Kinning Park Complex – ADC

Richard Lavington applauds New Practice’s sympathetic and intelligent reworking of a vital, multi-use community resource in Glasgow Southside.


Timber and glass screens painted a vibrant yellow subdivide spaces for resident artists and social enterprises on the top floor

Kinning Park Complex is an organisation that has operated in the Kinning Park area of Glasgow’s Southside as a community centre since the 1970s. It provides a key piece of social infrastructure to the area as a multi-use community space. Community, citizenship, creativity and wellbeing now form the pillars of activity within the newly completed adaptation of the existing building by Glasgow and London-based New Practice. Recognised for their inclusive and participatory practice, this is their largest completed building to date. If there was ever a more vital moment for this facility it is now, as we emerge from the collective societal bruising of Covid into a cost-of-living crisis.

The project is located in a distinct neighbourhood characterised by what is left of a grid of typical Glasgow perimeter blocks, comprising fine red sandstone tenements and old industrial buildings, along with more recent sheds and 2-4 storey brick housing from the regeneration initiatives of the 1980s onwards. For many years, the area was overshadowed by the decline of the city’s industry and the blight of the M8 motorway, which runs to the south, severing Kinning Park from the neighbourhoods to the south and east.


The visually striking rooflight has been carefully refurbished, with double-glazed units added and the surrounding roof insulated.

In 1976, the former school building became Kinning Park Neighbourhood Centre providing the local community with vital space for gathering and shared learning. Following a period of significant decline in the building’s fabric and a lack of investment, the council (then Strathclyde Region) decided to close the facility in 1996. It was at this point that the community stepped in.

A group of supporters, mainly consisting of mothers and activists from across the city, participated in a 55 day and night occupation of the building resulting in the council agreeing to grant a lease to the community and in doing so secured the building’s future as a community resource. Roll on to the end of the second decade of the 21st century and the building was again leaking badly with a frequently failing heating system. The community organisation embarked on the journey to take ownership of the building, in turn allowing it to raise capital investment from various pots of public funding for the refurbishment. The project is a testament to community activism complemented by the collaborative approach of the architects.


The approach from Kinning Park Subway Station on the other side of the street is puzzling. The building sits at the back of the pavement but with no door to the street, apparently a public building in its architecture but with no obvious front door, or any door. The existing building is a Glasgow–scaled, three-storey red sandstone former board school dating from 1910.

The entrance is now via a gate in the expressive new bright yellow railings to the left of the building. It is a beautifully sunny day and the yellow railings are luminous but still awaiting their window box-like planters, which will be an outward expression of how the community cares for this asset.


The existing red brick building was constructed in 1916 as an addition to Lambhill Street Primary School

There I meet Marc Cairns and Becca Thomas, the two principals of New Practice and lead architects for the redevelopment. They are catching up with members of the community now that reoccupation of the building is in full swing.

We go on into the former playground to the rear of the building where the entrance is revealed. I learn that the building was only an annex to the original school, which was entered on the other side of the urban block. This explains the entry from the playground side facing the original school. The building was historically entered via two symmetrical entrances, one GIRLS and the other BOYS, the stone relief lettering remaining above the doors.

Board schools of this period were generally entered from their playgrounds rather than directly from the street, therefore they don’t often form part of the perimeter of an urban block. It is interesting to compare the typology of this building to the best known of the Glasgow board schools of this period, which is only a short distance to the east: the Scotland Street School by Charles Rennie Mackintosh.


The generously proportioned converted classrooms provide high levels of spatial flexibility. Each floor level has its own set of colours taken from tones revealed when the walls were stripped back to their original paintwork

Whilst a respectable public building of the era, the original Kinning Park building is clearly not of the calibre of the Scotland Street School. However, the typology has many things in common: a clearly organised plan of double-height classroom and hall spaces, lower mezzanines for the services spaces and two stairs and separate entrances or boys and girls. By contrast the Scotland Street school is set back from the street, behind Mackintosh’s distinctive railings and stone gateways.

As we enter via the nearest door, Becca explains that they considered moving the entrance to make it more visible but that the current location worked best for the internal organisation. Inside there is a generous and welcoming hall with a mezzanine above, the KPC office and reception to the right, the stairs to the left, and a lift conveniently ahead.

From here we can appreciate two of the key moves. The first has been to remove the extensive plasterboard boxing around the unusual double helix staircase and the second to introduce a lift allowing level access to all floors and mezzanines.

