Jennifer O’Donnell’s long relationship with Glasgow’s derelict Govan Graving Docks has evolved into an opportunity to work on a community-led vision for the site.

The Govan Graving Docks, where Tim’s photograph was taken, stand forlorn and abandoned, an evocative piece of Scotland’s shipbuilding history.

Located a few miles west of Glasgow city centre, the dry docks were built in the River Clyde’s heyday and used to repair and maintain ships up until their closure in 1988. Since then, this vast and expansive site, heavy with the weight of history and expectation, has lain derelict, awaiting restoration.

As a memorial to the site’s strident industrial past, and a wilderness, there is a tension between old and new, the industrial and the natural, with the last remaining building – the Grade A listed pumphouse – and dock structures, now sitting quite happily amongst self-seeding trees and buddleia. This tension has played out in the site’s contentious planning history, which over the past twenty years has resulted in proposals for the site being stuck somewhere between aspiration and exasperation.

My relationship with the site began in 2001, while studying on the opposite side of the River Clyde at the Mackintosh School of Architecture, following the various residential-led proposals that were being brought forward with interest. This pull to the Graving Docks continued in many guises, as a critical observer from afar while based in London, then as a local resident when I relocated to Glasgow in 2016, and now as an active participant in its next chapter, following my practice’s appointment on the project.

Through proactively making a proposition, O’DonnellBrown is now engaged to develop a community-led vision for the site, with a focus on how we can help smash through inertia and open up the site to the city as part of a wider masterplan including new homes, reinstating dry dock 1 for historic ship repair and integrating a clear culture and heritage strategy.

Rather than start the conversation with predefined architectural proposals, our approach has been to go out and speak to people within the community, to really listen and design with empathy, creating a new, co-authored vision and development framework for the site in partnership with Glasgow City Council, the community, and our client, collectively taking what feels like a giant leap of faith. We’ve adopted this ground-up approach with our residential schemes for young care leavers, and our self-initiated community spaces in our own Glasgow neighbourhood, and have witnessed the support and positive results. At Graving Docks the community finally feels like it is beginning to have its voice heard and for the first time in decades stepping out onto the site, its future feels more hopeful.

Jennifer O’Donnell