Leisure, sports, community and care combined

The building envelope was designed with U-values that exceed Building Regulations requirements and particular attention has been paid to airtightness detailing around openings and junctions. Glazing has been limited to areas which require natural daylight and solar control glazing has been specified across the site to reduce overheating. Low-carbon materials, such as timber and cork, are evident throughout the building interiors.

From a membership perspective, the metrics have proved transformative. At the new Allander we’ve delivered flexible facilities that will give local people an exceptional quality of experience, both now and in the future.

A number of engineering challenges were associated with the structural design. Phased site works, planned around retention of the existing building during the construction phase, as well as site spatial restrictions, led to a stacked design being adopted, with the main sports hall situated on the first floor.

Key to our design was the synergy of community leisure and care within a vibrant and uplifting environment. We wanted to create a distinctive civic building with a timeless aesthetic that was welcoming, open, generous and of a high-quality architectural specification.

The process of shaping the brief was thorough and inclusive, with engaging workshops designed to challenge and innovate. In this time of austerity, the design of health and wellbeing facilities needs to continue to adapt and evolve to ensure local authorities can provide good value.

Measures include the incorporation of photovoltaics and CHP and are mostly to be expected in the responsible making of buildings now – insulation over and above building regs and low-energy fittings. Cooney points out that, in any case, ‘a leisure centre is always going to be by its nature a relatively energy-hungry building.’ It’s disappointing that the emphasis here seems mainly to have been more on social, rather than environmental, sustainability. 

The focal point of the building’s interior is a naturally lit, timber-clad, triple-height entrance atrium that serves as a flexible events space for the community and houses a café.


Engineer’s view

Planning-wise, the site is in a conservation area of Bearsden and bounded by a new housing development. The site constraints comprise a railway line to the east, high-pressure water pipes to the west and a watercourse to the north. To the south was the existing Allander building, which was to remain operational during the new construction. These created complex challenges for the design team and contractor to overcome in terms of planning, design, build, and phasing.

Along the western edge are activity rooms, which can be flexibly reprogrammed, including a music and drama room, art and craft rooms and dementia-friendly spaces, all arranged to look upon and open out to a sensory garden. The centre of the deep plan is occupied by services or therapy rooms that do not require natural light, such as the immersive ‘Snoezelen’ room, a therapeutic multisensory environment developed in The Netherlands in the 1970s. 

Additional vertical wall bracing and appropriate redundancy was built into the structure, which allowed analysis to be undertaken to demonstrate that the removal of a column would not cause the structure to collapse disproportionately.
Ross Harris, structural engineer, BakerHicks

It’s a taster of the enormous range of facilities offered by the new centre, massively expanded from the old to serve the local area and a rash of new homes being built in the vicinity, a mainly residential suburb on the northern flank of Glasgow. These include: two other pools – a 25m, eight-lane main pool and a hydrotherapy pool; high and low-impact studios; dance and spin studios; a gym; sauna; two squash courts and an eight-court games hall. In Phase 2 these will be joined by a sports dome with three synthetic surface pitches.

Back in the main lobby, I comment on the relative calmness in the centre. Kelly grins and checks his watch: ‘Just wait until half-past three when the kids come after school: it’ll go ballistic.’ 

Aquatics centre

The analysis required increasing part of the composite concrete floor slab thickness to increase mass and dampen the effects of vibration on adjacent spectator viewing areas, ensuring the natural frequency of the floor slab was within acceptable levels.

If this building’s layout does not quite shake off the sense of being a diagram of the functional adjacencies required in the brief, it speaks the language of straightforward, decent public service architecture and is clearly developing into a successful piece of local infrastructure, piloting a new leisure-cum-care model of community hub.

Source: Chris Humphreys

Foyer/ social space

At the north end, a large multi-functional space sits adjacent to the kitchen so that meals can also be served there. In addition there’s a larger production kitchen where users can gain skills for employment in catering. Throughout, high-specification and thoughtful detailing is apparent. 


Working detail

What does push the design envelope is the spatial generosity, light and cleanly resolved detailing of the interiors in a building type often noted for grim, brash functionality. The practice has clearly fought hard and successfully to maintain the relatively high spec of finishes within the available budget, including extensive use of timber.

This is noticeable from the get-go in the entrance atrium. Shehab says: ‘We wanted there to be a bit of a wow factor from the start.’ The atrium exhibits a warm practicality and consistency in its design, from its timber acoustic ceiling to the run of servicing contained in the dropped ceiling and its palette of furniture, all designed with timber bases and white tops. 

The building structure is a braced steel frame, required to achieve the open areas, with relatively thin concrete suspended floor slabs. BakerHicks recognised the engineering challenges of having the sports hall structure at first-floor level with this type of structural arrangement and used 3D modelling software to assess the effects of vibration and rhythmical activities, which can impact upon the serviceability and the structural performance of the building.

Rear elevation

Project data

The immediate threshold to the new building is a slightly depressing sea of users’ cars, probably inevitable given the suburban nature of the site and the underfunded nature of UK public transport. However, in Phase 3 this area is due to be remade (although not reduced in size) with a more SuDS-equipped landscaping strategy, courtesy of landscape architect LDS, and provided with more cycle spaces and electric car charging points.

