Glasgow Women’s Library


Building owner/client:

Glasgow Women's Library

Architect or lead designer:

Collective Architecture

Local Authority Area:


Nominating Body:

Glasgow Women's Library

Project Description

The Glasgow Women’s Library (GWL) project facilitated the major refurbishment of the former Bridgeton Public Library in the heart of the East End, an area of multiple deprivation that has suffered decades of neglect and industrial decline. The Commonwealth Games in 2014 provided the catalyst for major transformational change across the East End, with the multi-agency regeneration project being led by Clyde Gateway. The GWL building is a two storey sandstone, Category B Listed, Carnegie Library built in 1906 and retaining many of its original internal and external features. Refurbishment works have created dedicated environmentally controlled archive/museum stores, learning zones and public events and gallery spaces, in addition to improved and DDA compliant access. Finding a new long-term tenant for this empty historic building was a key component to genuine and sustainable regeneration of the East End by Clyde Gateway, since the previous occupant relocated to the Olympia Building close by. The GWL project establishes an enhanced social, economic and cultural offer to the community. Moreover, GWL’s status as the only Accredited Museum in the UK dedicated to women’s history (becoming a ‘Recognised Collection of National Significance’ in December 2015) has resulted in a significant increase in cultural activity in the area, creating an inspiring building that is central to the local community and also visited by people from all over the world. Set up in 1991, Glasgow Women’s Library is the sole resource of its kind in Scotland and is open to all. As well as being an Accredited Museum, GWL houses a lending library and archive collections, including unique and rare historical and contemporary artefacts, celebrating the lives and achievements of women. GWL is a multi-award winning charity which runs innovative educational programmes, public events and other learning opportunities for a diverse range of users, with ‘hard to reach’ communities particularly among key beneficiaries. Among other dedicated Projects, GWL runs a popular Adult Literacy and Numeracy Project, English as a Second Language classes, a Project aimed at Black and Minority Ethnic women and integration, and a Project focussing on Women and Sectarianism. GWL, having grown from an unfunded grass-roots organisation, has now, after 25 years, developed into a well-respected, internationally renowned cultural hub, employing 21 paid staff and supporting 100 volunteers through its Volunteer Development Programme, many of these being local residents. GWL was described by the Rt. Hon. Nicola Sturgeon MSP, First Minister of Scotland, who officially launched the newly refurbished building in November 2015, as ‘Truly a national treasure.’ GWL relocated to this building in November 2013, with the refurbishment starting in November 2014 and being completed in September 2015. Clyde Gateway provided Project Management support throughout this project, whilst GWL remained in occupation, and ‘open for business’ in a live zone within the central area of the building, whilst works were undertaken. The design meets all the needs of GWL and its community of users and the build is of astounding quality. As well as a Charity, GWL is a not for profit voluntary organisation.

Supporting Statement

GWL makes a significant contribution to local cultural and architectural heritage at the heart of the East End. This refurbishment is sensitive to the building’s original historical detailing but, as exemplified by the construction of a new lift tower running up the exterior gable end, is unashamedly bold in its expression of the confidence and commitment enthused by its dynamic occupier, Glasgow Women’s Library. The design was progressed collaboratively between GWL Board Members, staff, volunteers and users and the Design Team, led by Collective Architecture. The need to respond to the existing building fabric along with organisational and user needs and expectations was an important element in the design and build. Clyde Gateway provided support in guiding complex property negotiations to bring the asset into local control and management. The building retained many of its original features, internally and externally and so the design responded sensitively, preserving and enhancing these, whilst increasing the overall footprint and creating new spaces with a contemporary aesthetic to meet the ambitious vision of GWL. GWL has innovation in its organisational DNA, having thrived and developed over 25 years despite economic downturns and political upheavals. It was therefore important to create a space to reflect this and also make it fit for purpose. One challenge was to transform a large room, formerly an old people’s lunch club (complete with industrial kitchen), into a flexible multi-purpose space, comprising a learning/events venue, exhibition space, café and two-storey archive and museum stores. The exacting requirements of these stores, built to British Standards 5454 to create a strictly controlled environment, meant that 54 mini-piles had to be driven sub foundation in order to take the increased weight. The floor was taken up and then re-laid afterwards and materials were re-used where possible throughout, in line with sustainability targets on the build. The stores are cleverly concealed towards the back of the building and the new mezzanine floor is fronted with long vertical ‘finials’ to create an airy, spacious, open feel and giving a contemporary nod to cutting edge design of the early twentieth century period. The building layout prevented internal positioning of the lift to the first floor at the other end of the Library, and so an external tower was constructed by breaking through the gable end. This was clad in laser cut steel highlighting titles of books from the GWL collection. This has become a well-loved, striking beacon of the community, reflecting the intricate façade and transforming the structure into a public art work. This building, with this new lease of vibrancy and inclusion, has given the community a sense of ‘ownership’ and pride. It is used by local people and national/international visitors alike, participating in learning, cultural and heritage activities within beautifully reimagined spaces in a newly reinvigorated part of the City. User numbers have doubled, and increased and more diverse simultaneous events are now able to take place. This is particularly beneficial in this area of ingrained deprivation, serving communities with complex and multifaceted needs.