sense of bringing a workforce together, engendering co-­operation and collaboration. It is a well worn path for forward-thinking corporates, and its use at the Scottish Crime Campus works well. And unlike the clutch of art schools that have also explored the concept (rather more excitedly) in recent years – Central Saint Martins, Manchester School of Art and the Mackintosh School of Art’s Reid Building (RIBAJ March 2014) – this one demands more clarity and less complexity. Here, four volumes of accommodation lead off from the central atrium. There are high level bridges, but the diagram is simple. This is essentially an office building, as both a long term asset and a functioning work place. Even though forensic laboratories, complex high security operations and drugs storage must be accommodated, the four blocks around the central space are still basically offices in plan –though there are, inevitably, deep, highly-serviced parts whose function is not for public consumption. 

One of the outsize lights that add a luxury to the giant space of the atrium.
One of the outsize lights that add a luxury to the giant space of the atrium. · Credit: Keith Hunter

The building started life during the ­biggest upheaval in Scottish policing for many years, when in 2012 the devolved government brought together eight police forces into one amid a series of other reorganisations. None of the services housed here – ­Specialist Crime Division and the Crown ­Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, ­Forensic Services for starters – belonged to any single police force but were housed in numerous offices, many of which could no longer cope with the demands of modern investigation techniques. And dispersed offices made cross-agency collaboration difficult for those dealing with organised crime. 

The more intimate, wood-lined reception at the crux of the building before it opens onto the slate and air of the atrium.
The more intimate, wood-lined reception at the crux of the building before it opens onto the slate and air of the atrium. · Credit: Keith Hunter

The plan and facades spun out from the idea of DNA as the bar code of life, as well as an essential crime identification tool

So the Scottish government commissioned this £82m scheme, its largest directly procured building since the £414m Scottish Parliament, to lease back to its agencies and those which span the border with England, such as Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. Given the financial climate and concurrent police upheaval, it is testament to the government and its architecture policy that this is such a high quality building. The process was kicked off with an open architecture competition. BMJ teamed up with Gordon Murray Architects (which took the project to Ryder when the two merged) to add office credentials to its laboratory expertise and experience with police buildings. 

The site was unpromising: the old Gartcosh steel mill in Scotland’s central belt, eight miles out of Glasgow. Scottish Enterprise had worked on land remediation and installed infrastructure but it had, for too long, been a business park in need of some businesses. Professor Gordon Murray, Ryder partner and leader of the Glasgow ­office, who designed the shell and core for the second of the building’s three contracts, was very aware that the Scottish Crime Campus is both an attractor and benchmark for the future of the site. The plan and facades spun out from the idea of DNA as the bar code of life, as well as an essential crime identification tool.  

Detail of the precast panels which create a play of light and shadow, their depth also ensuring a layer of solar shading internally.
Detail of the precast panels which create a play of light and shadow, their depth also ensuring a layer of solar shading internally. · Credit: Keith Hunter

So the four blocks of the buildings map to the idea of the X chromosome and the patterns used throughout – on cladding, fritting and in the rhythm of the acoustic panels – reference a simplified bar code. The patterning is particularly successful externally, where two-piece stacked verticals of precast concrete alternate with windows (cheaper than curtain walling) in a rhythm using three different widths of each (and offering incidental shading). Indents in the form of the precast itself work with the same language of shadow and depth. At the base of the building the stone plinth draws up the geology of North Lanarkshire in slate form.

The landscape picks up on the diagonals of the site and plan, here looking towards the main entrance.
The landscape picks up on the diagonals of the site and plan, here looking towards the main entrance. · Credit: Keith Hunter

These heavy materials were important to Murray also to signify civic over commercial architecture, and embodied the ‘rootedness’ requested in the brief. Even so, the building looks undeniably office-like, thanks to sec­urity and the fact that its business park site and security distance it from the public presence that defines civic buildings. By the time a visitor arriving by car has reached the front door they will have already seen how the ­perimeter fence and protective bund isolate it from the new roads and station, the service yard out back with garages for vehicles to under­go forensic examination, and car park to the side; although the landscaping, picking up on the diagonals of the plan, is already coming into its own having been included in the first of the scheme’s three contracts.

This three-contract form, chosen to fit with public budgets and so risk could be managed differently at each stage, meant that for a while the building’s shell and core (completed under design and build) was ­eerily enclosed with no fit-out at all. It also meant the architects took on different res­ponsibilities at different stages, with Ryder acting as client design champion throughout but novated to the contractor for the shell and core. The final contract, which encompassed M&E as well as fit-out, was a management contract to anticipate late changes as individual agencies got to grips with their spaces and what they needed from them. 

The plan is designed so the campus can extend block by block east along the diagonal axis if needed. This is just the start of the process, but the Scottish government, devolution vote notwithstanding, is already ­exporting world class forensic expertise beyond the UK, with the added fillip of the most up to date equipment and its new home. 

CREDITS

Client Scottish government 
Client advisor Jeremy Smart Associates 
Lead consultant and fit-out architect BMJ Architects 
Design champion + shell and core architect Ryder Architecture 
Project manager Sweett Group 
Cost consultant Thomas & Adamson 
Services engineer Wallace Whittle: TUV:SUD 
Structural engineer Arup 
Landscape architect Ian White Associates 
Principal contractor 
C1: Sir Robert McAlpine 
C2: Graham Construction
C3: Balfour Beatty