A new room in the city: Glasgow Film Theatre

A dark auditorium in a cinema with a screen lit up with light around its edges.
Published: 06/02/2020

Choosing timber can help us respond to the climate crisis. As part of the Best Use of Timber Awards 2019 We spoke to Jaki McDougall, CEO of Glasgow Film Theatre, about the process of opening up a new room for the city and the process of working closely with the architects from McGinlay Bell.

What is your favourite part of the building and why? 

Glasgow Film Theatre (GFT), is housed in one of Glasgow’s great city-centre spaces. Originally built in 1939 as the Cosmo as a home for independent cinema in the city, it has developed incrementally over the intervening decades, it has been an important democratic space for leisure and learning in Glasgow for more than 80 years. 

McGinlay Bell’s design heightens the synergies between the architectural and special qualities of the GFT while respecting its democratic and social history, and nothing defines this more than their approach to creating a new room in the city for Glasgow, the GFT foyer. 

If you could imagine a time delay film – if you sit in the foyer for long enough watching the ebb and flow as up to 15 sets of different audiences a day, come in to the cinema, you get an idea of the importance of the space.

The family matinee where children buzz here and there, while parents, perhaps not as confident in our space hang back a bit; school students lined up and escorted class by class to their designated seats (something Busby Berkeley about  how they peel off the stairways to get to their allocated seats); first dates, old friends, cinema friends, the huge number of people who come to GFT on their own because it is a recognised safe space; a burst of sign language communication, young people, old people.

And then they leave. Bill Forsyth said that he needed to wait until he was way down the road before he wanted to talk about the film he’d watched, and while that’s the same for many, the atmosphere in the foyer when a screening is coming out is quite special.

The foyer is that strange and special area between the cinema where the magic happens – that place of the world outside of ourselves, where nothing is asked of us, and back in to the real world. 

Can you say something about the commissioning/procurement process?

Directed by our brilliant Project Manager, Harry Wood at tx-2, we took a formal approach to procurement, advertising and interviewing a number of architects. There were a couple of things that made McGinlay Bell stand out.

Firstly, at GFT we have a history of investing in emerging local talent i.e., commissioning Timorous Besties to design cinema curtains in their early days, secondly, Brian (McGinlay) who led on the project for McGinlay Bell just got it. Our interview with him was less about how they might approach the project, but about the importance of GFT in Glasgow and to the people of Glasgow – he really understood what it was we wanted to achieve.   

What difference do you feel it has made to the visitor? 

GFT had been working on this project since 2005. In the intervening time we had spoken to representatives of our many audiences (with around 700 different films every year and a full education, youth and community programme that’s a lot of different people and interests!).

The building therefore had to deliver for many different needs. Young people thought it an old cinema that showed old movies and didn’t want to come across the threshold, many thought it too dark, others told us how to make it more accessible.

All these conversations were carefully listened to by McGinlay Bell and incorporated into the design solution for our Grade 2 listed and very compromised old building. It is also an incredibly busy space as GFT is the busiest cinema of its type and size in the whole of the UK, and also hosts the Glasgow Film Festival one of the top 3 film festivals in the UK.

 The foyer and the whole project simply works – speeding up that time delay film, you see how people use the space comfortably and with ease – the room in the city is theirs, not ours, and the exceptional design and attention to detail in the use of robust materials, will ensure that it is there for future generations of Glasgow film lovers. 

About the team

Brian McGinlay answers more questions in his blog.

McGinlay Bell are architects who practice, research, and teach from a base in Glasgow, Scotland. Their projects vary in scale for private, commercial, and creative clients. 

Glasgow Film Theatre is Scotland’s original independent cinema and the home of film in Glasgow.

Headline image: Dapple photography