On October last year I had the chance to participate in a workshop organized by the ISOCARP and ITACUS, in collaboration with Glasgow city council. The scope of the workshop was to gather a group of young professionals from different fields, such as (underground) engineering, architecture and planning, and produce visions for Glasgow’s waterfront, more specifically the western section. During one week we worked together in groups of five trying to find a coherent concept for the riverfront, combine our expertise. The final result was a report with the proposals developed by the groups.
Welding the Weegie Waterfront:
The story of Lucy
As a result of decades of industrial decline, the Clyde waterfront is lacking in vibrancy, coherence, built character and a sense of place. There are a significant number of vacant and derelict sites, large areas of surface-level car parking, a number of sizeable monolithic land uses and little sense of the area’s historic legacy.
In addition, the site examined has particularly poor pedestrian connectivity. Both as a result of the Clydeside Expressway, poor east-west connections along the river walkway, poor north-south connections across the river and little access or visual connection with the river itself. This has created a sense of isolation away from the vibrant and diverse neighbourhoods around it, particularly Govan and the West End.
The site has a rich heritage of great significance for Glaswegians (see section 2.3), although little tangible built evidence of this remains. Our group title ‘Welding the Weegie Waterfront’ makes reference to the area’s historic past, where the term ‘Clyde Built’ was once a world-renowned description of ships built with outstanding craftsmanship and quality. It is our intention to explore how the regeneration of the Clyde could take a similarly carefully-crafted approach that is rooted in the area’s sense of place and can once again become an area for which Glaswegians can take pride.
The site investigations that informed this report explored the extents of the area, from the City Centre to the working Govan shipyards, including both north and south of the Clyde. Surveying Finnieston, Partick, Govan and Pacific Quay, as well as the Riverside Museum, Govan Graving Docks and a number of vacant and derelict sites, we navigated the barriers of water and motorway infrastructure in the process. Evidence was gathered from conversations with local users of the river, and by getting down onto the water itself, with a boat ride. Both these particular perspectives have been primary inspirations for our strategy for the Clyde.
This has led to an approach that re-frames the city from the point of view of the river and re-examines the river from the perspective of the people of Glasgow themselves (or ‘Weegies’ – a perhaps controversial but familiar local term).
In line with this approach, we have created a persona through which to test our strategy for the site. While there will be more than one person’s perspective of the site, for the purposes of this study, we have explored one experience in detail. She has become an example of a Weegie who is exploring the Waterfront. We have called her Lucy MacDonald.
Lucy’s story and Lucy as a planning/participatory tool
The methodology we have developed during the workshop is based on systems engineering and systems thinking. Our methodology is summed up in the diagram below:
Study the environment – site visits, maps and GCC presentations
The first step of the methodology consists of analysing the environment by a territorial diagnosis; both its constraints and its opportunities. Due to time limits and the format of the workshop, we analysed the environment with the help of Glasgow City Council’s (GCC) presentations, maps (provided by GCC) and two site visits. One visit was alongside the river walkway by foot and another one was by boat on the river itself. This analysis allowed us to define the present state of the Clyde waterfront:
- Activities (site visits + GCC presentations)
- Climate (site visits + GCC presentations)
- Topography (site visits + map)
- Built environment (site visits + maps)
- Urban form (site visits + maps)
- Geology (maps + GCC presentation)
- Space use (site visits + maps + GCC presentation)
Define the needs –Lucy’s story
The next step in our methodology consisted of defining people’s needs near the Clyde waterfront. We asked the question – what do people want to do on, and near the waterfront? This focuses on assessing needs through desired future realities. This approach could be considered a ‘bottom-up’ approach because it emphasizes citizens as primary stakeholders. What would we (as planners consulting the Council) like the people to be able to do in this area? This approach is more ‘top-down’ as it emphasises the public institution of the Council as a point of departure. Using both of these approaches – ‘bottom-up’ and ‘top down’ – will help to shape the future activities alongside the Clyde Waterfront.
A problem with urban planning is that needs are related to spaces, however, spaces are shared resources and people all have different needs. Therefore, it could be very difficult to satisfy every citizen of Glasgow with limited available space. Importantly, the renovation of the Clyde does not only require the determination and analysis of needs, but also frames the area’s evolution over time. For example, for the next 20 years or more.
