There is a zone of Glasgow so studded with culture and architecture, so richly fertilised with public investment, while also blessed by nature with the noble breadth of the Clyde, that it ought to be a wonder of the world.
This zone, once full of shipyards, now contains the work of two Pritzker prize winners – Norman Foster and Zaha Hadid – and a probable Pritzker-winner-in-waiting, David Chipperfield.
Over the last 12 years, it has acquired a convention centre, two museums and the headquarters of BBC Scotland, a swoopy new bridge and a jaunty observation mast by the not-half-bad architect Richard Horden.
But no one standing here could be exhilarated, moved or transformed by what they see. No one would say: “This is a nice place.” It is like an underplanned business estate, a landscape of things set in car parks, no matter what the architectural merit of each thing might be. In the gaps between the monuments and the car parks are inserted expedient slabs of commerce or the perfunctory ingratiation of exploitative blocks of flats. There is no coherence, no positive quality to the sum of the parts or to the combinations of one with another. This is not to question the achievement of the Riverside Museum of Transport and Travel , designed by Zaha Hadid Architects , or the pleasure to be had from its wonderful models of battleships and liners, its trams, cars, motorcycles and its giant steam locomotive built in Glasgow for South African Railways and now returned to its native city.
It is one of Hadid’s most direct buildings, essentially a big, column-free shed mutated in two ways. First, its roof line is a jagged range of peaks and troughs, like Alps or gables abstracted to a cartoon; second, the shed is bent twice in plan, so that it takes the form of Z-shaped tube, whose end cannot be seen from the beginning. The profile of the cartoon Alps/gables is extruded through the length of the Z, as if squeezed from a gothic tube of toothpaste.
Its underside forms the pleated ceiling of the shed, with strong horizontal lines leading you through the space. There are big, glass walls at each end: one is the entrance, the other frames a view of the tall ship Glenlee, moored outside. The museum is mostly about interior. Outside, it is, typologically, a supermarket, being a big thing in a car park seeking to attract you in. There are signs that tell you that this is a more serious piece of architecture than most supermarkets, such as its air of intent and the degree of care in shaping zinc panels around the complex external shape, but, like a retail shed, it does not give much to its surroundings. Great, grey and curving, it has enigma and majesty, but not friendliness. The landscaping that clings to its flanks currently looks forlorn, although may appear less so once the trees have grown a bit. To be inward-looking might be necessary, given the wilderness in which the museum stands. At a distance is a huddle of credit-crunched flats, and between them and the museum some scrub awaiting transformation into a shopping development. In the other direction, across more empty space, are the Foster and Chipperfield buildings. All the emptiness is to be developed by the Peel Group, which recently featured on these pages as the builders of the BBC’s new offices in Salford . It is possible that it will do a better job than was done around the Foster conference centre, but there is not yet concrete evidence that it will.