Monday, 18 October 2010

Launch of HMS Duncan at BAE Systems, Govan


Last Monday (11th October), I received an urgent e-mail from Barnabas Calder - who lectures in Architectural History at Strathclyde University and is a world-authority on Brutalism - to point out that the Type 45 Destroyer HMS Duncan was due to be launched at Govan that very afternoon - and would I like to come along? Cheers, Barnabas! (This man is also an aesthete of highly developed taste and so if an object is grey, boldly modelled and with more than a suggestion of the sublime, he'll be the first to appreciate its virtues - in other words, a Good Chap.) At my own place of work, a staff meeting had been arranged already for the afternoon but, fortunately for me, my boss, Ken Neil, is a man of seemingly tireless patience who indulges my interests very generously - so I was allowed to leave early to spectate at the Duncan's launch. I met up with Barnabas on the train from Charing Cross to Partick and, from there, we marched briskly down to the Clyde to view the spectacle. An audience estimated at around 10,000 was gathered on the South Bank and, where we were on the North, there was also a big crowd. With defence cuts looming, the Duncan's launch is likely to be the last on the Upper Clyde for the foreseable future.


HMS Duncan on the stocks and the estimable Dr Calder with camera at the ready.


Spectators perched on a precarious hill of discarded granite paving blocks and the tugs Bruiser and Biter - well, being registered in Greenock, what would one expect them to be called?



HMS Duncan glides serenely into the Clyde, following in the wake of countless famous ships from the long-established Govan yard.

Clouds of dust and debris rise in her wake; in the shed behind, sections of the controversial new aircraft carrier are already taking shape; these will be floated out in sections for assembly elsewhere, rather than being launched in the traditional manner, however.


Balloons and fireworks - quite effective even on a brilliantly sunny early-autumn afternoon.



We gazed in awe as HMS Duncan was manoeuvred into the fitting out basin.


A workboat quickly removed the floating launch debris.


Bruiser, Battler and the striking radar-silent forms of HMS Duncan's upperworks.

We walked back into Glasgow's City Centre, pausing to admire the spaces beneath the Clydeside Expressway and the Kingston Bridge - the surfaces finished in various textures of concrete, the soaring verticals, the boldly articulated horizontals and planes. As Barnabas rightly observed, this is true cityscape.


Richard Seifert's Anderston Centre (above right) is, alas, being re-covered in dreary rainscreen cladding - lacking the texture and detailing of the original (soon to be encased) facades.

Finally, we reached the Champagne Bar at the newly re-opened Glasgow Central Hotel - with a fine oak-panelled Belle Epoque interior, somewhat resembling the First Class on Cunard's Lusitania. There we were joined by another of my GSA colleagues, the Architecture Historian Robert Proctor. Time for a wee snifter to toast HMS Duncan.


A Central Hotel corridor and the hotel's very grand Grand Staircase.

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