The cross sectional organisation of the original school was in two bays: a narrower bay that housed the stair and circulation with mezzanines for lower and smaller service spaces – all constructed of masonry with concrete floors; and a wider bay housing the double-height classrooms and halls constructed of masonry with timber floors, linings and sub-dividing screens.


The removal of later additions to the double helix staircase has revealed original turquoise blue and white dado tiling, as well as steel balusters with wrought iron flourishes beneath the handrail

The curiosity of the arrangement of the two stairs as a double helix is notable. Originally, the boys ascended on one spiral and girls on the other, always passing but never meeting. This theatrical quality to the stair is retained, as a heart for the building’s community, although now without any distinction in use of the two stairs. The stripping back of later additions has revealed the original turquoise blue and white dado tiling and tall steel balusters with their wrought iron flourishes below the flowing timber handrail that follows the stair and landings over the height of the building.

The budget for this project has always been tight, with many essential works required to make the building watertight, replace the defunct heating system and achieve access to all parts of the plan. Revealing this stair and the architectural quality of the original building is a clever way to use the budget and, although the two stairs are within a single space, the legibility of the circulation is transformed–something that was carefully discussed and agreed with Building Control.


Above the stair, the roof and its spectacular rooflight has been refurbished, the glazed elements replaced with double- glazed units and the roof insulated. The architects, out of principle, have reused and recycled elements of the existing building wherever possible. They might have been tempted to replace the windows. but these were one of the few parts of the building that had been upgraded in the era of council ownership, and were double glazed. So the decision was taken to refurbish and repaint the somewhat dated gold-tinted ironmongery hinting they are from another era. In fact, the only original window left was within a cleaner’s store behind a previously bricked up window opening. This has also been retained and repainted.

As previously noted, the height of the classrooms allows for a low mezzanine level to be accessed from intermediate landings on the stairs. This has meant that there were only really two places the lift could go to access all levels, and only one that was within the existing building envelope and therefore cheaper. This location works well to give clear legible circulation. However it places the lift in the wider bay of larger served spaces, and therefore has in part defined the strategy for planning these spaces across the three principle floors. The wider bay of the cross section adjacent to the street originally accommodated up to five classrooms on each level, reflected in the five bays of windows on the street elevation, and five doors through the spine wall at each level. These classroom bays were, or have at some stage been, combined to form larger halls of up to three bays. This structure has been respected and the built fabric of the original building retained where possible.


On the ground floor, the community kitchen and stores are grouped around the back of the lift, leaving the three bays to the north to form a large hall and community cafe or the flexibility to be divided into three smaller spaces with sliding folding partitions.

A hall occupies the central bay of three on the first floor, with smaller flexible workshop spaces to either end. Additionally at this level, there is a new multi-functional quiet space, for neurodiverse respite/meditation/prayer/breastfeeding.

On the top floor there are a range of different studios for artists and like-minded social enterprises in part to generate some income for Kinning Park Complex. The large painted timber and glass screens that divide the spaces at this level largely follow those of the previous use as artist studios and classrooms before that. At this level the timber screens have been painted in an intense warm yellow along with the skirtings and dado panelling. Each of the three principal levels has a different set of colours, and, as described by Becca and Marc, each is taken from paint tones that were revealed when the walls were stripped back to the original paintwork, but with the volume turned up a bit to give a more contemporary feel: blues and turquoise at ground level, and reds and pink on the middle floor.


For the practice’s biggest built project to date there have been many challenges– not least that the start date on site coincided with the first day of the first national lockdown. In Scotland this meant that all building sites were required to close.

All in all, this is a fine example of community-led project and the participatory design process of New Practice. The work is completely in support of the Kinning Park Complex and the delivery of its mission for the community. There is no ego in this architecture, it is clever and carefully thought through with the interests of the client and the community at its heart. A social and entrepreneurial approach that is about the ends that architecture can achieve.


Exposed services give the spaces an industrial aesthetic and make for ease of maintenance and future changes of use

The scheme works best when it reveals the inherent quality and dignity of the original architecture, while quietly reorganising it to facilitate the social ambitions of the client – an economic and sustainable approach to the reuse of the building. The budget was limited and in the longer term there will be more to do on the road to zero carbon. I hope that this will be an ongoing relationship between architect, client and building, and I look forward to seeing what New Practice does next.

Additional Images



Kinning Park Complex


New Practice

Structural Engineer

David Narro Associates

M&E consultant

Max Fordham

Project manager

James Martin Associates

Principal designer

Armour Construction Consultants

Building inspector

Glasgow City Council

Fire engineer

Atelier Ten

Main Contractor

Clark Contracts

Source: Architecture Today