In order to understand how the site could be attractive to Glaswegians, we wrote the story of a fictional character: Lucy MacDonald. She’s a young woman who represents one experience of living on the Clyde Waterfront in the year 2040. Within the YPTDP workshop, we chose to imagine what life would be like for the people of Glasgow in the next 20 years as well as what could inspire them. During this workshop, we imagined one week* of Lucy’s life on the waterfront (but other timeframes could also be explored further – one day, one year, etc.). In essence, we are using Lucy’s story as a narrative for city development. This narrative could be further researched and more extensively analysed and enriched. Lucy is adopted as a persona that represents a specific demographic, and investigative research can help to build her story: What are her needs in 2040 that would help to attract this demographic to Glasgow?
In this workshop, we only used one persona. We used the story of Lucy, but stories of other Glaswegians with different characteristics (varying demographics – gender, age, socio-economic background, etc.), could also be imagined to explain the needs of other Glaswegians. While infinite stories could be told, for the purposes of this planning tool, the number of personas should be limited and carefully targeted, in order to explain the necessary variation of experience, while allowing people to focus on the planning proposals. The story should be used to assist the planning process. It’s an enabling system that allows the principal focus in the project to remain at the centre: Rethinking the Clyde Waterfront. In our project this is: Welding the Weegie Waterfront.
Ideally, even Lucy’s story itself is written by Glaswegians themselves. If made possible, Lucy’s story could be used as a participatory tool.** Glaswegians writing the story themselves could be arranged, for example, by using a combination of big data and social media. Popular channels on social media could enable various ways of interacting, rating, and providing content. Examples of these are Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, and Twitter.
Locate Lucy’s activities in space and time
Lucy’s needs are then translated into activities. This step consists of assigning spaces as well as a specific timeframe (i.e. time of day/week/year) that allow activities to take place. Activities are allocated to space and time independently. Since one of the objectives by GCC was to implement place-based solutions, we use the Clyde as our main spatial departure point. Looking from the Clyde, we explored potential zones along the Waterfront, crossing the banks and, in so doing, reactivating them. Lucy’s story provides this perspective from the Clyde to the city.
Allocate activities on the surface
The first space allocation takes place on the surface, on the banks of the Clyde, above ground. During the workshop, and as a direct result of site analysis undertaken, we created a series of layered maps allocating various activities to different spaces. Each map layer explored one type of activity distributed along the waterfront.
As a starting point, we identified where Lucy’s activities were already present near the Clyde and developed them, where necessary, by improving or expanding their program and functions.
For new activities to the Waterfront, sites were allocated in relation to the varying spatial requirements for different activities. These were then strategically coordinated in order to have activities throughout the day (and night) alongside the Clyde.
Allocate activities in time
One objective of the Glasgow City Council is to transform the Clyde Waterfront into a vibrant place. According to this statement, activities should be allocated to have activities on the Waterfront throughout the day. Certain activities had to be re-allocated to meet this requirement.
Allocate activities on the ground, above the ground or underground
The result of this methodology was that different activities were superimposed on the same space. The following possibilities were formulated:
- To use the same space for different activities at various parts of the day;
- To use underground and above ground spaces for a multitude of various activities;
- To combine both possibilities;
Layer such as: Business; Green/Landscape; Living; Road network & infrastructural nodes: station, highway, bridges; Sport & Health; Education; Culture
Design and engineering
After activities have been located in both space and time (in a way that addresses citizens’ needs as much as possible), it is then necessary to develop spatial solutions for each defined activity. This moved the process from planning towards more architectural- and engineering-based conversations. Within the group, architects and engineers then worked together to define the best solutions within the technical constraints.
These engineering and architectural constraints then led to further strategic conversations around the allocations of activities in both space and time. There were two main types of constraint; the constraints arising directly from the product itself (structural constraints, technological constraints, geological constraints, etc.) and the constraints caused by the enabling system (organizational, regulatory, contracting, financing, etc.). During the development of the product, they both interact and influence each other. In system engineering this process is explained by the “Vee-cycle” development tool:
This cycle explains the classic development of a product starting with defining the needs towards its operation, and later the destruction/reuse. It starts with formulating “system requirements” towards “component” requirements in the evolution of the project. During the workshop, we only studied the system requirements due to time constraint. We can see that both constraints from the proposed system and the enabling system can influence the solution.
For example, at times, we decided that it could be useful to have two underground storeys and four aboveground storeys to house the activities defined by Lucy’s needs. However, due to geological constraints 2 underground storeys were not possible (this constraint comes from the proposed system) and because of the Local Development Plan it is not possible to have more than 3 floors (this constraint comes from the enabling system). Then we will have to find another solution to undertake the activities, for example to find a new space on the Clyde, or to lower the quality of service related to the chosen activities. There is a feedback loop between the citizens’ (personas like Lucy) needs and the architectonic solution developed by architects and engineers.