Source: Chris Humphreys

At one end a generous stair is expressed, encouraging you to take it up to first floor level instead of using the lift. This sense of calm order is ensured by the clean resolution of detailing throughout, all the way up to the first-floor games hall roof, with its lofty, elegantly resolved steel truss structure and exposed servicing, wrapped around at the top by a translucent polycarbonate box that acts as a beacon for the centre at night. The sense of openness, articulated first in the glazed screens and windows of the entrance lobby, is echoed in generous circulation spaces and corridors, even where they are unavoidably buried away from natural light, with broad open thresholds and sightlines.


Client’s view

At the time of our  visit, the structure of the old leisure centre had just been reduced to a pile of rubble (it remained in use until the new centre opened), inviting the question of whether retrofit was considered. ‘It was, but had been ruled out prior to our appointment,’ says Cooney. It is unclear on what grounds: certainly it was not floor-to-ceiling heights that were at issue here. ‘The structure was well past its prime,’ he adds.

The overall result is a warm, welcoming building that breaks down barriers, improves people’s lives and creates synergies between sport, culture, and mental health.
David Kelly, Allander operations manager, East Dunbartonshire Leisure and Culture

Sports hall

High-quality brick steps down over a welcoming pleated glass and bronze main elevation.

The building itself sits, warmly textured, if a little baldly, on its site – a series of stacked boxes of blond brick, with bronze-framed windows. ‘We wanted the design to have a civic quality to the front and a soft, calm feel,’ says Cooney. It’s a bit relentlessly orthogonal at present but this, no doubt, will act as a foil to the more animated profile of the sports dome, which, Cooney says, is ‘not off-the-peg’ and has been designed in collaboration with tensile fabric specialist Spatial Structures. 

The design team specified high-efficiency plant, ensuring the centre is as light-touch as possible by reducing the overall amount of energy it consumes. Incorporating photovoltaics and CHP into the design further enhanced this aspect, in addition to the low-energy fittings that are specified throughout.

Source: Chris Humphreys

The ambition to make the new building a community hub has been reinforced by the incorporation of an adult day care centre alongside the leisure centre, providing day care for those with learning difficulties and dementia sufferers. Known as the Allander Adult Resource Centre, this replaces the Kelvinbank Resource Centre in Kirkintilloch and occupies the western third of the new centre’s huge rectangular footprint.

Foyer/ social space

Given the bulk of the building, it also appears remarkably discreet on its site. This is in part due to the rolling nature of the terrain – the centre sits down a slope from the main road and you catch views over it out to distant hills peeping over treetops on the approach.

‘The one activity that we haven’t managed to incorporate from the old building is carpet bowls,’ says Cooney, something that clearly remained an issue for locals, despite the great expansion of other new facilities, during the process of refining the brief. This involved the local community at every stage. ‘We had endless stakeholder sessions and they very much helped shape it,’ says Cooney, adding phlegmatically: ‘It’s been a wee bit of a journey for us.’

But the unobtrusiveness is also down to what Shehab describes as a ‘cascade effect’, with the scale of the building stacked up at its eastern end by the volumes of first-floor sports hall and squash courts and then stepping down to a single-storey corner by the car park. This stacking was also necessitated by the available site area and the need to work around site constraints, including a water main and railway line.

‘I remember, as a kid, my dad bringing us here to the old leisure centre,’ says Ian Cooney, director at Holmes Miller. ‘He’d go upstairs to where there was a bar and you could play darts.’ He clearly has fond memories of it. ‘It was basically just a big, windowless shed.’

Source: Chris Humphreys

Adult Resource Centre activity space

Adult Resource Centre gathering nook

Architect’s view

We’ve combined two tired and energy-hungry existing facilities and created an efficient and sustainable integrated community hub that serves everyone in the area.

Percentage of floor area with daylight factor >2% Not included in scope
Percentage of floor area with daylight factor >5% Not included in scope
On-site energy generation 45.31 kWh/m2 (PVs 5.78 kWh/m2, CHP 39.53 kWh/m2)
Heating and hot water load Heating: 46.92 kWh/m2/yr, hot water: 330.88 kWh/m2/yr
Total energy load 399 kWh/m2/yr
Carbon emissions (all) 80.32 kgCO2/m2
Annual mains water consumption Not supplied
Airtightness at 50Pa 4.11 m3/hr/m2
Overall thermal bridging heat transfer coefficient (Y-value) Not included in scope
Overall area-weighted U-value Not included in scope
Embodied / whole-life carbon Not included in scope
Predicted design life 60+ years


The structure of the centre is steel frame. ‘CLT was considered but was too expensive,’ says Cooney. But there has been an effort to use a range of low-carbon materials in the build and finishes, with extensive use of timber and cork. Operationally, Shehab describes the building as being ‘as light-touch as possible’ to reduce the amount of energy it consumes in its day-to-day running.

