Northern Lights

An award-winning building illuminates downtown Glasgow.

On the edge of Glasgow’s red-light district and new financial center—described in the United Kingdom as Glasgow’s Wall Street—local firm Gordon Murray + Alan Dunlop Architects has created a rare outpost of contemporary architecture. Rather than stuffing workers inside a generic office tower plugged into the city’s rigid Victorian grid, the architects cantilevered a transparent glass facade over the sidewalk and made its surface glow with a constantly shifting wash of colored light.

The ten-story tower, known as the Sentinel, has a series of LEDs recessed in soffits above its windows that are programmed to cycle from red to orange to yellow to blue to green. “At first we investigated the idea of using colored glass on the facade,” Murray says. “But we discovered that it would look black from the outside when we did a mock-up. On the inside it wasn’t a very comfortable environment.”

Apart from considering the experience of workers on the inside—itself unusual by prevailing standards—with encouragement from the developers, the architects also disregarded the fact that the building was a speculative commercial development and treated the exterior in much the same way that a museum or public building might be treated. “We’ve always been of the opinion that because it’s a commercial development it need not be bland,” Murray says. “Very often developers want a kind of anodyne building that lacks personality so that it appeals to the largest number of buyers. Our client was interested in promoting a building that had a bit of architecture about it.”

The interweaving of interior and exterior also manifests itself on the ground level, where the sidewalk merges with the building’s foyer at the corner entrance. As a result, the tower—which won a Royal Institute of British Architects award last summer—interrupts the urban grid just enough to make a statement without disturbing the natural flow of the city. “It’s kind of taken people by surprise,” Murray says.

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