An armadillo-shaped building 

The Clyde Auditorium, or SEC Armadillo to give it its now official title, has become one of the architectural landmarks of Glasgow. This icon of Scottish architecture is one of three huge exhibition, concert and conference buildings close to each other on the banks of the River Clyde. They are known collectively as the SEC Campus.  

The ‘Armadillo’ is a fascinating building, with a very distinctive design. When it opened in 1997 it was one of only four conference auditoriums in Europe with capacity to seat more than 3,000 people. Find out more about how the ‘Armadillo’ was constructed and its unique features below.


The history of the site: from shipyard to showpiece

The Clyde Auditorium sits within the SEC complex of exhibition centres and concert halls, on the former site of the Queen’s Dock. The Queen’s Dock was one of the busiest and largest of the Clyde shipyards until the industry declined in the 1950s and 1960s.  

Through a partnership between the Scottish Development Agency and Glasgow City Council, the former shipyard site was re-developed from the early 1980s into what we see today. The quays were infilled, the ground stabilised and new roads were built, and the first building to open was the 12,000 capacity SECC (Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre) in 1985. 


The beginnings of the Clyde Auditorium: from idea to reality

The project to build the Clyde Auditorium next to the SECC began in 1995. The architects Foster and Partners were commissioned to design the ambitious building, which would be a 3,000 seat conference hall able to host international corporate and entertainment events. Norman Foster and his team worked within a limited budget of £30 million, and construction was completed within two years. The ‘Armadillo’, as it affectionately became known, was opened in September 1997. 


The architecture of the Armadillo: a modern icon

It is easy to see why the ‘Armadillo’ got its name – and there are also striking similarities with the Sydney Opera House. But Foster, one of the 21st century’s greatest living architects, said that the design was inspired by the shipyards – with the ridges of the auditorium’s shell actually representing hulls of ships that interlock around the building’s core.  

The building has become a Glasgow landmark and has played host to numerous notable events, from weightlifting at the 2014 Commonwealth Games to X-Factor and Britain’s Got Talent auditions. This was the venue where another Scottish icon, Susan Boyle, was first discovered. 


Designing the iconic Armadillo: inspiration and functionality

The brief for Foster and Partners was to produce an auditorium on an epic scale, but which could be flexible enough to have spaces that served a diverse range of events, from the vast to the intimate. Foster decided to use the industrial heritage of Queen’s Dock and replicate it in the form of the building. Rather like the way a ship was built, he used a flat sheet material and used it to clad a series of framed hulls, wrapping around the core to create the distinctive shell-like structure.  

The challenges of building on the Clyde: overcoming engineering obstacles

The chief obstacle for redeveloping a site on the Clyde shipyards was the infilling of the network of quays that made up the Queen’s Dock. Draining such a large body of water was a protracted process, and the work of infilling, securing and stabilising a new area of land, totalling 64 acres, brought challenges for the project’s civil engineers and structural engineers. 

An armadillo-shaped building by a riverside at night
The Clyde auditorium at the SEC

The unique features of the Clyde Auditorium: from acoustics to accessibility

From the very outset, the building was designed as a purpose-built venue, highly serviced for the events it was designed to hold. The main theatre includes projection systems, sound control booths, electronic delegate voting and simultaneous translation systems. The auditorium has world-leading acoustics and is a fully accessible venue: the main doors have been widened to provide easier access for wheelchairs, and the upper levels of the auditorium are accessible by lift. The concourse is broad, flat and fully accessible.  


The future of the Clyde Auditorium

The ‘Armadillo’ is part of the trio of iconic buildings on the SEC site – the SSE Hydro, which opened in 2013, is the latest. It holds 12,500 seats and is one of the largest and busiest entertainment venues in the world. The whole complex is booming. In 2021 the SEC Centre hosted COP26, the UN Climate Change conference, and the Clyde Auditorium continues to attract world-class conferences, concerts, theatre and other events. It is hard to believe it is over 25 years old already – it still looks bold and fresh, a tribute to its architect and the way it was constructed.  

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