From a client’s perspective the Allander Project was a positive experience from start to finish. The architect’s challenge of shaping up a new building that embodied the spirit of the existing and well-loved centre on such a challenging site was met and exceeded expectations.

Open spaces were also required at ground level, including long-span elements over pools. This was achieved with large universal beam sections and cell beams for particularly long spans. Due to the configuration of the building, perimeter columns were required to be supported off  these long-span elements. They became key elements that had to be considered for disproportionate collapse.

A green travel policy is also in place, with good services to the area, and cyclists and electric vehicles are well catered for. Users of the Adult Resource Centre are collected from home and returned via electric bus.
Ian Cooney, project director and architect, Holmes Miller

Inside the Adult Resource Centre, to reduce distraction, colours are noticeably more muted than in the leisure centre, the tones more earthy. In plan it is arranged around a reception and adjacent space designed to be  flexible for different activities. This latter is separated off by a permeable timber screen to form a kind of internal court beneath a skylight, creating a placid, atrium-like space (Holmes Miller had originally proposed a courtyard). To minimise risk of harm, all the furniture has curved corners, while corridors are curved, too, in order to break down the intimidating scale of long vistas. 

Allander is at the heart of the Community in Bearsden and Milngavie, serving a population of 100,000. Holmes Miller worked with key stakeholders (East Dunbartonshire Council, East Dunbartonshire Leisure and Culture, Health & Social Care Partnership) to engage with local community groups and sporting organisations to shape a building to satisfy current and future generations – a nine-month process.

The building is topped by a translucent light box that wraps around the upper games hall to illuminate the space and provide a visual marker. Alongside the main building will sit a dome for indoor sports, which is anchored by a solid brick base and topped by a playful geometric tensile fabric roof form.

Our solution to what was a complex tandem-build involved arranging each core component of the building programme as a layered mass, sequentially stepping up to temper the scale of the building from a site entry perspective – the Civic ‘set-piece’. This cascading form uses a clean and simple palette of materials that reflects the tones of blond sandstone commonly used around Bearsden and Milngavie.

This sense of order and calm is consciously amplified in the Adult Resource Centre. The entrance to this is located around the corner from that of the Leisure Centre, with a drop-off point in front for the buses which bring users. It’s at the lowest single-storey corner of the building, at the bottom of the ‘cascade’ of volumes, giving it as non-institutional a scale as possible. As you pass inside, there is a calming Low Arousal room adjacent to the entrance. ‘Many users can be a wee bit agitated when they arrive,’ explains Shehab. 

I am meeting him and his colleague Nada Shehab, project architect of the new centre, in a space that is almost the polar opposite of what he describes: a lofty, light-filled entrance atrium in the new building, with sun streaming in through large south-facing windows on a day in early June. They are sitting at one of the built-in tables and benches that run along the glazed partition separating the swimming pool hall from the atrium. Around us, almost like a CGI visualisation of how such spaces might look in use, young families and couples chat and have coffees at the tables scattered around the lobby, while, through the glass, a group of OAPs is enjoying an exercise class in the adjustable-depth pool. 

Usage has doubled in the new building, compared with the old, in part due to new options for bespoke packages of membership. As far as gripes from users about the new centre go (aside from there being no carpet bowls), it seems that ‘no mirrors in the studios’ has been the main one.   

It is separated from the leisure centre by the main entrance lobby and the pool hall, allowing it to have its own separate entrance to the latter for classes. It brought a unique mix to the building’s brief that David Kelly, the centre’s operations manager, says has resulted in ‘more inclusivity and the breaking-down of barriers’ at the centre, underpinning its mission to be open to a wide range of users.

Start on site  January 2021
Completion  March 2023 (Phase 1), spring 2024 (full completion due)
Gross internal floor area  12,500m2 (including Adult Resource Centre of 1,500m2)
Construction cost  £42 million
Construction cost per m2  £3,360
Architect  Holmes Miller
Client  East Dunbartonshire Council, East Dunbartonshire Leisure and Culture, Health and Social Care Partnership
Structural engineer BakerHicks
M&E consultant BakerHicks
Quantity surveyor Brown + Wallace
Project manager Doig+Smith
Principal designer Brown + Wallace
CDM co-ordinator Doig+Smith
Approved building inspector N/A (local council)
Landscape architect LDA
Fire engineer Atelier 10
Acoustic engineer Sandy Brown Associates
Main contractor Mclaughlin & Harvey
CAD software used Revit

Performance data

The facilities at the Adult Resource Centre follow health and social care best practice, with an internal layout and specification that reflects a curated programme. The centre offers dementia, physiotherapy, rebound and sensory treatment rooms, along with arts and crafts, dance and music rooms and meeting spaces. The interior design concept uses colour signifiers and tactile surfaces, with sensory touchpoints formed in soft and warm materials featuring American white oak timber, cork, and textured fabrics. Wayfinding is intuitive, helped by carefully designed signage and circulation.
Ian Cooney, project director and architect, Holmes Miller 

Source: Chris Humphreys

Source: Chris Humphreys