‘You don’t get involved in a project like this for the glory or the money’

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Keppie was working on an extension at Glasgow’s SEC events centre when the brief changed dramatically. Elizabeth Hopkirk hears from the architects

Architect David Ross moves into his garden to try and improve the phone signal. Lockdown was announced a month ago but it’s only his second day of working from home, with all its frustrations.

For the three weeks before our first crackly conversation he had spent every waking hour at Glasgow’s SEC Centre, part of the hastily assembled team that converted it into the NHS Louisa Jordan, Scotland’s answer to England’s Nightingale hospitals. It opened two days before we speak and he is still buzzing as he describes how they pulled it off – and what he hopes that means for procurement reform.

His practice, Keppie, is one of Scotland’s most venerable. Founded in 1854, it counts Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the visionary behind some of Scotland’s most famous buildings, among its former principals. The firm now works around the world, with hospitals in China and the Middle East under its belt.

It also has the unusual distinction of being the architect of Scotland’s first NHS hospital and now its newest, both created with the existential threat of their day in mind. The Cold War’s defensively low-slung Vale of Leven Hospital was designed in 1952 to survive the horizontal blast of an atomic bomb being dropped on the Clyde’s submarine bases.

As 2020’s pandemic worsened and news of the first Nightingales broke, Ross’s fellow director Colin Carrie contacted NHS Scotland to offer Keppie’s help as an architect with decades of experience of hospital design and one that was already on the appropriate health framework. Carrie also admits he thought, “I’ll be annoyed if any architects other than Keppie and myself get involved”.

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