Marischal College in Aberdeen, one of the largest, and finest, granite buildings in the world, has been restored to the ‘Silver City’s’ skyline once again, after a major £40 million redevelopment by Holmes Miller Architects.
Following the successful completion of a two-year long restoration and upgrade, the soaring silver-white granite landmark has re-emerged as the new HQ for Aberdeen City Council. 1400 staff in total, from various council premises around the city, are due to move into the building over the coming months.
At 400ft long and 80ft high, Marischal College is the world’s second largest granite building after El Escorial Palace in Madrid. The former University of Aberdeen building was constructed at a time when Aberdeen was exporting more granite than it was using on its own buildings. Built in two stages, the first, a three-sided quadrangle in a stiff Tudor Gothic style with tracery windows and smooth granite ashlar finishes, was designed by Archibald Simpson in 1841. The second stage, by London based Alexander Marshall Mackenzie, is believed to have been influenced by Charles Barry's designs for the Houses of Parliament, one of the most prominent examples of secular gothic architecture in Britain. Mackenzie's addition saw Greyfriars Church removed to create a grand frontage on to the city’s Broad Street with Simpson's original entrance tower extended to create a prominent city centre landmark.
“At a time when Scotland was expanding with confidence the 'skyscraper-perpendicular Gothic' style encapsulated both the religious idealism and the civic confidence of the late 19th century Scotland,” explains Douglas Jack, Holmes Miller Project Partner. “It was also the ideal style to show what granite could achieve with the delicate tracery and sculpted pinnacles.”
Having remained empty for a number of years, Aberdeen City Council made the decision to develop it as its headquarters, and appointed Holmes Architects to lead the restoration and upgrade in 2007. The first stage of the two-year construction, which came in on time and on budget, saw a lengthy process of façade retention, a strip out of most of the internals, and the reconfiguration of granite stonework. Given the 'A' listed status of the building every removed stone was accounted for and every process scrutinised.
Many of the building’s unique historical features have been restored. These include: the oak panelled Senate Rooms (now the city’s main civil wedding venue); the granite entrance pend; large-scale leaded glass windows; and the North West tower. The grand central collegiate style quadrangle, formerly used as a car park, has been reinstated as a key civic space by means of high quality Caithness and granite landscaping, and a central processional route from Broad Street through the reinvigorated Marischal College complex. This central route is highlighted with two rows of specialist lighting bollards and computer-controlled fountains that will operate in pattern and are lit from below with LED coloured lighting.
Internally, in order to make the building viable to any form of business, it was necessary to maximise the usable floor space. As a result two extra floors have been added by reconfiguring the floor levels and installing new roof level accommodation, clad in natural zinc that blends with the granite masonry. The roof edge details have been carefully worked out to minimise the visual impact of the new structure above the existing masonry parapets.
“One of the greatest challenges in the redesign of a historic building is how the design and arrangement of internal spaces are suited for a modern environment and how they integrate with existing structure, fenestration and historical details,” continues Douglas Jack. “At Marischal College, Holmes saw this as paramount to the design, and this is evident firstly at the granite arched main entrance, located in the building’s six storey high, West Wing. In order to overcome the separation of the two North and South Wings of the building, the original vehicle pend was filled in with a delicate frameless glazing system creating a grand internal space whilst maintaining the views through to the courtyard.”
Towards the North Wing of the building the floor plate becomes too deep for sufficient light penetration. Subsequently, roof lights and a full height void have been inserted to allow a shaft of light deep into the heart of the building. This atrium space accommodates two rebuilt windows at either end taken from the original building, which creates a focus for views and a reminder of the existing building exterior.
In terms of materials, the primary interior spaces adjacent to the entrance, the Reception and Customer Services Centre, are characterised by white lined walls, Kemnay granite flooring and granite detailing to add texture and context. A range of booths and desks has also been designed to help streamline the daily workings of the Council and the people they serve, aiming to create a pleasant, stress-free experience.
An extensive cleaning process was carried out on the granite building to remove over 100 years of dirt and pollution. Crucially, all granite used in the fabric of the building is indigenous, with the project securing the last of the granite stockpiled from the local Kemnay quarry. 90% of the 4,200 tones of demolition material were also recycled, and in terms of sustainability the completed building has received an Excellent BREEAM rating.
Douglas Jack concludes: “While looking at this the newly cleaned building, it reminds us what it must have been like in 1906 at the grand opening ceremony, where the building reached to the sky as an example of ordered purity amongst the drab collection of buildings in the surrounding area and once again Marischal College confidently fulfils its place as an icon of the 'Silver City'. The cleaned granite symbolises the rebirth of this fine building from a vacant and deteriorating college to a new and vibrant local government civic centre.”
Marischal College received a Commendation in the Conservation category at the GIA Design Awards 2011