Listed Building

The only legal part of the listing under the Planning (Listing Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997 is the address/name of site. Addresses and building names may have changed since the date of listing – see 'About Listed Buildings' below for more information. The further details below the 'Address/Name of Site' are provided for information purposes only.

Address/Name of Site

Sports arena block, including dome, changing rooms and offices at Bell's Sports Centre, excluding all other structures and buildings, Hay Street, PerthLB52628

Status: Designated

Documents

Where documents include maps, the use of this data is subject to terms and conditions (https://portal.historicenvironment.scot/termsandconditions).

Summary

Category
B
Date Added
10/04/2024
Local Authority
Perth And Kinross
Burgh
Perth
NGR
NO 11515 24337
Coordinates
311515, 724337

Description

Built between 1966 and 1968 and designed by John Beattie Davidson of Perth Town Council's Architect's Office, the arena block of the Bell's Sports Centre is a modern purpose-built, domed indoor sports hall. It is located just off the North Inch (a public park) to the west of the River Tay, north of the city centre of Perth.

It is circular on plan with a large sports hall space to the centre. The domed roof is around 17 metres high and around 67 metres in diameter. A rendered brick outer ring of offices, changing rooms and other ancillary spaces surrounds the sports hall exterior. These ancillary spaces were added to the dome soon after it was completed. The original changing rooms are constructed in Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC). There is a protruding, two-storey former entrance section along the eastern elevation/arc with tall windows at first floor level, overlooking the North Inch.

The dome's roof structure is made up of 36 whitewood glulam (glue-laminated timber) arches which are prominent within the building's main interior space. There is a central steel ring beam/ventilation oculus in the centre of the dome's ceiling. The interior of the hall is lit by replacement LED lights dating to 2023.

The exterior of the domed roof is clad in corrugated sheeting which is covered in a replacement grey PVC waterproof roofing membrane. The flat-roofed ring of ancillary spaces has regularly spaced window and door openings and a timber fascia above. The windows are predominantly in casement frames and the doors are double leafed.

There are a number of other structures both linked to the dome and freestanding that are part of the overall Bell's Sports Centre complex, including the Gannochy Sports Pavilion, The Gym and the squash courts. These are all components of the sporting site, but they are excluded from the listing.

Historical development

Purpose-built sports centres, designed largely for community use, were an innovation of the second half of the 20th century. Earlier sports provision in the 19th century and earlier decades of the 20th century was predominantly in the form of swimming baths, lidos and outdoor sporting pavilions. In some cases, halls for racquet sports and other indoor sports were held in converted buildings, such as drill halls and churches. The concept of the multi-use, indoor community sports and recreation centre, first established in the 1950s and 1960s, was rooted in post-war regeneration in Scotland, and elsewhere across the United Kingdom.

The Wolfenden Committee on Sport and the Community was appointed in October 1957 to examine the factors affecting the development of games, sports and outdoor activities in the United Kingdom. The Wolfenden Report was published in 1960 and it recommended local authorities and voluntary organisations should work together with the Government to "expand opportunities for healthy physical recreation, both indoors and outdoors" (Hansard). This report, and the Albemarle Report of the same year which related to Youth Services, directly informed the provision and use of sports facilities and how they could positively impact the lives of people who use them.

The Ordnance Survey map of 1962 shows the site of Bell's Sports Centre, on the western edge of the North Inch, as undeveloped. Perth Town Council had purchased the four-acre plot of land to the south of Balhousie Castle (now the Black Watch Castle and Museum) and asked for suggestions for how the site could be used (Live Active Leisure booklet, p.6). Bowling greens, club houses and sporting pavilions relating to the bowling and cricket clubs were to the south of the land where the sports centre would be built.

Bell's Sports Centre in Perth was the second earliest, purpose-built municipal sports centre in Scotland (it was preceded by Bellahouston Sports Centre in Glasgow in January 1968 and followed by the Meadowbank National Centre in Edinburgh in 1970 [demolished in 2019]) (see 3.2.1 below). It was announced in September 1964 that the Gannochy Trust had offered to meet the cost of building Bell's Sports Centre, estimated at £150,000 and which later increased to £225,000.

On 1 October 1965, a new company was incorporated, Bell's Sports Centre (Perth) Ltd, and the aims of the company were set out to provide "social welfare, recreational facilities and leisure time occupation for members of the public at large, with the object of improving the condition of life of the inhabitants of the City and Royal Burgh of Perth" (Live Active Leisure Booklet, p.6).

The timber glulam arches of the dome began to be assembled in September 1966 and the foundation stone of the sports centre was laid on 20 March 1967 by Lord Provost D K Thomson. Bell's Sports Centre was due to open in March 1968 but was delayed due to a fire in February of that year. The centre eventually opened to the public on 15 October 1968. Bell's Sports Centre was the first centre in Scotland to provide all-weather facilities for athletics and recreation (The Scotsman, 1968). It was named after Arthur Kimmond Bell (1868-1942), the founder and former chairman of the Gannochy Trust. At the time of its construction, the dome was the largest in the United Kingdom and the architects were presented with a Guinness Book of Records certificate (Live Active Leisure Booklet, p.8).

