ARCHITECTURE: Building Re-use
The Grade ‘A’ Listed Watt Institution is an important building historically, civically, socially and culturally. It houses archives, locally bequeathed artefacts and world class artwork. The building consists of a museum, art gallery and library along with a large hall for temporary exhibitions and community events.
Over time the fabric of the building had deteriorated to the point where both the building and its contents were being irreparably damaged. Inverclyde Council had an extremely limited budget to address the situation and the brief was to carry out conservation works to the external fabric to arrest any further damage and decay which entailed an extensive list of repairs.
Working closely with Historic Environment Scotland we developed an agreed conservation approach. A number of important features were reintroduced to the facades based on historic photographs from the museum archive. These included the tall chimney stacks to the library gables (which were truncated to roof level) and a stone gable plaque. The chimneys in particular have a substantial impact on the proportions of the facade.
One key challenge was the replacement of the single glazing rooflights to the museum which had been painted over in the 80’s to prevent direct sunlight damaging the exhibits, heat also escaped during colder weather. We could not install double glazed units due to weight restrictions on the delicate roof structure so replaced with a lightweight sandwich panel which reduces and diffuses the direct light, whilst improving insulation.
Accessibility was limited with both the library and the art gallery access by stairs only. This was resolved with the opening up of an historic doorway between the library and the rest of the building and the installation of a platform lift to the art gallery.
Through careful control of the costs we were able to direct some of the available funds to address issues internally with the building, including wayfinding signage, the fire escape strategy improved, new lighting installed to public spaces and redecoration carried out. The museum and library spaces were rationalised with the insertion of new reception, storage and display areas allowing more space to be used for display of museum exhibits and a community area for use by local groups.
The gallery opened on the bicentenary of James Watt’s death, helping restore civic pride, whilst celebrating Watt’s life and work in his hometown, Greenock.