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Building 'inspired by Hitchcock' is celebrating its 50th anniversary

NO-ONE as yet has thought to make a Scottish version of the film North By Northwest.

The South Lanarkshire Council was opened by the late Queen mother in 1964 and resembles the UN building.
The South Lanarkshire Council was opened by the late Queen mother in 1964 and resembles the UN building.

But if it ever happens and film makers are looking for a stand-in for the UN Building where Cary Grant is first accused of murder in Hitchcock's thriller, they could always try the South Lanarkshire Council headquarters in Hamilton.

Formerly the Lanark County Buildings, the 17-storey concrete building celebrates its 50th anniversary on April 14. It was opened by the late Queen Mother in 1964.

And though county architect David Gordon Bannerman, the man responsible for this prime example of Scottish architectural modernism, never actually stated that he was inspired by Oscar Niemeyer's design for the UN Building, more than a few people believe it, including many who work in the building.

Now listed by Historic Scotland, the glass and ceramic-clad building, which does visually resemble Niemeyer's New York construction, remains one of the most distinctive, and most visible, constructions in Lanarkshire.

"It's an iconic building," believes Graham Forsyth, who as property manager oversees all general maintenance of buildings for South Lanarkshire Council. "I think a lot of people aspire to working in a building like this. It's very central. It's got fantastic views."

Indeed, from the 15th floor restaurant you can see Ben Lomond. For many, of course, it's the view of the building itself that's hard to avoid. Paula Biagioni, who is in charge of the building's archives, admits reaction to it can be mixed. But when it was built, she points out, it attracted attention from all over the world. "If you go through the book you see all sorts of unusual names," Ms Biagioni said, "and you think 'why did they come here?' It would have been to see the building."

When the tower block was opened in 1964 the Glasgow Herald's art critic of the time described it as one of the best modern buildings in the country.

But 50-year-old buildings need to be maintained.

"There's a lot of upkeep," said Mr Forsyth. "We're going to do more to the building behind the scenes. We need to keep continually investing in it."

That's not always easy given its historic listing and the economic landscape. But Mr Forsyth and his team hope to make changes to make the air-conditioned building more efficient.

"We are continually looking at all sorts of ways through investment programmes to reduce consumption, particularly in lighting."

To that end LED lighting has been installed. The building has a banqueting hall which the public can hire for weddings and events, but first and foremost it is a place for local government.

For Jackie Burns, depute leader of the council, what matters is that it is still a functioning building. "The committee rooms are very conducive to decision-making," he said. "Glasgow City Chambers is very much a historical building. That has got some feelings of grandeur. It's almost like being in the House of Commons or the House of Lords. I find this building far more friendly than the City Chambers because it doesn't have the same history and it doesn't evoke the same deference."

The design might even help local politics. The debating chamber — the rotunda that is attached to the tower block — is not, he says, adversarial. "It's more conducive to healthy debate and discussion. There should be arguments and debates but I think the set-up is designed, like the United Nations, to be about finding consensus."

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