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Civic Square, Motherwell Civic Centre

A Category B Listed Building in Motherwell South East and Ravenscraig, North Lanarkshire

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Coordinates

Latitude: 55.7847 / 55°47'4"N

Longitude: -3.9833 / 3°58'59"W

OS Eastings: 275725

OS Northings: 656374

OS Grid: NS757563

Mapcode National: GBR 01MK.F6

Mapcode Global: WH4QQ.SVDS

Plus Code: 9C7RQ2M8+VP

Entry Name: Civic Square, Motherwell Civic Centre

Listing Name: Motherwell Civic Centre complex, comprising Municipal Offices including 6-storey office block and adjoining ranges (excluding interiors), projecting circular council chamber (including interior and ex

Listing Date: 2 December 2020

Category: B

Source: Historic Scotland

Source ID: 407337

Historic Scotland Designation Reference: LB52545

Building Class: Cultural

Location: Motherwell and Wishaw

County: North Lanarkshire

Town: Motherwell And Wishaw

Electoral Ward: Motherwell South East and Ravenscraig

Traditional County: Lanarkshire

Description

Motherwell Civic Centre complex is an extensive group of interconnected Modernist public buildings near the centre of Motherwell. It was designed 1961-63 by Peter L. A. Williams of Wylie, Shanks and Partners for the Burgh of Motherwell and Wishaw Town Council, and built 1964-69 by Whatlings (Buildings) Ltd contractors.

The complex includes municipal offices and council chamber, a former magistrates court and registrar's office, a split-deck shopping area and office block (Civic Square) to the north, and a public concert hall and theatre on lower ground to the west. The buildings are set back from the road within a multi-level, hard-landscaped site to the east side of Motherwell town centre.

The municipal offices are horizontally proportioned slab blocks of reinforced concrete frame construction using standardised building units. The main six-storey block is narrow with asymmetrically opposing, semi-octagonal end elevations. Extending from the west and north sides of the six-storey tower are long and low, three-storey blocks that link the taller buildings on the site as well as the upper and lower level open spaces. Material finishes include smooth-cast concrete cladding with vertical fluting, polished brown stone aggregate surrounds, granite columns, timber boarding and 'Eau de Nil' green panelling.

The raised council chamber is in mushroom form, projecting out towards Windmillhill Street. Windowless and supported on a single squat concrete pylon, it adjoins the six-storey office at first and second floor level. The chamber interior has been refurbished, retaining its cantilevered balcony and bespoke ceiling light fixtures. A cylindrical glazed stair-tower, added to the north side of the council chamber in 1999, is excluded from the listing.

To the north of the site is Civic Square which consists of a five-storey slab block arranged perpendicular to the other office blocks. The two lower levels of the block have rows of six recessed shop units, with split-level pedestrian deck access. The oversailing offices on the upper floors are supported by exposed pillars (pilotis) of granite aggregate.

On the lower ground to the west is the Motherwell Concert Hall and Civic Theatre (refurbished, 2011). This is a two-storey, rectangular-plan, low-level building with a glazed corridor walkway at first-floor level. This corridor extends around the perimeter of the two auditoriums. The back-to-back theatre and concert hall auditoriums share back-of-stage facilities. The roof, swept up at an angle at the fly tower, is faced with ribbed dark brown aggregate panels. Metal canopies were added above both entrances and lifts were added to the southwest side of the building in 2011. Both theatre and concert hall auditoriums retain their shaped-timber panelled ceilings, lighting fixtures and projecting brick baffles to modulate the acoustics. The windows have powder-coated metal-frames. Access lifts were added to the southwest side of the building before 2011.

Areas of public realm hard landscaping around the civic centre buildings, including plazas, walkways, stairs and deck areas, form part of the original designs. To the east of the Concert Hall is a large rectangular-plan central plaza (geometric paving pattern added after 1990). From the plaza, a pedestrian pend passes under the three-storey office block to a sunken garden area with border planting (formerly with pond and fountains) which runs parallel to Windmillhill Street. The centrepiece of the split-level pedestrian deck at Civic Square is a circular opening in the upper deck with a beech tree growing through it.

The free-standing clock tower, located on the pavement at the corner of Windmillhill Street and Airbles Road, is square plan and has vertically fluted concrete cladding matching the slab block cladding.

In accordance with Section 1 (4A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997 the following are excluded from the listing: Interiors of the 6-storey office block, interiors of the adjoining ranges and interiors of Civic Square, the glazed stair tower addition to the council chamber and the lift shafts, metal fire-escapes and service addition to the fly tower of the Concert Hall and Civic Theatre.

