Makeover for Joseph Black

Work will start this month on a £34million refurbishment of the iconic 1930s Joseph Black Building.

University Court approved the capital plan for the project in December last year.

The major investment will give the A-listed, ‘art moderne’ building a new lease of life, preserving its heritage by renewing the infrastructure and refurbishing the fabric of the building.

University Court has now endorsed the first phase of work which will amount to around £14million of investment. The focus of this work is the repair and replacement of windows, stonework and brickwork. This work will take around 3 years to complete as we will need to phase the work to minimise the impact on students and staff. Initial work will involve the surveying and procuring bespoke external elements over the summer.

Former glory

In addition to the external work, the University will also be refurbishing laboratory space for Dr Serena Corr’s Functional Nanomaterials Lab and improving fire safety in some of the areas around the stairs and stair blocks.

Graham Tobasnick, Project Sponsor said, “I am very pleased to have received approval from University Court which will mean work on this building can start this month. This is a fantastic Grade 1 listed structure, so it’s important that we maintain the fabric and ensure it is suitable for the changing needs of building users. I am very aware however that work of this nature could be disruptive and we will focus on ensuring this is kept to a minimum and communicating to ensure the schedule will suit building users.

The intention is to restore the building to its former glory, starting with the exterior. We’ll be taking off redundant plant, cleaning brickwork and restoring where required, making the building look much more attractive. Longer term, we hope to deliver further upgrades and are currently scoping phase two of the programme.”

Phased refurbishment

The current work is just the first phase of refurbishment for the Joseph Black Building. The project team is currently scoping the second phase and this is likely to include, an upgraded Professor Dave Adams Material Science Lab. If phase two is approved, the full refurbishment programme will be delivered over the next 5 years, in phase 1a of the Campus Development Capital Plan.

Regular updates will be available here as work progresses.

It was in March 1934 that University Court began considering a new, permanent home for the Chemistry department. The project was costed at £200,000. A short-list of architects was compiled and the ensuing competition was won in March 1936 by T. Harold Hughes, a well-known English architect who had settled, married and made a career in Scotland.

 • The University of Glasgow Story - T. Harold Hughes

Work began in 1937 despite rising costs and worries about the looming threat of war. Although the first two blocks were completed by autumn 1939, an official opening was abandoned when war was declared on 3 September. The completed ‘Chemistry Institute’ was eventually opened in March 1954. The building was renamed after the pioneering Joseph Black in 1997.

You can read more in Nick Hayne’s ‘Building Knowledge’ (Historic Scotland in association with the University of Glasgow.) Available from the University Shop.

Image of the original design for the Joseph Black building

First published: 10 April 2017

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