Test Unit - Prototyping Public Space

Baxendale with Kate Darby, Glasgow, 2016


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Nettle Inn 

John Devlin     Download Original

  • Nettle Inn    
  • Test Unit Site    
  • Ghost Wall    
  • Nettle Inn    
  • Test Unit Open Day    
  • bairds brae beacon    
  • test unit site    
  • Nettle Inn    
  • Alternate realities     
  • engagement    
  • legacy project     
  • site    
  • hub elevations    
  • settlement hub    

A series of temporary physical, social, cultural and environmental interventions that prototyped future possibilities for a derelict site in Glasgow

Test Unit 2016 delivered a week-long intensive art, design and architecture summer school and events programme, that saw 25 cross-disciplinary participants come together and over the course of a week transform a vacant and derelict site in north Glasgow into a public space.

The project was initiated and developed by Agile City, a platform for research and events exploring grass-roots approaches to city development; founded by TAKTAL in April 2015.

The ambitions of the project were to prototype ideas in public space, build local capacity to initiate grass-roots projects and to place culture and education at the heart of regeneration. The first of its kind in Scotland, the intensive summer school formed a unique construct of partners and funders that reflected an alternative approach to formal education and explored new approaches to urban development. A blend of private and public, individuals and institutions the partnerships included; A Feral Studio, BAXENDALE, The Glasgow School of Art, UZ Arts, Scottish Canals, Creative Scotland, EventScotland as part of the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design and Glasgow City Council’s Stalled Spaces programme.

The project focused on a vacant site at Bairds Brae, next to the Forth and Clyde Canal at Speirs Locks in North Glasgow. Which as an area undergoing significant change has experienced a huge amount of discussion and strategic thought but limited activity. With applications invited from the fields of architecture, design and art, the final construct saw a balanced and dynamic set of students, recent graduates and professionals and included people from local community groups, artists, architects and producers.

The participants were split into 4 groups and each team led by facilitators from varying disiplines; designer Neil McGuire of A Feral Studio, architect Lee Ivett from BAXENDALE, architect Kate Darby from KDA & co-founder of Studio in the Woods and artist Rebecca Davies from Oasis Social Club. Each facilitator devised a theme that explored a different aspect of the site and working closely with the facilitators each group then devised responses and interventions in relation to the site and its location in north Glasgow. These themes were: Occupation, Context, Connection and Alternate Reality.

Running in parallel to the daytime activity, an evening public events programme was produced to inform, stimulate and question some of the thinking and discussions being held throughout the day programme. This included a keynote talk from Tim Peeters of Rotterdam based practice ZUS, a fast-paced Pecha Kucha on the theme of alternative approaches to city development and a feisty Turncoats debate that argued the pros and cons of Glasgow’s appetite for demolishing architecture in the name of Regeneration. The summer school culminated in a public launch on Saturday 9th July which saw the site opened to the public with a café, bar and creative workshops delivered throughout the day.

The four completed projects were:

The Nettle Inn – Led by Lee Ivett

A micro tavern providing 1:1 engagement between traveller and inn keeper. Acts as a point of curiosity that invites external engagement with the site. The project has a ground floor occupied by the inn keeper where they can prepare food and drink and sleep and a first floor single room with a view to allow an overnight stay for the weary traveller. A green wall of potted plants is created by foraging edible wildlife on the site itself, these foraged elements were used by the group to create nettle tea, elder-flower cordial and nettle pesto for pasta and salad.

Bairds Brae Beacon – Led by Rebecca Davies

In interactive, illuminated spinning beacon inspired by the idea of the zoetrope and the previous occupation of the site by a 3000 person cinema; long since demolished. The piece establishes a natural clearing within the site and casts colour and light onto the surrounding trees and vegetation.

Ghost Wall – Led By Kate Darby

This project used the application of timber to trace and present the memory of the wall that used to stand in the corner of this site. The group developed an innovative clamping system to enable a series of vertical elements to define the previous scale, depth and mass of the long lost masonry that used to be on this corner. The finished piece also create a ‘habitable’ zone between the timber elements that invited a mode of experiencing the remnants of the wall in a manner that was previously impossible. The finished piece also established a new ‘gateway’ into the site, giving the location a public presence and inviting engagement with the site

Where Were You, The Secret Billboard and the Muhammad Ali Oakbank Hospital Visit Visitors Centre and Museum – Led by Neil McGuire

This group produced a series of interventions that played with real and imagined histories of the site; creating objects of various scales and functions to both subvert and continue these narratives. The installations ranged from a memorial bench, signage that introduced and provided access to previously unreachable parts of the site and a huge billboard that presents a visit from Muhammed Ali to a hospital that used to stand opposite our site and a still from the fim ‘Glasgow 1980’ which was produced in 1971 to promote Glasgow’s vision of it future self.

On the first day of the programme all participants collaborated together to establish a presence on the site by constructing an outdoor workshop, studio and social space for each of the groups to use on the site. The Test Unit hub was designed and pre-fabricated into components made out of standard timber and OSB sheet by Lee Ivett [Baxendale] before the summer school commenced. This communal ‘barn raising’ activity was used as a means of getting participants familiar with each other, the site, essential skills and setting the ambition and tone for the week ahead.

Following the summer school and documentation of the project, the materials and infrastructure have been reused to create a community growing space and outdoor play environment within Hawthorn Housing Co-operative; a social housing estate in the Possilpark area of Glasgow


  • Begun: Jul 2016
  • Completed: Jul 2016
  • Floor area: 25m2
  • Sector: Public realm
  • Total cost: £12,000
  • Funding: Glasgow School of Art, Scottish Canals, Creative Scotland, Events Scotland, Igloo Developments, Stalled Spaces GCC
  • Procurement: n/a
  • Address: Bairds Brae, Applecross, Glasgow, G4 9SP, United Kingdom

Professional Team