Historical development

As part of the large-scale investment in Scotland's industrial central belt, a new administrative headquarters for Motherwell and Wishaw was proposed by the Town Council in 1953. The site at Windmillhill Street in Motherwell was chosen in 1959 as part of a proposed new civic centre development. Windmillhill was a small settlement absorbed by the expansion of Motherwell during the 19th century.

The design for the new civic centre was chosen by means of a nationwide two-stage competition, among the first competition on this scale in Scotland. Six designs were short-listed from a total of 63 entries. The winning submission was strongly influenced by earlier Modernist architectural designs which emerged in Continental Europe in the interwar and early post-war period. It was chosen unreservedly as an 'outstanding design and, as a work of architecture, a building of which the council can be justifiably proud' (Builder, Jan 1962).

The large site was cleared of all earlier buildings including several residential and commercial properties. Suggested improvements to the proposed design (Builder, 1962) were incorporated by the architects. Construction began on Motherwell Civic Centre (initially the Motherwell and Wishaw Civic Centre) in 1964. The slab blocks initially housed the Town Clerk's Department, the Town Planning Department, the Burgh Architect's Department, an apartment for the Provost, the Chamberlain's Department, the Parks and Burials Department, as well as various committee rooms, a large staff canteen and a public collection hall. The first meeting in the Council Chamber took place in January 1969, and the public assembly halls (Concert Hall and Civic Theatre) officially opened in 1970. The centre has remained a headquarters of local government in North Lanarkshire over 50 years of continuous use (2020).

Various later refurbishments have been made to the buildings and the associated landscaping. These changes accommodate changing working practices and moves toward decentralised systems of local governance. The combination teak and aluminium window frames throughout the slab block ranges have been replaced with white plastic units. Steps at the south end of the slab block range, and an adjacent area of landscaping, were removed for additional car park space in the 1990s. Two rows of trees were removed from the plaza and its paving pattern was changed after 1990. The Burgh of Wishaw and Motherwell coat of arms, in painted metal, was removed from the chamber exterior and replaced with a glazed stair tower. The Concert Hall and Civic Theatre building was refurbished in 2011. Replacement fixtures and fittings within the interior public spaces include the ticket desk and bar areas. Metal fire escapes and disabled access points are also later additions. The office space within the 6- and 5-storey slab blocks is now predominantly open-plan. The low block containing the former Magistrate's Court is currently unused (2020).

Statement of Interest

Motherwell Civic Centre meets the criteria of special architectural or historic interest for the following reasons:

In accordance with Section 1 (4A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997 the following are excluded from the listing: Interiors of the 6-storey office block, interiors of the adjoining ranges and interiors of Civic Square, the glazed stair tower addition to the council chamber and the lift shafts, metal fire-escape and service addition to the fly tower of the Concert Hall and Civic Theatre.

Architectural interest

Design

Motherwell Civic Centre is a major example of post-war Modernist architectural design in Scotland incorporating many of the movement's fundamental design principles. There is coherent expression of the building's functions through articulation of the plan form. The spatial arrangement of architectural components adheres to the essential Modernist theory that form should follow function. Other characteristics include the consistent and obvious use of standardised modern building components (in glass, concrete and steel) as well as the reduction of superfluous ornament. There is also close attention to horizontal and vertical composition which creates visual variety for both the building and its setting. This composition together with a range of distinctive architectural details, such as the asymmetrical ends of the narrow 6-storey office block, give the building an individual style while having the effect of reducing its apparent scale and mass.

The plan form of Motherwell Civic Centre is of special architectural interest, reflecting many key Modernist design principles. Attention is given to the space between the various components and the way the buildings and spaces relate and interact with each other across the multi-level site. The prominent placing of the Council debating chamber near the roadside signifies its functional importance.

Other features of interest include the integration of the multi-level decks and walkways, the use of pilotis to support the slab blocks at key locations such as underpasses and projecting end bays, and at the oversailing offices at Civic Square, providing canopy shelter along the length of the shop units. The Civic Centre is distinguished also by a variety of external spaces, with careful consideration given to pedestrian access and circulation, with various hard landscaped elements, altered in part by a later paving scheme (after 1990).

Close attention to detail and distinctive use of bespoke material finishes is evident and notable throughout the complex. The office slab blocks are dressed in an irregularly ribbed or fluted pre-cast cladding, off-set by other material treatments including brown stone and green panel colour finishes. The attention to detail also extends to the vehicular and pedestrian underpasses at the tower block and Concert Hall, with dark brown rusticated brick-work and lined timber ceilings.

The interior of the council chamber has been partly refurbished including the replacement of the dark timber wall panels with white panels that echo the original staggered design. The circular plan form and surviving features, including the bespoke ceiling lighting and cantilevered balcony/public gallery, demonstrate the chamber's civic function.