Vision/Strategy: From the city to the river and from the river to the city – working with the edges
Lucy on the waterfront
During our analysis and site visits, we were able to experience the river directly from the water. Our perception of the river was transformed when viewed directly from a boat rather than from the more conventional viewing points along the riverbanks. We also noticed that the river is unique in its ability to connect the city from east to west. In order to change the role of the waterfront in the city and to reactivate it, we decided that it was crucial to work with the edges and to capitalize upon the river’s potential to connect the city from east to west.
In our story, Lucy Macdonald is able to spend her whole day along the waterfront. In this imagined future, it is possible to be by the river, experience different interactions with the water and enjoy the unique atmosphere found along the Clyde. At the moment, the riverbanks work almost exclusively as a fast bike-lane. People use it to travel east-west, from the outskirts to the city centre. One of the goals of our proposals is to complement the existing program, creating spaces where people would like to stay, not just pass by quickly.
Lucy’s typical day would begin in a new start-up hub, next to the shipyards, where an opportunity area has already been detected by the municipality. After an entire morning working in her new company, she would then cross the river to go for a run. Lucy could cross the Clyde with a new ferry service or the Clyde Tunnel, now improved and more pedestrian-friendly. On the north side of the Clyde, she would jog along the river enjoying the widened and improved public space that now continues more seamlessly to the city centre. Later, she could either study in the knowledge centre, meet a friend in a café or go shopping in a new retail area.
The Edges – Active topographies
The quay walls of the river Clyde currently act as a vertical barrier that keep the people far from the water. To improve this situation, we propose to deconstruct these edges, creating a “soft” transition between the river level and the city level. Bringing people closer to the water, and ‘softening’ this transition is, we believe, crucial to the redevelopment of the Clyde. Within the site boundary, several locations where the idea of platforms at different levels could be implemented, were identified. These varying heights could allow a more intense integration of different programs, creating a complex and “active” topography.
The following images illustrate different examples of urban waterfront regeneration, bringing people closer to the water. One example, Lyon, creates several typologies of public spaces by the water, where people can stay, run or play. These lower spaces offer protection from the traffic existing on the ground level and give people a new perception of the river and their city’s relationship to it. Chicago has adopted a similar approach, but on a different scale. The river, which clearly has an urban character, is far lower than the street. Making the most of this height
difference, it was possible to implement a program of cafés and restaurants under street level and closer to the water. This intervention has brought life and diversity to the river bank. It is no longer just a place for sports but also a place to go out at night or have coffee after lunch. Working with different levels brings a panoply of possibilities, from educational programs to roof gardens. The Ewha University of Seoul provides an example of the possible integration strategy the Knowledge Centre where Lucy might study could adopt. The possibility of reading, studying or seeing an exhibition while also looking at the Clyde is a luxury that should be explored in Glasgow.
The aforementioned idea requires certain features that are not available along the Waterfront. For this reason, our approach has been tailored to specific sites, and some locations require a totally different approach. On the western section of our intervention area, the new Glasgow Harbour residential development is situated. These new buildings are located close to the river’s edge, making it harder to implement the idea of the deconstructed edge. However, the main goal of experiencing the Clyde from different perspectives can nonetheless still be achieved. Instead, increasing the existing public space with a cantilever platform would also bring people closer to the water and to the centre of the river. This intervention would help to strengthen the continuity of public space along the waterfront, creating an atmosphere that is civic and public. In different places on both banks we noticed the feeling of privatisation of common space. The edge was in some cases fenced and impeded the parallel circulation and connection. The new platform could also be complemented by a second floating element along the same section. Here people might be able to touch the water or engage with boats and other floating elements. These ideas, which could also be implemented in other areas along the river, aim to regenerate the relationship between Glaswegians and the water.
Identity on the waterfront
Our proposal is titled “Welding the Weegie Waterfront”. This term appeals to the vernacular of Glasgow and Glaswegians. It refers to a sense of place based on local identity. We believe the plan to be developed in this city should respect and enhance its existing heritage and identity. Along the edges of the river, the idea of identity and heritage is found in remnants of the river’s shipbuilding past. For example, the different former shipyard ramps could offer a third type of interaction with the water. These elements, on both banks, are presently abandoned. They present interesting characteristics that could provide another dimension to the waterfront: the connection with the past.
