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The Scottish Exhibition Centre, Queen's Dock, Glasgow

Introduction - The Scottish Exhibition Centre - The Clyde Auditorium / The Armadillo - SSE Hydro/Arena

Glasgow Index

The SEC's Armadillo auditorium, left, and its Hydro arena, right, on the site of the Queen's Dock, Glasgow - Courtesy BSAVA.

Above - The SEC's Armadillo auditorium, left, and its Hydro arena, right, on the site of the Queen's Dock, Glasgow - Courtesy BSAVA.

Redevelopment comparison of, top, Queen's Dock and the River Clyde, viewing towards Glasgow city centre in 1959 and, bottom, the SEC hotel and Armadillo in 2005 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.Providing new convention, theatre and event space, the Scottish Exhibition Centre, the first of three sister buildings and known for over 20 years as the Scottish Exhibition & Conference Centre, opened on the banks of the Clyde in 1985 on the site of one of Glasgow's many docks, Queen's Dock. By the 1960s most city seaports including London, Liverpool and Glasgow lost most of their commercial traffic to the growth of containerisation (developed by a Scots-American in the USA) which required deep-water terminals, and passenger travel moved from shipping lines to air lines.

Right - Redevelopment comparison of, top, Queen's Dock and the River Clyde, viewing towards Glasgow city centre in 1959 and, bottom, the SEC hotel and Armadillo in 2005 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

The Scottish Development Agency, newly created in the late 1970s, set about planning and promoting economic development on a national scale, which included the attraction of new technologies and growth sectors, urban renewal and land renewal – making former industrial areas suitable for new uses.

Sailing down the Clyde past cargo liners at Queen's Dock, Glasgow - Photographed in 1967 by Graeme Smith.Of Glasgow's 13 miles of docklands and quays from the city centre to Clydebank, Queen's Dock, built upon the lands of Stobcross on the north bank, embraced some 64 acres of quays and water, and directly across the river on the south bank Prince's Dock was equally large. Queen's Dock, named by permission of Queen Victoria, opened from 1877 and ships sailing from it included those of the Hutchison Line, Burrell & Son, Paddy Henderson, Donaldson Line, Clan Line and City Line. From 1904 the new Yorkhill Quay built next to the dock entrance accommodated the Anchor Line and the Blue Funnel Line.

Left - Sailing down the Clyde past cargo liners at Queen's Dock, Glasgow - Photographed in 1967 by Graeme Smith.

A Poster for the City Line sailings from Glasgow and Liverpool to and from India - Courtesy Graeme Smith.The National Library of Scotland zoomable maps of the 1880s show the scale of Queen's Dock here, and the adjoining railways and streets.

Right - A Poster for the City Line sailings from Glasgow and Liverpool to and from India - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

The Scottish Development Agency, working in association with Glasgow City Council, concluded that the national and international convention business was expanding greatly – reflecting global technologies, applications and subjects which often were reflected in university research and scientific and medical colleges in Scotland, and the assets for that in conference spaces, travel-destination sites and new hotels, dovetailed well with the growth of tourism.

The above article was kindly written for this site by Graeme Smith in June 2018.

The Scottish Exhibition Centre

An SEC site plan of its three venues and of other buildings on the former Queen`s Dock, Glasgow - Courtesy SEC Ltd.

Above - An SEC site plan of its three venues and of other buildings on the former Queen`s Dock, Glasgow - Courtesy SEC Ltd.

A Google View looking towards the city centre of the SEC complex on the left of the Clyde, former Queen`s Dock, and the Glasgow Science Centre and BBC and other buildings on the right of the Clyde, former Prince`s Dock.The Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre with over 240,000 square feet of flexible space is only slightly larger than the city's immense Kelvin Hall nearby, opened in 1927, opposite Kelvingrove Art Galleries, but has the advantage of acres of adjoining car parking and further acreage for the expected developments of more buildings in support of conferences, tourism and entertainment.

Right - A Google View looking towards the city centre of the SEC complex on the left of the Clyde, former Queen`s Dock, and the Glasgow Science Centre and BBC and other buildings on the right of the Clyde, former Prince`s Dock - Click to Interact.

Opening from its atrium concourse the SECC formed five halls (four being linked), the largest being Hall 4 which can accommodate up to 10,000 people. The SEC and the Armadillo have first-floor connection with each other and the neighbouring hotel, with private dining and executive rooms adjacent for convention and concert use. An illustrated timeline of the history of the three venues (including the Hydro) can be enjoyed here, courtesy of SEC Ltd., and a management view of the venues preparing for the Commonwealth Games 2014 here.

