WHEN the Buchanan Galleries opens for business in the centre of Glasgow on Wednesday, March 31, most customers will be far more interested in what's in the shops than the story behind the building of this mammoth retail centre. And that's as it should be.

But the fact is, the details of its construction would make a fascinating action film involving ships crossing the Atlantic and concrete beams being erected over railway lines by squads of workers at dead of night.

Gordon Anderson said that, for a city centre development, Buchanan Galleries is unique. He is director of the project for Bovis Scotland Limited which is construction manager and contract administrator for the Buchanan Partnership.

Anderson is in charge of the project and responsible for managing the design team which comprises Fergus McGhee of Jenkins & Marr (architect), Kevin Hatton of Tozer Capita (quantity surveyor), Dennis Anderson of Brand Leonard (structural engineer) and Brian Mayberry of Wallace Whittle & Partners (mechanical and electrical engineers).

Anderson, who will be handing over this #200m shopping centre in a few days, spoke about the Buchanan Galleries project with enthusiasm. He said: ''Although the development was first mooted in 1989, it didn't get under way until November 1994, due to a downturn in the retail sector.

''The logistics of the project were an issue because of its size and location which takes in the Edinburgh to Glasgow railway line and Cathedral Street, both of which we've had to build over; a concert hall which we're right next door to and the low level and underground railways which we've been building adjacent to.

''Those factors meant that the three-year construction period was preceded by a nine-month pre-construction period and a six-month consultancy period when the method of build, choice of materials and timing of construction had to be considered.

''Noise and vibration were an issue where the Concert Hall was concerned, not only because of musical events at night but conferences during the day.''

Fergus McGhee, senior partner of Jenkins and Marr, applauded the agreement of Glasgow Cultural Enterprise to the demolition of part of the south entrance to Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. He said: ''The entrance was rebuilt three metres south of its original position to facilitate a straight shopping mall from Sauchiehall Street to the north atrium. The decision, in my view, improved beyond measure the original concept.''

Building over and adjacent to the Glasgow/Edinburgh railway line in the middle of the night - where the team was erecting a multi-storey car park involving eight beams weighing more than 200 tons each - meant working out a programme of activities for Railtrack, which needed at least 12 weeks notice.

''In terms of output,'' said Anderson, ''we also had to consider that although we had possession of the track from 12 midnight until 4am, there was often a need for a service train to be run along the line, which meant stopping half-way through an operation, then starting up again. So for that 18 months, we were working a 24-hour day, five days a week.''

Kevin Hatton of Tozer Capita said: ''Setting the cost plan and controlling change presented particular challenges because of the magnitude of the development.

''Close liaison with the project team was necessary, with particular emphasis on programme and methodology control and design development in respect of demanding works carried out within the constraints imposed by Railtrack. These included the removal of the old Cunningham Street Bridge, the new bridge over the railway and the multi-storey structures on the rail cutting.''

During the pre-construction period, the decision to use pre-cast sandstone cladding on the most visually sensitive part of the shopping centre was taken. This, said Anderson, was the key to ensuring that the Buchanan Galleries would be delivered on time and within budget. ''The elevations of the building are, to say the least, enormous and take in 12,000 sq m of external brickwork, 5000 sq m of glass and metal wall and 4000 sq m of pre-cast, sandstone and brick-faced concrete cladding.

''What that operation involved was buying the bricks and stone here - from Durham, Dumfries and just outside Glasgow - and shipping it to Canada where it was put on to pre-cast concrete panels, sent back to Scotland and bolted on to the building.

Hundreds of panels, weighing 10 tons each, were made and Anderson, with representatives from the design team and Glasgow City Council building control flew over regularly to make sure that the production and quality of the pre-cast elements were being maintained.

As for the internal statistics of the 1.6m sq ft development, there are 7700 sq m of ceramic floor tiles in the mall areas and 11,000 sq m of ceilings and fascias, while 65,000 cubic m of concrete were used for the framework.

Actual retail space runs to 700,000 sq ft, 300,000 of which is taken up by the John Lewis department store. Other occupants include Boots, Habitat, Sainsbury and Next, as well as a cafe, the food court, toilets and creche and associated service areas.

In addition, 600,000 sq ft of space has been given over to Scotland's biggest multi-storey car park which has room for more than 2000 vehicles and is so safety centred in terms of women, children and disabled people that Anderson believes it will win an award. ''As will the development, because of its superb external design,'' he said.