The final idea for the edges, which affects the entire Waterfront from east to west, is to develop a common identity for this part of the city. The use of a common design language could improve Glaswegians’ perceptions of their river, and could also emphasize the history of the activities that took place in the past along the waterfront. Despite their absence, they continue to contribute to the identity of the city. Remaining heritage elements, from the crane to the former shipyards and the bridges, are currently isolated episodes along the Clyde. An intervention that celebrates the area’s historic assets could improve the quality of the space and the mental image of the Waterfront. We can find an example of this approach in Oslo, where the Havnepromenade works to connecting the entire waterfront. This project stretches along 14 km, linking 14 stations, which explain the history of the local industries along the river. A common language could also be found for urban furniture, graphic design and the design of public spaces. This intervention would be able to, on the one hand, respect different character areas along the waterfront, while also ‘welding’ the river’s edge in its entirety on the other. It would result in a more coherent image of Glasgow in the mind of Glaswegians and visitors.
Lucy’s needs and activities have helped define the main features that may need to be developed along the banks of the Clyde and its vicinity. This section focuses on the site-specific approaches that have been developed at three sites along the river. Building on the approaches outlined in the previous section, a multi-level/multi-purpose approach has been developed to give the river back to the “Weegies” and to weld their roots, needs and well being.
Clyde river banks and Quay walls:
Here is where Lucy’s story showcases a new way to interact with the Clyde river. As outlined above, the intervention alongside Glasgow Harbour could be enriched by the use of cantilevering platforms and floating pontoons. In other zones along the river banks, the quay walls may be able to be modified in order to allow a softer transition between the water level and the current street level. In those locations, the use of concrete structures and prefabricated modules may help to establish a strong water connection for both the north and the south banks of the Clyde.
Another important approach to the quay walls is maintenance. In some places of the Clyde river, there are some quay walls that have failed or are showing some structural affectation. This could be a unique opportunity to implement new structures that connect the street level and the river. They would be less robust than the actual walls and more durable (time). Referring to relevant hydraulic information of the Clyde river would help define where this kind of solution is feasible, taking into account the new uses the river will have (there is no need to have strong quay walls to support the ships docking, etc.), thereby giving to the community a new space for commercial activities.
Some complementary works and further exploration of the particular characteristics of the structures (water resilience, easy cleaning, etc.) will need to be carried out in order to create a new environment that can withstand water level variations as well as enable more active uses of the river banks.
Multi-Level North-South Multilevel Connection (MLNSC)
Even given the short time surveying the Clyde, it became evident that between the “Clyde Arc” bridge and the Clyde tunnel there exists an immediate need to establish stronger physical north-south connections. In developing this idea, it became apparent that two important landmarks could define destinations and zones where this new infrastructure could be placed. The Kelvin river, which flows north to south, and the Riverside Museum standing isolated where the Kelvin meets the Clyde, provide a strong axis and key nodes for what we will call the Multi-level north-south connection (MLNSC).
In order to define the characteristic of this MLNSC, there are two main features that have to be evaluated. The first is the Clydeside Expressway; the east-west motorway along the north bank of the river, and the second is the River Clyde itself.
One common approach could be to bury at least two kilometres of the highway to create a new pathway for north-south connections. However, there is another opportunity that could also overcome the highway “barrier” as well as delivering new useful and weather-protected spaces to Glasgow. This alternative is an underground gallery which starts near the Yorkhill hospital development site between Finnieston and Partick and ends to close to the Clyde river quay walls in front of the Govan Graving Docks.
Is important to note that this underground gallery is conceived and designed as thoroughly integrated with surface level activities. Instead of being conceived as underground, it is viewed as a shifting ground plane. Indeed, the “interface between the above and below ground realms appears to be a critical factor in the acceptability and success of underground spaces.” In this kind of underground work, Glasgow has the advantage of easily excavatable geological conditions in which several tunnels and underground passages have already been developed.
The other main feature of the MLNSC is the crossing of the Clyde river from the north bank (next to the underground gallery exit) to the Govan graving docks. This connection is conceived as an elevated ‘green’ bridge, with no intermediate pillars nor cables that could interfere with the view from the bridge to the river and the new public spaces along both banks. The use of high strength materials (concrete, steel, etc.) must be considered during the detailed design of this structure.
