Glasgow goes Greek

They say that royalty believes everywhere outside the royal palaces smells of new paint, such is the titivating that goes on before one of them appears in public. In the case of The Lighthouse – Glasgow’s new design centre – it was more the smell of drying cement that greeted the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh as they turned up to open it last week.

The rush to complete the £12.25m conversion of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Glasgow Herald newspaper building, by Glasgow architect Page and Park, meant the contractors had to work through the night. Indeed, work is still going on – which is probably what prompted the Duke to ask two female Design Week staff “Are you the builders?” at last week’s thrash.

The first floor gallery is still to be fitted out and the shop – by Mike Gordon with Page and Park – is yet to be assembled. But enough of the interior by Sam Booth, of local design group LWD, is complete to see what will be on offer. And it is impressive. You enter via Mitchell Lane, through a door marked by Javier Mariscal’s graphics, into a small foyer within a stunning new glazed extension created as the main circulation route, with escalators taking you up four of the five floors.

Access to the fifth floor, and a stylish rooftop café by Graven Images, with obligatory Philippe Starck chairs, is via a staircase at the back of the fourth-floor gallery. This is a useful device, linking the café with the current show – of the work of 19th century Glasgow architect Alexander “Greek” Thomson – which spans the two floors. It would be great if the design included legible graphics. But though the area allows curators and exhibition designers flexibility for rather grand shows, one of the nicest areas is outside the gallery doors, where the curved greenish copper of the building’s façade cuts into the inside of the building. Lighting by Jonathan Spiers completes the scene.

The Lighthouse is riddled with staircases – a point picked up by Mariscal’s identity for the building. But good use has been made of the main stair, which features etched glass panels with a glass motif created by Alexander Belenshenko.

If there is a downside to The Lighthouse, it relates to the third-floor Mackintosh Interpretation Centre. The design of the permanent installation by architect Gareth Hoskins is fascinating, mixing screen images with sketches and models. But according to Lighthouse director Stuart MacDonald, this is one area you’ll have to pay to enter. What a shame that the good people of Glasgow won’t have the chance to gen up on their local architectural hero for free.

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