Custom House, Greenock


Completion Date:


Building owner/client:

Riverside Inverclyde

Architect or lead designer:

Tom Connelly, Elder & Cannon

Local Authority Area:


Nominating Body:

Riverside Inverclyde

Project Description

Custom House

The adaptive restoration and re-use of this significant Category A Listed neoclassical structure involved 4 complex phases over the last 5 years, with the final phase completed in early 2017. This required a process of structured milestones that managed the changes required of the brief, funding availability, condition and repair, regulatory requirements and phasing to its eventual and successful conclusion.

Custom House was built in 1818 as the major Customs and Excise facilities and designed by architect William Burns. This grand and imposing neoclassical Doric structure still dominates the Greenock Quayside and the Clyde estuary and on completion was the major focal point for the Scottish West Coast mercantile trade. In 2010 it was found to be surplus to HMRC requirements and purchased by the local Urban Regeneration Company and our client Riverside Inverclyde.


The building had been subdivided into separate parts with key spaces such as the atria and Grand Staircase diminished by previous interventions and fit-outs and the irregular circulation imposed. The brief was for a re-establishment of the buildings internal order and arrangement to provide differing suites of offices, complimentary ancillary accommodation, alongside a general repair/refurbishment programme together with regulatory compliance, particularly Fire and DDA.

Principal Architectural Moves

Design options addressed the current context, providing a hierarchy to the 4 entrance ways, complimenting a new internally reintegrated building. By restoring and augmenting the organised circulation, its key components could be organised North towards the sea and South towards the town, both routes meeting centrally in the Grand Staircase. A new southerly landscaped entrance courtyard and foyer – addressing access for all with strategic linear connections to both wings along the southern range. Eastern and Central/West Wings orientated around their specific re-established lightwells. Principal volumes generally remained as existing with the larger Western office suite utilising the existing singular access with the Long Room and its enfilade of principal stair and vestibules for either offices or public reception use. The scale, nature and materiality of any new Architectural Interventions have been sympathetic in nature to the building and this philosophy formed the basis of overall approach agreed with Planning and HES.

The Phases

Phases 01 and 02 in 2012 – 2014, were adaptations primarily related to the Eastern Wing with external repairs complete renewal of M+E, internal refurbishment including new DDA provision together with Fire and Thermal Upgrade and new rooflights, repairs to roofing and windows.

Phase 03 followed in 2014 – 2015, comprising of the development and integration of the improved structural, fire and thermal strategy works to the ground and first floors of the Western wing, allowing tenancy of the ground floor and minimising impact of remaining works above.

The final Phase, 04, was completed in early 2017 completing the overall strategy. This phase included works to the significant Long Room space, provides ancillary accommodation and refurbishment of the Grand Central Staircase, resulting in an organisational sense to the buildings internal arrangement connecting both East + West Wings.

Supporting Statement

The Custom House is a Georgian masterpiece that dominates the Greenock Quayside and Clyde estuary, in one of the most dramatic locations in Scotland. It has recently been restored to provide office space, along with restoring public access to the Category A listed building.

The refurbishment has secured a much loved building from falling into disrepair, causing a blight in the Arts Quarter of Greenock. The impressive restoration has transformed the building to provide 400sqm of top-class business space, providing 40 jobs to the community to date.

Engagement consultations, partner workshops and presentations to Community Councils were held at the outset of the project to ensure local needs and priorities were embraced in setting deliverable outcomes and shaping regeneration interventions. Following these, one of the key community benefit outcomes was for the public reactivation of the building with the Custom House Quay. Subsequently the North Portico, the historic principal maritime threshold to the building, incorporated an interpretation space for the Greenock Burns Club who manage public access as part of the wider Inverclyde Heritage Trail and support for tourism development.

The vision was that the project would create a new community hub at the historic Quay with visitor centre, public access and enhanced public ream. The aim was to deliver a project that connected with the community, promoted community engagement and endorsed voluntary sector ambitions.

Throughout the project, engagement with Inverclyde Tourist Group was undertaken, to ensure this vision was met. Once identified as the tenant, regular meetings were held with the Greenock Burns Club: the outcome, was that their Exhibition and Archive Room would showcase both their collection and the Custom House to the general public. To date the Archive has been visited by a vast number of Burns' enthusiasts, University Lecturers, local school children, members of the Public and the many tourists who visit our shores from the cruise ships that call into Greenock.

The Custom House Refurbishment has succeeded in identifying:-

• Greenock’s Custom House Quay as an opportunity site that can support transformational change and acts as a catalyst for wider area based regeneration;

• A community priority that gives recognition to the civic pride of the community in Greenock’s history; its economic success as a centre for commerce on the lower Clyde;

• Business stakeholders (Business Forum / Chamber of Commerce / Greenock Arts Guild / Inverclyde tourist Group/ etc ) support for more flexible business space and the opportunity for small local companies and business start-ups to participate and share in the investment in the Custom House;

• The need to focus activity (commercial / business /retail/arts/leisure) in areas well connected to the town with Custom House Quay a priority location for ongoing events, such as Doors Open Day, the annual Galoshians Festival and the 2018 200 year anniversary of the Custom House.

The legacy of this project is long-term and supports positive transformational change as part of Riverside Inverclyde's regeneration strategy. This legacy has delivered a new sense of place and economic vitality to Custom House Quay.