The Scottish Development Agency's architects prepared designs for the Exhibition Centre, with their styling and knowledge of the site, but the then Secretary of State for Scotland, Malcolm Rifkind, insisted that firms of architects in the private sector should be used. Accordingly, the firm of James Parr & Partners, originally based in Dundee and Edinburgh, designed the Exhibition Centre with a series of interlinked halls.

The Scottish Development Agency also part-funded and initiated through a new company, Echo Hotels, the neighbouring 16 storey 300 room hotel sitting on the banks of the Clyde, the Forum Hotel, changing name to the Moat House Hotel and now the Crowne Plaza. Designed by architects Cobban & Lorini, well known for their hotel creativity, the Hotel contains function rooms and conference suites, and now has access links to the Exhibition Centre and Armadillo. The hotel's ground floor and function rooms opened in 1988 in time for the Glasgow Garden Festival on 120 acres of dockland and quays on the south bank, and the hotel fully opened in 1989. The lobby and open plan restaurants enjoy a major artistic maritime mural by artist John O'Donnell on the east wall, depicting the growth of Glasgow's shipbuilding and its shipping developments. An overview of the Glasgow Garden Festival 1988 can be enjoyed here, and in two brief documentaries putting the Festival in its city context, narrated by actor Paul Young, here, and here.

The Festival and opening of the new Scottish Exhibition Centre were in the tradition of international exhibitions in Glasgow from 1888 onwards but of smaller scale and purpose to the famous Empire Exhibition of 1938 held in Bellahouston Park, seen here, when Glasgow was at the height of its power.

The Scottish Exhibition & Conference Centre photographed in 1988 with the Forum Hotel under construction on the banks of the former Queen's Dock, Glasgow - Courtesy Graeme Smith.Known as the Big Red Shed because of its original colouring the Exhibition building was painted silver grey in 1997, coinciding with the silver grey of the newly opened Clyde Auditorium (Armadillo).

Left - The Scottish Exhibition & Conference Centre photographed in 1988 with the Forum Hotel under construction on the banks of the former Queen's Dock, Glasgow - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

The SEC and its two sister buildings, all under the umbrella of SEC Ltd, continue to host a full range of conventions and events from conferences and concerts to circus and carnival, from exhibitions to theatre and sporting tournaments, entertainments from Pavarotti to pantomime, ballet to ice-shows, comedy to musicals. Pantomime started firstly in the SEC and now is based in the Armadillo, introducing 3D scenery, with more about it here.

On the 25th anniversary of SECC the Evening Times reflected on the £36 million Centre:-

"The centre's beginnings can be traced back to 1979, when the Scottish 
Development Agency (SDA) supported the idea of Glasgow getting a 
purpose-built exhibition and conference centre. It badly needed a slice of 
the lucrative conference business. No fewer than 50 sites were examined. 
Eventually 49 were discarded, and the Queen's Dock at Finnieston emerged 
as the winner. Plans for a nearby hotel were also included in the project.

Queen's Dock's, Glasgow, and its entrance with swing bridge viewed towards the right, next to Yorkhill Quay, left - Courtesy Graeme Smith.Glasgow was buoyed by the success of the Mr Happy logo and the Glasgow's Miles Better campaign and was embracing a future that would include landmark events such as the 1988 National Garden Festival and the 1990 European City of Culture. The new SECC would also act as a shot in the arm for Glasgow's live (pop) entertainment scene. 

Right - Queen's Dock's, Glasgow, and its entrance with swing bridge viewed towards the right, next to Yorkhill Quay, left - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

In 1984, the city had the Pavilion, and the Kelvin Hall, but that was pretty much all in pop concerts. The new building would free the Kelvin Hall up to be turned into an international-class indoor sports arena, and to accommodate the Museum of Transport. But it was also the final nail in the coffin for the elderly Apollo (the former Green's Playhouse) in Renfield Street which, realising that it just could not compete, announced it would close in the summer of 1985.

The budget for the SECC was fixed at £36m. The £11.5m site development costs were split between the SDA, Glasgow District Council and Strathclyde Regional Council. All three bodies shared the £24.5 building costs with the private sector pension funds, banks and other institutions which put up a third. Once the docks had been infilled, ground stabilisation began in January 1983. That summer, the building works got underway. By the following January, the SEC works were making such good progress that they could be seen a mile away in the sixth floor [SDA] city-centre Bothwell Street office of Chris Garrett, the 50-year-old Londoner who was chief executive of SEC Ltd. When the development began it was known as SEC, Scottish Exhibition Centre, it was only later that the second C for conference was adopted.