The public assembly hall (Concert Hall and Civic Theatre) to the west has a strong horizontal emphasis, which sets it apart from the verticality of the administrative parts of the complex, while maintaining the same range of material finishes as the rest of the group. The wide, glazed perimeter corridor, enveloping the two auditoriums, is a good expression of Modernist design principles. Functionally, the glazed corridor aids public circulation around the interior of the building, while simultaneously doing a great deal to articulate the exterior form of the building. The unusual back-to-back design of the two auditoriums is another innovative feature. The auditoriums are largely complete, retaining much of their original interior schemes including a shaped timber canopy lighting rig in the theatre. The ribbed roof and swept fly tower, irregularly fluted concrete panels (matching those of the office blocks) and projecting, in-situ concrete staircase supported on a concrete fin are all distinctive features that add to the Modernist design interest. There are some later additions and alterations to the interior, including remodelled ticket desks and other fixtures and fittings within the public entrance areas, bars and backstage dressing rooms, which are not of intrinsic special interest. Larger external interventions, including the access lift shafts and rooftop service addition, are specifically excluded from the listing.

The free-standing clock tower, using the same material finish as the slab blocks, is an integral feature of the design both architecturally and symbolically. The inclusion of a clock tower has been a device used historically at tollbooths and town halls, signifying the building as a centre of civic and administrative life. It is both functional and a representation of civil order and continuity.

The Modern Movement emerged in the earlier twentieth century in Europe when prominent figures – including key theorists and figureheads such as architects Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe - established their reputations. As an ideological movement (rather than the visual 'style') the architects of the Modern Movement sought to bring about positive societal and cultural change through regulated, design-led town planning and public building schemes. It was not until after the Second World War that the style gained momentum in Scotland and the rest of the UK. Many of the large-scale building projects of the post-war period were publicly funded to stimulate regeneration and at the same time promoted the egalitarian and progressive ideals of the newly established Welfare State.

The lead architect of the Motherwell Civic Centre is also of interest as the designer of these buildings. The Scottish architectural practice of Wylie Shanks and Wylie (later partners) became early advocates of the Modernist Movement in Scotland during the late 1950s and early 1960s, particularly in Glasgow. Peter L. A. Williams (1922-2004) joined in 1951, becoming a partner in 1954. Iain McLaren of Wylie Shanks and Partners has noted that Williams' style of architecture was profoundly influenced by Le Corbusier and by his travels to France, Sweden, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland (Embedded Modernism, Vol.3). Williams was lead designer on several landmark Modernist buildings in Glasgow including the former Stow Colleges of Building and Printing, 1959-63 (LB48414) and of Distributive Trades, 1957-63 (LB4413) both of which are listed at category B. Wylie Shanks and Partners won a Civic Trust Award for the Motherwell and Wishaw Civic Centre in 1973 (Dictionary of Scottish Architects).

The level of architectural authenticity is high across the complex. Taking account of the various later interventions to the site outlined under Historical Development (2.3) and alterations to the office interiors, the buildings largely retain their original form and materials as well as their group interest.

Setting

Motherwell Civic Centre is one of the town's most prominent architectural landmarks, occupying a large area of high ground at Windmillhill Street in the centre of the town. The contrast of long, low buildings punctuated by higher blocks, and incorporating areas of hard landscaping and public space, adds to its overall prominence.

The spatial organisation of the various components as a group of functionally, physically and stylistically related modern public buildings is part of its setting. The complex is designed to be viewed in the round, with architectural interest evident at every elevation.

The Civic Centre is part of a wider programme of regenerative urban planning for Motherwell during the 1960s and '70s. This plan includes the redeveloped town centre at Brandon Street to the north, Motherwell Police Station (on the opposite side of Windmillhill Street), and substantial residential development to the west. The Civic Centre is a key component within this setting by virtue of its scale and its design which exploits the natural slope of the site across a generous plot. There has been little alteration to the immediate setting within this site itself since the completion of the complex in 1969.

The setting together with the surrounding urban fabric contributes to our understanding of the historic function of the Civic Centre as an ambitious post-war building of local administration and public service at the heart of Motherwell.

Historic interest

Age and rarity

The term 'civic centre' emerged in the inter-war period for new purpose-built civic complexes within towns and cities which combine municipal offices with other public buildings. The increase in buildings for civic administrative and public service in towns and cities was the result of important changes in local government supported by legislative change.

