“The history of Glasgow is profoundly interlinked with the history of the Clyde, and together they have informed the museum’s design. I wanted the building to reflect the importance of its location and allow for the innovative and inspirational display of its outstanding collection.”
– Zaha Hadid, Founder, Zaha Hadid & Architects
It was not the first time that Zaha Hadid had proved yet again why she is known as the “Queen of the Curves”, in 2011 when the Riverside Museum, Glasgow opened its doors to everyone. This structure featuring its “zig-zag” profile, not only in section but plan as well, lives up to the reputation of the architect’s style entirely. The site location plays an important role in defining the form and main concept of the design. The River Clyde and the city of Glasgow have a distinctive inheritance which dates back to its history.
The site sits at the junction of the two rivers Clyde and Kelvin, which epitomizes the museum’s design flowing from the city towards the river. This exhibits the zestful relationship of the museum with its context, as it can also be accessed upon by docking ships at the pier. Nonetheless, within this link between the city and river, the building redirects to generate a journey away from its surroundings into the world of exhibits, and this can be experienced by the curved internal path created inside the building as it acts as a middle-man between the city and the river.
As stated by the architect, the building is conceived as a section extrusion being open at both ends, and thus creating a tunnel-like feel for the users. The design could have been a simple linear path connecting the building and its setting, but would it have been Zaha Hadid’s design then? The answer is surely no. This composition creates a diverted linear path and leaves the main central area as an open and column-free space for the setting of the exhibits.
The cross-sectional outline or the “zig-zag” profile seen at both ends can either be interpreted as a cityscape or as an imitation of the form of waves on water. These outer waves have more than just an aesthetic purpose. It accommodates the support services required, thus offering more flexibility to the central space to display the museum’s world-class collection. Although, achieving such intricate curves gets extremely difficult and requires a lot of technical calculations. The building framework includes a series of latticed trusses made out of structural steel.
Talking about the metal roof design, Wolf Mangelsdorf, head of the structural engineering for the project, says “The angles of the roof could be adjusted as we went along to accommodate programmatic shifts beneath without destroying the design’s overall concept”. So technically, these folds created in the roof are designed to resist the vertical loads, or else they would collapse if not properly detailed out. Along with this, another key consideration was the wind loads acting as the maximum wind speed goes up to about 160 kmph (100 mph) in the area. To understand this in-depth and avoid any sort of failures in the future, the engineers carried out an analysis of the physical model known as the “Tunnel Analysis”. This was to study how the wind pressure distribution would work on such a structure and how to make the design better.
What is interesting to note is that visually it seems as if there is no support provided for this “Z-shaped” roof structure. But what lies beyond the sight of the naked eye is that the mullions provided for the full glazing at both the ends are acting as structural columns holding up the ends of the roof. These are hollow sections measuring just 2” (50mm) in elevation but are moderately deep for more support.
The facade which merges into the roof is covered with about 24,000 zinc panels. Other than its aesthetic purpose, these metal panels minimize air leakage along with a considerable amount of insulation which in turn decreases the demand for mechanical heating and cooling systems.
In the interior, the main central display gallery is a yellow-colored tunnel running about 150m (490 ft) long with a variety of pieces placed on the floor, large shelves attached to walls, or in the form of hanging installations. As mentioned in the start, this tunnel-like circulation is what helps connect the city to the river with exhibits to view on the way. The Museum has about 21,000 objects related to the various means of transportation and around 3,000 exemplary pieces from the collection displayed in special thematic sections.