Finally, the MLNSC will need to be complemented with multi-storey and active buildings that facilitate accessibility to different levels and hence ‘activate the section’. These developments should be used to strengthen the connection between ‘underground’ and elevated passages as well as the ‘deconstructed river edge’ as described earlier. These shifting ground planes will establish new relationships with the river and help Glaswegians to get in touch with the water once again.
Govan Graving docks multipurpose, heritage-focused activities
The Govan Graving Docks offer a significant opportunity to bring new activities into the existing heritage structures to both reflect Glasgow’s important history of shipbuilding, and host new and diverse events.
First, a renewal of the old dock gates will be required in order to guarantee their watertight function. Next, the emptying of water out of the docks will provide new and unique spaces to the city to be used for local markets, commercial venues, cultural meetings, etc.
Another use for these newly revitalized Graving Docks could be a water retaining structure. A new connection to the sewer system, based on a complete hydraulic design, could enable this empty space to retain excess water during rain periods, allowing the collected flow to be disposed to the Clyde river in delayed stages. The purpose of this design is to ensure that the total flow in the river channel would never exceed its design capacity. As a stand-alone water retaining structure, the Govan Graving Docks could not be the city’s sole method of flood control, but if complemented with similar spaces located elsewhere along the Clyde river course, the cumulative effect could be of great help in mitigating Glasgow’s flood risk.
Conclusion: Welding the Weegie Waterfront takeaways
Our proposal is a way to address the core issue in planning the Clyde waterfront: its lacking in vibrancy, coherence, built character or a sense of place. The proposal aims to improve the connectivity through ‘welding’, which is a process of connecting various areas across the Clyde via new and existing infrastructure. The process is rooted in place and referencing the legacy of the place’s history.
The workshop provided the opportunity to explore how the regeneration of the Clyde could take a carefully-crafted approach that is rooted in the area’s sense of place and can once again become an area for which Glaswegians, or Weegies, can take pride. This approach can consist of a planning methodology that adopts the persona of Lucy MacDonald and recounts her daily activities in a narrative style.
This methodology could very well be expanded to allow more participants from Glasgow to be involved and become stakeholders. It has a potential to become a participatory tool in planning and our proposed channels are social media and big data. Therefore, Lucy’s story is an approach that re-frames the city from the point of view of the river, while re-examining the river from the perspective of the people of Glasgow themselves. From the perspective of implementation, the story should be used to assist the planning process as an enabling system, which allows the principal focus in rethinking the Clyde Waterfront to remain: Welding the Weegie Waterfront.
It is place making through systems thinking. In systems thinking, two types of constraints must be taken into account: the constraints arising directly from the product itself (structural constraints, technological constraints, geological constraints, etc.) and the constraints caused by the enabling system (organizational, regulatory, contracting, financing, etc.). During the development of the product they both interact and influence each other and, in systems engineering, this process is explained by the “Vee-cycle” development tool.
Our vision is to change the role of the waterfront in the city and to reactivate it. In essence, the project site is both the problem and the solution. Our strategy could be understood as threefold:
- Lucy’s story provides a persona and narrative that focus principally on the Clyde Waterfront. Lucy Macdonald is able to spend her whole day along the waterfront. In this imagined future, it is possible to be by the river, experience different interactions with the water and enjoy the unique atmosphere we find when visiting the Clyde.
- The Edges – Active topographies are examples of urban waterfront regeneration, where the result is bringing people closer to the water. In order to achieve this, it is crucial to focus on the edges and also to capitalize upon the river’s potential to connect the city across the river.
- Identity on the waterfront: interesting characteristics that could provide another dimension to the waterfront, which enable a connection with the past. In terms of the image of the city, this component aims to unify the area on a larger scale through a design language.
Our proposed approach to planning and our strategy are illustrated with three site projects:
- Clyde river banks and Quay walls is primarily reconsidering the edges of the Clyde river. It aims to create a new environment that can withstand water level variations as well as enable more active uses of the river banks. In other zones along the river banks, the quay walls may be able to be modified to create a softer transition between the water level and the current street level.
- Multi-Level North-South Connection (MLNSC) portrays the potential of involving engineering in urban design in an early phase. To restructure major infrastructural components, for example by shifting ground planes, new relationships with the river will be established. This will enable Glaswegians to get in touch with the water once again.
- The Govan Graving Docks look at the potential redevelopment of the docks in Govan, south of the Clyde. They have a high potential for becoming a water retaining structure and, if integrated into wider city networks, could reduce the risk of flooding.
 Think Deep: Planning, development and use of underground space in cities. ISOCARP, ITA-AITES, ITACUS. Netherlands, 2015.