The Russell Institute


Completion Date:


Building owner/client:

Renfrewshire Council

Architect or lead designer:

Elder + Cannon Architects

Local Authority Area:


Nominating Body:

Renfrewshire Council

Project Description

A significant building in the history of Paisley, this highly impressive and largely intact Category A-listed building is notable for its stonework, statuary, interior, period innovative construction and social purpose.

The building marks part of a transition period toward the modern movement in Scottish Architecture and is one of the first buildings in Scotland with a reinforced concrete frame. Its large bronze and steel framed windows reflective of its social purpose, bringing both natural light and a sense of wellbeing, the introduction of new technologies also evidenced by the hybrid of modern and traditional roof materials and concrete rear façade. Its high quality materiality and statuary emphasises the collaborative spirit of architecture and art at that time and images of mother and child emphasises its social purpose.

The building was built and bequeathed to the people of Paisley in 1920 for a neonatal health centre, with an impressive hall and marble stair and lift leading to largely cellular treatment accommodation in the wings. Its use of daylight was also pioneering with large expanses of cast acid etched glass lighting the outer rooms. A roof lit central atrium combined with reflective materials enriched the interior and reinforced its social purpose of health and well being.

Building on the work done in the options appraisal the Institute has now been adapted as a drop-in centre and contemporary facility for Renfrewshire Council and Skills Development Scotland. This involving a careful transformation of the cellular spaces to a series of linear open plan offices, introduction of a new reception and conference facilities with improvements throughout for accessibility, all while retaining its significant features and materiality.

The process and completed work came from a willingness by the whole project team to understand the value already in the building, combining to enable solutions that integrated restoration strategies with design proposals that maximised the client’s request for functionality – whilst all along ensuring the restoration and enhancement of spacial qualities of this historic asset, its rich materials and unique identity.

Project Team: Elder + Cannon Architect, Arup Scotland, Gardiner+ Theobald, Blackett Ord,
Contractor: CBC
Client: Renfrewshire Council
End User: Renfrewshire Council, Skills Development Scotland
Funders: Sc Gov Regeneration Capital Grant Fund, Historic Env Scotland, balance from Renfrewshire Council

Supporting Statement

The Russell Institute was and remains a much loved building. It was gifted to the people of Paisley to be run as a health centre for children and it fulfilled that purpose, latterly as part of the NHS, for over 80 years. When the building was no longer required by the NHS its historic layout made it difficult to source a new tenant, becoming vacant from 2011. With the Building's origin set deep in the cultural and social history of the town, its plight brought together the community and the Council to seek a new purpose for this key heritage asset located at the heart of Paisley Town Centre.

The project represents a strong example of community led regeneration, where the initial work and feasibility study undertaken by the Paisley Development Trust in 2012 to assess how the building could be used as a community/enterprise hub the outcome of which and subsequent engagement with Renfrewshire Council led to the suitable proposition for the building as a Skills and Employability Hub.

The project's aim was to restore and repair the historic fabric of The Russell Institute and modernise the accommodation to provide accessible, attractive, safe and flexible office space that would suit a broad range of users from the public, private or voluntary sector, activating the Ground Floor for Public engagement. By doing so the building can accommodate up to 150 jobs to the benefit of the local economy and town centre, thus sustaining its future.

The approach to the project was holistic, providing for multiple physical, economic and social outcomes. This involved not only the physical restoration and reuse of the building, but the safeguarding of existing jobs and the creation of new employment opportunities. The new end use of the building as a Skills and Employability Hub represent both an economic and social outcome, providing a tailored intervention to link economic opportunity and need. In addition, the enhancement of the town centre environment and the reuse of an iconic building rooted in the cultural fabric of the town represent strong social outcomes.

The successful delivery of the project has once again re-engaged The Russell Institute's contextual importance: with its location, its social and architectural significance offering a key opportunity to maximise the historic and cultural assets of the town centre as a catalyst for wider, ongoing, regeneration of the Paisley town centre.