In August 1984, [SDA board member] Jimmy Gordon, chairman of SEC Ltd, and managing director of Radio Clyde, claimed: I believe the SEC will not only be a success but could prove to be the most significant development in the West of Scotland since the war. He said its role as a shop window for Scotland could tempt visiting industrialists to locate their next expansion here.

Builders, Bovis, [who also built the Glasgow Garden Festival] finished the construction work on time, on August the 2nd 1985, and celebrated by hiring the Waverley paddle steamer to take the workers on a night-time cruise.

The very first event was a gala classical concert on September 6 by the Scottish National Orchestra, conducted by Sir Alexander Gibson [Their summer Promenade Concerts were normally in the Kelvin Hall.] A series of exhibitions followed.

The first rock concert was by UB40, supported by Simply Red, on October 26, and on November 27,1985, the building was officially opened by the Queen during the Scottish Motor Show. She said the SECC would bring great benefit to Glasgow and Scotland. The SECC has become, in its own words, the country's premier national venue for public events, concerts and conferences."

More about the SEC and its sister buildings, the Armadillo and the Hydro, including latest news, floorplans and What's On can be viewed on the campus website here.

From 2017 the group-marketing of the three venues is under the collective banner of the Scottish Event Campus.

The above article was kindly written for this site by Graeme Smith in June 2018.

The Clyde Auditorium / The Armadillo

An evening view of the Armadillo on the banks of the Clyde, Glasgow - Courtesy O Pallison.

Above - An evening view of the Armadillo on the banks of the Clyde, Glasgow - Courtesy O Pallison.

The SEC's Clyde Auditorium, known as the Armadillo - Courtesy SEC Ltd.SEC Ltd appointed the international firm of Foster and Partners, architects, to design a high specification, fully seated and spacious Auditorium adjacent to the Exhibition Centre.

Opened in 1997, at a cost of £30million, the external shaping of interlocking ships' hulls chosen by Foster reflects the engineering and shipbuilding tradition of Glasgow and the Clyde, known throughout the world.

Right - The SEC's Clyde Auditorium, known as the Armadillo - Courtesy SEC Ltd.

The auditorium comfortably seats 3,000 people across three levels, stalls and two balconies, making it also the largest and widest of all the Theatres in Glasgow. A Norman Foster overview of the Armadillo can be seen here.

More about the Armadillo and its sister buildings, the Scottish Exhibition Centre and the Hydro, including latest news, floorplans and What's On can be viewed on the campus website here.

From 2017 the group-marketing of the three venues is under the collective banner of the Scottish Event Campus.

The above article was kindly written for this site by Graeme Smith in June 2018.

The SSE Hydro / Arena

A night view of the SSE Hydro on the banks of the Clyde, with Glasgow University in the background - Courtesy Glasgow University.To meet further demand, in conventions, conferences, sports and entertainment, SEC Ltd again appointed the international firm of Foster & Partners, architects, to design an Arena.

Right - A night view of the SSE Hydro on the banks of the Clyde, with Glasgow University in the background - Courtesy Glasgow University.

Thanks to a title sponsorship by the Scottish & Southern Energy group, headquartered in Perth, based on what was the North of Scotland Hydro Electricity Board, the new arena opened in 2013 as the SSE HYDRO, heralded by a Rod Stewart concert. The final construction cost was £125 million, £40 million more than its founding budget. A Norman Foster overview of the Hydro can be seen here, and more about the backstage facilities of the Hydro can be seen here.

The elliptical (almost round) building, with massive concrete fins holding up its inclined 123-metre diameter shallow dome roof made of fine steel lattice, and containing much aluminium and glazing by way of pneumatic translucent cushions, seats up to 12,500 people arranged across floor level and three upper tiers, and ringed with executive boxes. The Hydro is now one of the largest and busiest entertainment venues in the world.

More about the Hydro and its sister buildings, the Scottish Exhibition Centre and the Armadillo, including latest news, floorplans and What's On can be viewed on the campus website here.

From 2017 the group-marketing of the three venues is under the collective banner of the Scottish Event Campus.

The above article was kindly written for this site by Graeme Smith in June 2018.

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