The Local Government (Scotland) Act 1947 divided local government structure into centralised county and burgh administrative areas, while the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1947 set the foundations of modern town and country planning. These Acts significantly reduced the number of individual planning authorities across Scotland and gave them wide-ranging powers, especially in the acquisition and development of land. In the years after the Second World War, as the newly-formed local authorities were charged with the task of rebuilding and regenerating their town centres, they became important patrons of new architecture. The era was characterised by an unprecedented level of collaboration between architects, town planners, civil servants and developers across the public and private sectors.

Each local authority created new administrative centres in the 1960s and 70s and these types of developments are common to every large urban centre in Scotland. The degree of architectural quality and size depended on local circumstances. The larger purpose-built civic developments during this period were designed to bring together a range of municipal functions. This gave architects the opportunity to conceive carefully grouped buildings and spaces, in an integrated and architecturally inventive way, for civic administration and public amenity. These specialised buildings were the modern equivalent to the great city chambers and town halls built in the second half of the 19th century.

Many major civic centres and government administration buildings built between 1948 and 1980 have been demolished as Scottish local authorities adopt decentralised and geographically dispersed models of local governance (2020). Only a small number of architecturally distinctive Modernist civic administrative centres in Scotland, identified as major public commissions of the period, are known to retain their architectural interest (2020). While civic buildings in general are not rare, the degree of architectural interest and the extent to which the buildings survive as originally designed will be of interest for listing.

Among the best of this new wave of civic architecture in Scotland is the Lanark County Buildings in Hamilton (1959-64, listed at category A, LB34472) which was modelled on the United Nations building (1952) in New York. Another Modernist set-piece was St Nicholas House in Aberdeen (demolished, 2017), the design of which was influenced by the Lever Building (1952) in New York. Similar largely intact sites with architectural interest include the Brunton Theatre and Municipal Offices (1964-70) in Musselburgh, East Lothian by William Kininmonth which is equivalent in scale and ambition to the Motherwell Civic Centre and smaller scaled buildings such as council headquarters in Newton St Boswells and Stornoway.

Elsewhere in Scotland, this type of building has been found to be extensively altered. One of the more complex sites, bringing together a range of functions, was Paisley Civic Centre (1963-69 by Hutchison, Locke and Monk). It has been substantially remodelled and partly demolished in recent years. Another large contemporary project was Cumbernauld New Town Centre Phase One (1963-67 by Geoffrey Copcutt). This was a concrete megastructure (almost a town in itself) with a motorway running through the centre. It received international recognition for its radical vision of catering to the civic requirements of its citizens in a new way. While Town Centre Phase One retains elements of structural and architectural interest in parts, it was never completed as initially intended and has since been remodelled.

Other sites in Scotland applying similar design principles but are less distinctive architecturally are the groups of municipal buildings at Falkirk, Tranent and East Kilbride.

Within the context of this building type, Motherwell Civic Centre is distinguished as a major purpose-built example of civic architecture in Scotland, strongly influenced by key design principles of the European Modern Movement. It is one of a very small number of major civic commissions of architectural distinction in Scotland which survive largely intact.

Social historical interest

Motherwell is a typical example of the towns which came into being in the second half of the 19th century in Lanarkshire's industrial belt (Buildings of Scotland, p.397). State-led investment in the town after the Second World War was on an immense scale. Efforts to revive the coal and steel industries in the region, including the construction of nearby Ravenscraig Steel Mill around 1960, were carried out in tandem with the substantial remodelling of the town shopping district, the construction of the Motherwell Civic Centre, and a raft of local-authority housing developments.

The goal of the Council was to create 'an ultra-modern nerve centre of the new-look burgh of the future' using a 'new standard of building construction' (Architects Journal, 1962). The new Civic Centre in Motherwell was described by the Council as 'an incentive to themselves and to other developers in relation to the large-scale rebuilding projects that lay ahead'. In other words, the Centre was intended as an exemplary building, which others could learn from and follow.

The rebuilding of Motherwell town centre and the creation of Ravenscraig Steel Mill was a targeted effort by decision-makers to address depopulation and retain skilled labour. Within this context, the Motherwell Civic Centre is a central component of North Lanarkshire's post-war rebuilding programme, evidencing a wide range of historical interest in terms of the economic, social and political context of its time.

The innovative two-stage competition process used to choose the design for Motherwell Civic Centre became an accepted procedure by government and other institutions charged with appointing architects for large-scale rebuilding projects. In this case, the Scottish Home Department worked alongside the Burgh of Wishaw and Motherwell Town Council throughout the competition process.

Motherwell Civic Centre illustrates the wider post-war trend of centralised local government, the emergence of the welfare state, and the shared vision and collaboration of town planners, architects, contractors and developers that town centres could be made better for their inhabitants by design.

Association with people or events of national importance

There is no association with a person or event of national importance.

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