Muscatelli on Western Infirmary site redevelopment

Published

Louise Wilson

Guardian: What would you personally like to see done with the Western Infirmary site?

Muscatelli: I think it’s important that it’s not just the Western Infirmary site, and that’s why when we started the campus vision programme it was not simply about adding a few more buildings to our existing estate. We really wanted to take it as an opportunity to consult fully with all students; staff; the West End community; the city council and all our stakeholders to say this is a fantastic opportunity for us to really look at the campus and reshape it, we really want to consult from the start.

The sort of themes that are very important to me personally, but without prejudging the consultation in any way. I think it’s a fantastic opportunity for us to see what sort of spaces we need in terms of learning and teaching, for the future, and the spaces that we need for research.

One of the things that was coming through from the earlier consultations was open space – what the campus looks like. We’ve been very lucky here in getting a campus in Gilmorehill. We have the Gilbert Scott building, that’s been a very iconic building, and I think people will want to develop something which is still valued in 50, 100, 200 years time. So I think, it’s a simply fantastic opportunity to say: “what do we need as a community?”

Guardian: How much was the Western Infirmary site bought for?

Muscatelli: We’re not disclosing the fee or the purchase price just yet because we are still concluding 4 acres. One thing I can say, as you’re probably aware, is 10 acres already belonged to the university before they were ceded, and so that history clearly has been taken into account. It’s also important, partly because of the history, partly also because we have purchased the land really for educational, and not for commercial use. That’s clearly influenced the decision.

Guardian: What is the budget for the redevelopment of the site? And what is the timescale of the redevelopment?

Muscatelli: It highly depends on what the vision is. It’s going to be substantial and it’s going to be over a long timescale of course, because if you think of Gilmorehill, this building was built in the period between 1870s – 1880s, but then we built the whole site up over 40 or 50 years. It probably won’t take us 40 or 50 years, but we’ve got to remember it’s about the whole campus, it’s not just about putting new buildings on there. We can’t set a timetable until we’ve finished the scoping out of the vision, but it’s certainly going to be more than a decade.

Over the next 5 years we’re planning on new building spending of over £55 million on refurbishments, so that gives you an idea of the scale, that’s £135 million over the next five years. And that’s before we get access to the site. I think what’s important about that is if you think of the university as spending about between £20-30 million a year anyway on new buildings and refurbishment, then you will soon see that with a new site you’re talking about hundreds of million, which has a potentially remarkable impact. I compared it to being on the scale of the Commonwealth Games for Glasgow. That is roughly of the order of £200 million, so really we’re talking about something of that scale.

Guardian: Why is this such an important investment for the University, particularly in the current economic climate?

Muscatelli: Physical infrastructure is important for what we do regardless of the economic climate. Those who came before us, generations before us, have left us this great legacy. We’re also very lucky because we have a city-based university with a campus, very few city-based universities like ours have a single campus, so we have an ideal opportunity to develop it, regardless of what times we’re in.

I think in times of the economic climate, there is a win-win here, because the University of Glasgow counts for about 0.5% of Scotland’s GDP and about 3.6% of the west of Scotland’s GDP, roughly. In times like this, when the economy is still stagnating, I think the numbers point it out: it’s a real opportunity for capital investment and really help the local economy. From my point of view, it’s right for us, because it’s an opportunity of, not our lifetime, but many lifetimes, but it also happens to be at a time when it could be of great benefit, to the work, the jobs that will be created in infrastructure and apprentices.

I think this is why we’ve had some supportive comments. It’s great to see something like this, where everybody is aligned. The university community want to make best use of it, and want to see what the consultation brings.

Guardian: How much input have students had so far? How do you plan to engage with students in the future?

Muscatelli: The first consultation exercise as you know on the 20th February was held in the Welcome Point. I think that was important, getting input from the community, staff, students. Drop-in events are being managed by Estates & Buildings. I think going forward, we need everybody involved. We want to have continuous engagement, because this is really about big ideas and big themes. How open should the campus be? How should it relate to the surroundings? As we begin to develop and make these more concrete we’ll need to have continuous consultations. One of the things I would stress is that I think it’s really important that students get involved at this stage, individually and collectively, from the associations, the student unions. They really have a chance to shape the future, and that really doesn’t happen to that many generations of students. The initial stage of consultation closes on 8th March, but the Gilmorehill campus vision brochures and display materials will still be available in the Welcome Point so there’ll still be a way to have your say. Then after that we’ll go away, take these ideas, and begin to formulate some options.

Guardian: What kind of new facilities can we expect to see appear on campus with the additional space?

Muscatelli: It’s difficult to pre-empt it, it’s really over to what students and staff will want. Repeating what I’ve heard in feedback from individuals, I’m getting a feeling that people don’t only care about the building, but they really care about the overall look of the campus. We’re also looking for good, modern and forward-looking learning facilities, social learning spaces. I think the other thing that we’re getting back is that people also care not only about the direct benefits on the student community, so things like cultural assets. I’ve mentioned the Gilbert Scott building, we all know how much we value it. We must ask ourselves the question: how do we make use of the cultural assets in the new campus vision? I can’t really go into any more specifics because it depends what comes out of the consultation.

Guardian: The Boyd Orr building in particular is seen as an eyesore. What can we expect to happen to the future of the Boyd Orr?

Muscatelli: What’s interesting to me is that some people say it’s an eyesore, others have actually said they liked it – so there’s a divided opinion even on that. One of the things that the Boyd Orr provides at the moment, which we’ll need to address, is that it’s a very efficient use of space, so I think we will need to listen to people in the consultation. Do they want to replace these high density buildings? Or do we want to do something as we did with library, which is regular refurbishments, recreate the right sort of spaces through the cladding that’s currently happening?

We value some of these existing assets.I think that will vary from building to building; some will be ones we can make use of, because people find them useful and effective, and others perhaps they’ll say well really we need to replace them. These are exactly the sorts of important issues.

Guardian: The GUU is obviously being redeveloped, replacing the Extension. However, the QMU is also is need of some attention. Will the redevelopment of the Western Infirmary site address the QMU?

Muscatelli: One of the things which is absolutely central to the plans is our students. I don’t think it would be appropriate to say this is where the Union should be on the future campus, because again I think that’s all part of the consultation. And it’s partly about what other things would be around it, and so I would rather emphasise that whenever we’ve tried to do things which involves proximity with the Unions. If you take the Stephenson extension as an example, it’s been in partnership, and that goes for both Unions. We’ll certainly factor in what the Unions will need, and also what the SRC will need in terms of going forward.

Guardian: The last major redevelopment of the University, in 1870, entirely relocated the campus. How large a significance will the extra 15 acres have on the campus as we know it today?

Muscatelli: I’ve always said it’s as significant as when the first college of the university was built, as you probably know when we were formed we didn’t have a college of our own, we met in the Cathedral. And then a college was built, and then we built Gilmorehill. So it’s one of those highly significant phases, I see it as something on that basis.

What the development of Gilmorehill did was to guarantee future development by moving the campus from the centre of town. That’s what I see the Western Infirmary doing for us. I see us being able to fulfil not only the ambitions of Glasgow, but we need to try and look ahead at the next 2 or 3 strategic plans as far as we can, and say: “What is it that future generations of students of Glasgow will need?” It’s a fantastic opportunity, certainly on the scale of moving here. It’s hugely exciting times, being able to establish ourselves even more firmly as a campus university within the city. Guaranteeing that for many future generations is the biggest theme that we have. If we hadn’t had this opportunity, then as we expanded we would have had real constraints.