It’s fitting that the home of Scotland’s first dedicated building conservation centre itself uses traditional materials in a contemporary way.
The Engine Shed building, used as a goods transfer shed, was built sometime between 1896 and 1913. The exact details of its construction were subject to an information blackout, and are still unknown, as it was part of an important military complex. The strategic base on the banks of the River Forth was a key resource for the army in the run up to and during both World Wars.
A programme of restoration and development, which began in 2013 and concluded in 2017, revitalised and extended the original building. Since then, we have run over 500 events, held exhibitions, led sessions with school pupils and shaped innovative research.
About the structure
The Engine Shed is a single storey building with sandstone walls and a slate roof, with a glazed clerestory window that runs the full length of the building. Steel roof trusses that span the width of the building support the roof.
Inside the historic building is a single large space, into which the lecture theatre for the building conservation centre has been installed as a pod – similar to the way in which large railway stations house shops and cafés. Originally the train track entered the shed, and elevated platforms ran along one or both sides. As part of the restoration, the floor has been taken down to the original level and the rails and platforms removed.
Today, the Engine Shed showcases the contemporary use of traditional materials as well as sympathetic design and construction.
Two new sheds have been built, one on either side of the original structure, to provide extra space for Scotland’s first building conservation centre. Their design and scale have been carefully planned to complement rather than compete with the original shed.
The historic Engine Shed has been upgraded while disturbing as little as possible of the original fabric and character.
Stone was salvaged from the dismantled Seaforth bridge next to the site. The British Geological Survey identified the stone as a close match for the local stone used to construct the original Engine Shed, now no longer available. Analysis of the original mortar showed that it was an early use of cement. Unlike a modern cement mortar, this mix hadn’t had a detrimental effect on the stone and had weathered well. So it was matched as closely as possible for all repointing work involved in the restoration.
Window repairs relied on recycled wrought iron, the closest match to the original mild steel used. Red lead putty used to seal around the frames was replaced. The cord and pulley system to operate the hoppers in the clerestory window was kept as the simplest means of allowing natural ventilation.
Design and build of the new sheds
The massing, roof form and pitch, bay rhythm, and scale and proportions of the new sheds compared to the original reflect their ancillary nature.
Each new shed is a simple, clear span structure with a pitched roof. Their form was inspired by the traditional approach to railway architecture, where a simple shed design was repeated until there was enough accommodation.
A glazed link separates the new sheds from the Engine Shed, and the new shed gables are set back from the line of the original building’s gable walls. The glazed clerestory window belonging to the centrepiece of the composition – the historic building – rises above the ridges of the new sheds.
Zinc cladding covers the new sheds, its lighter-weight nature deferring to the solid stone construction of the historic Engine Shed. Pre-patinated grey zinc was chosen to blend in with the Engine Shed’s slate roofs and to minimise the new sheds’ impact when seen from Stirling Castle and other vantage points.
Interiors have an industrial aesthetic in keeping with the Engine Shed’s previous life. Self-finished materials and minimal applied finishes have been used. Services distribution employs exposed, surface-mounted conduit and fittings.
The Engine Shed is located in Forthside, an area that was in use as a private estate from the mid-18th century. It latterly boasted a fine Georgian mansion and associated stables and outbuildings. But the expansion of the Scottish Central Railway cut off Forthside from Stirling in 1848.
Railways were vital for the transport of goods and people, and their importance led to the rise of industrialisation in Forthside. Railway buildings were developed to meet the demand for engine servicing and storage, and towns and cities linked by the rail network grew.
The Ministry of Defence acquired the 40-acre site in the 1880s and the existing network of sidings was expanded. Its strategic location on the banks of the River Forth, and its central location within Scotland, meant that the base was a key resource for the army in the run up to and during both World Wars.
The Engine Shed once formed part of this busy military complex, along with numerous stores for artillery, armaments and submarine equipment, and accommodation for soldiers and officers. Its exact date of construction isn’t known, but old maps and documents tell us that a depot was created around 1890 to move goods from ships to trains.
Engine sheds were used to service locomotives, and anecdotal evidence suggests that the historic building was used as a goods transfer shed specifically for ‘pugs’. A pug was a small, powerful steam locomotive with a short wheelbase, suitable for shunting freight in busy docks and other industrial sites with tight rail curves.
Following the closure of the army base and sale of the site in the 1990s, the area was largely cleared, with only the most important buildings left standing. Most of the setting of the Engine Shed was lost with the removal of its extensions and rails as well as the surrounding buildings and harbour.
Find out more about the Engine Shed’s history on Canmore.
The Forthside location is an important regeneration zone within Stirling. The Engine Shed was one of the first buildings to be developed here and is now a transformative space for heritage learning and innovation in Scotland.
The Engine Shed is accredited by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) and National Open College Network (NOCN).
The Engine Shed has been supported by a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Thanks to National Lottery players, we have been able to share knowledge of traditional building materials, develop skills and raise standards in conservation for traditional buildings.