You only live twice

An inexorably declining part of Glasgow has been resuscitated – first as an athletes’ village for the 2014 Commonwealth Games and now as a residential community

View of the site and the Cuningar Loop looking north. The intention is  to create a sense of place that doesn’t feel suburban.
View of the site and the Cuningar Loop looking north. The intention is to create a sense of place that doesn’t feel suburban. · Credit: Tom Manley

Upstream and to the east of Glasgow’s city centre, the River Clyde narrows to a gentle and meandering flow around Glasgow Green to the north and the Gorbals to the south. As it loops further back to Rutherglen and through Dalmarnock the river bends into the Cuningar Loop, a lush stretch, unique in form. This area has long harboured a community of people who regard themselves as distinctive ‘east-enders’. It is here that Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games in 2014 was centred and the ‘games village’ located.

In 1777, the city’s first tidal weir was constructed to provide water for a growing population. The river no longer supplies its drinking water but many manufacturers in the district still draw water from it and the level body of water around Glasgow Green and the loop is much used today for recreation.

The Games Village, in contrast to Glasgow’s previous high-rise experiments, is looking to re-establish its historical relationship to the ground.
The Games Village, in contrast to Glasgow’s previous high-rise experiments, is looking to re-establish its historical relationship to the ground. · Credit: Stallan Brand

Immediately to the south of the loop were handsome sandstone tenements housing a strong, working class community with butchers, fruit shops, chemists, a post office and public parks. The area thrived until the early 1960s, when the wholesale destruction of Glasgow’s social housing stock was initiated. Residents were moved out to peripheral estates and the area went into a gradual and seemingly unstoppable decline. The land which was to become the games village lay derelict after water works, dye-factories, print works and paper mills closed down.

Glasgow did redevelop much of its derelict land in the 1980s and 90s but the effort appeared piecemeal until 2000, when under the direction of its Development and Regeneration Services (DRS), it took a more structured approach. RMJM’s Paul Stallan and Alistair Brand (now Stallan Brand) became involved, with their team looking at two sites: Sighthill in the north, and Dalmarnock in the east. The outcome was a masterplan and detailed urban strategy. 

RMJM’s Stallan ‘wanted the village to be an urban regeneration and planning exemplar on every front’

In 2007, Glasgow beat Abuja in Nigeria to host the 2014 Commonwealth Games. RMJM had provided visuals and master planning details to support the bid. Steven Purcell, then council leader, argued that the games gave the city its best chance to ‘improve the lives of every Glaswegian’, promising a ‘lasting legacy for the people of the east end’. 

The venues include a remodelled Celtic Park and a new £113m cycling arena. The athletes’ village was developed in two phases: one to focus on the accommodation necessary to meet the requirements of the Commonwealth Games Federation for 7,000 athletes and to provide 700 new homes and a 120 bed care home. The second phase included a school, shops, new bridges and walkways and other local amenities. The brief for the athlete’s village was rigorous: 50% of all new houses would be for rent through local housing associations with the rest sold on the private market for under £200,000 per unit. 

The City Legacy Consortium of Cruden, CCG, Mactaggart & Mickel and WH Malcolm won the bid, supported by RMJM. The site was challenging, divided by Springfield Road which joins the Dalmarnock and London Roads – the major road route back into the city. A significant portion is occupied by the velodrome, which leaves the village to the east at the Cuningar Loop fronting on the river. The scale of 3DReid’s velodrome impacts the site heavily and although the track is lauded as ‘world class’, the building disappoints as lumpen and abrupt, with little architectural grace, and poorly considered new landscaping. 

Stallan Brand’s four storey ‘Cube’ apartment blocks: simple, bold forms helping to create the village’s sense of place.
Stallan Brand’s four storey ‘Cube’ apartment blocks: simple, bold forms helping to create the village’s sense of place.

RMJM’s Stallan ‘wanted the village to be an urban regeneration and planning exemplar on every front’. The intention was to test the government’s new ‘designing streets’ guidance: to create carbon free housing with a ‘hard edged urban quality’; to blur the distinction between private and social housing and to form streets where the pedestrian, not the car, took priority. When I visited, the site was empty, athletes having gone home leaving contractors to remodel dwellings from games mode to family homes. 

The project’s eco credentials are impressive and involved multiple design specialisms, including Napier University. All homes are built to the same high specification and benefit from free daytime electricity and hot water from a district heating system. Photovoltaics blend with uniform black clay roof ties. Stallan says: ‘Each home will create a surplus of electrical power which will be diverted back to the grid’, and the export credit generated will cover the costs of maintenance and reduce management bills. 

This carbon reduction strategy has two key aspects: first, the building fabric achieves a minimum 60% carbon reduction over 2007 building standard levels and allows for a minimum of 15% generated on site. The second incorporates a district wide combined heat and power (CHP) system that minimises carbon reduction and when combined with the building fabric meets the Council’s brief for a CHP energy centre that could also service additional new housing beyond the games village.

The Cuningar Loop, site of the new Games Village and home to Glasgow’s original ‘east enders’.
The Cuningar Loop, site of the new Games Village and home to Glasgow’s original ‘east enders’. · Credit: Sandy Young Photography

Two of the contractors, CCG and Mactaggart Mickel, used a closed panel construction system both internally and externally, which was manufactured off site. The CCG homes are timber frame with a metal web floor and roof cassettes. A ‘SpaceStud’ system was used for the walls which achieves a U-value of 0.15 due to its low thermal conductivity. Systems varied slightly with contractors’ techniques but in all units the timber frame was clad externally in either brickwork or black stained larch. Windows are all double glazed with black stained sustainable timber frames. The carbon reduction achieved, by combining the fabric and on site energy provision, is reckoned to be a reduction of 102% compared with 2007 building regulations. 

A restrained palette of ochre, red, grey and black facing brickwork in half lap, with English garden wall bond to external terraces and matching mortar and flush joints throughout, is complemented by stained larch cladding. The project is predominantly two storey with four and five storey residential towers in strategic locations at the end of key vistas, so although a ‘village’ it does not feel suburban. 

There is a real sense of enclosure in the courtyards and terraces and the notion of creating a neighbourhood with authentic urban tone is part way to being achieved

There is a real sense of enclosure in the courtyards and terraces and the notion of creating a neighbourhood with authentic urban tone is part way to being achieved. Architecturally, it is difficult to separate homes for rent and for sale, although those for sale do occupy the prime river front locations.

Inside, rooms are standard housing developer areas but good natural light is evident with floor to ceiling windows in living rooms. Each apartment in the towers has sliding glass doors onto roof terraces or generous balconies. There is a pared simplicity in the elevations and evidence of clear architectural intent running through both the development and the hard and soft landscaping. Kerbs are removed between roads and pavements and thresholds defined by carefully composed brick paviors, marking parking areas and walkways. 

What is missing is evidence of any community. The area once had four schools, now only one primary school remains, and there is no promised new school. There are no grocers or chemist shops, no café and no pub. Stallan says that the city is committed to the ‘Legacy’ phase, yet to be delivered. 

This is a well planned, designed and soundly constructed project, but without the second phase it will fail to fulfil its promise of lasting benefit made to local people.