The Gannochy Sports Pavilion was built between 1975-79, a coaching hall (now The Gym) was added in 1983 and squash courts were added to the sports complex between 1989 and 1991. These later structures were added to the site as the requirements of the site developed over time. They are linked to the original domed sports hall by a tented entrance that was built between 1989 and 1991. All of these later structures are excluded from the listing (see section 6).

Bell's Sports Centre continues to be used as a multi-purpose, community-use sports and fitness venue, operated and owned by Live Active Leisure (2023).

Statement of Special Interest

The 1968 domed section of Bell's Sports Centre meets the criteria of special architectural or historic interest for the following reasons:

  • The domed sports hall is an exceptional surviving example of a new building type that developed in the second half of the 20th century.
  • It is the second earliest purpose-built, community sports and recreation centres in Scotland following the publication in 1960 of the seminal Wolfenden Report.
  • The character of the domed area is preserved, particularly because of the survival of its original features, including the exposed timber structure and use of good quality materials throughout.
  • The dome is the only one of its kind in Scotland and was the second domed sports centre to be built in the United Kingdom after the near-contemporary Lightfoot Dome (now the Walker Activity Dome) in Newcastle.
  • At the time of its construction, the dome was the largest in the United Kingdom and the architects were presented with a Guinness Book of Records certificate. This record was held until the construction of The O2 (formerly the Millennium Dome).
  • Designed to accommodate a range of sporting courts and community activities, the building reflects the general increase in leisure time and the importance placed on health and well-being for wider public benefit during this period.

In accordance with Section 1 (4A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997 the following are excluded from the listing: all other structures and buildings.

Architectural interest:

Design

Bell's Sports Centre was designed to accommodate a range of sporting courts for activities such as tennis, badminton, volleyball, hockey, cricket, netball and basketball. A circular plan form with a domed roof provided the largest possible floor space for sports providing an unobstructed space which could be used in all-weathers and for multiple functions such as gymnastics and athletics (with an 11-lap per mile track and 60m sprint lane), and sporting events and competitions. As well as sport and recreation space, the dome included spectator seating (bleachers), changing rooms, committee rooms for officials and a public restaurant. Upon its opening, Bell's Sports Centre domed roof was clad in translucent, corrugated fibreglass panels that were designed to let natural light in and reflect the sun's heat, allowing a 30% daylight factor inside the sporting area (Live Active Leisure Booklet, pp.7-8). The central ring beam incorporated a louvred oculus to provide ventilation to the space below. The louvres are now permanently closed due to the replacement roof covering, but the oculus remains a prominent centrepiece to the uppermost part of dome.

While there has been some later alteration to the domed sports centre, in particular to the exterior cladding, its architectural design is still striking, with, its glulam arches remaining a prominent design feature, particularly from the interior space of the sports hall.

A model of the proposed centre dating from 1964 and photographs of the sports centre in 1967 and upon opening in 1968 show it was originally designed with its glulam arches exposed at ground level to one half of the facility, with the other half including a two-storey entrance and changing rooms to the periphery of the dome (The Scotsman 1964; Small City Big Personality; Geograph). It is likely that the outer ring of ancillary offices, changing rooms and stores was extended around the rest of the dome within 20 years of it first being built. As a multi-functional space, the building was designed to cater to indoor and outdoor sports as well as school use and public events. To enable this use, the northern section of the building incorporates changing rooms with two sets of doors, one to access a corridor leading outside to the playing fields and pitches on the North Inch and one leading to an internal corridor which flows into the hall space, thereby keeping the different activities separate but functionally related.

A strong, durable, lightweight and economical structural engineered timber product, laminated timber (or glulam) arches were used for their load-bearing qualities, their cost-effectiveness, their relatively quick construction time and their visual attractiveness. The earliest use of glulam in the United Kingdom was in the latter half of the 19th century, however it wasn't until 1901 when the first patent for its construction was filed in Germany by Otto Hetzer. Early glulam was dependent on developments in glue technology. The strength of glulam was comparable to, and in some cases better than, reinforced concrete and steel. Post-1945, developments in synthetic adhesives, stress grading and weatherproofing methods made glulam a highly durable and popular construction material (Sutherland, pp.102, 107). Examples of post-1945 glulam-constructed buildings include Manchester Oxford Road Station (1960) and the Lightfoot Sports Dome in Newcastle (1965), both of which were considered pioneering for their time. The use of laminated timber meant it could be used in long-spanning structures as it overcame the natural length of raw timber, making it ideal for use in sports buildings where spans of 70m or more are often needed (Farmer and Louw, p.253). The choice of glulam at Bell's Sports Centre is indicative of its contemporary usage across the United Kingdom, and as an economical and lightweight construction material.

Whitewood, as a softwood, was typically used because it's lighter and stronger than redwood and is ideal for structural purposes. The whiteish, pale yellow colour of the wood was specifically chosen as a design feature to complement other woods used in the building. The symmetry of the ribs coming off the central ring beam is visually striking and, together with the natural colours and finish of the polished Granwood flooring and the exposed stonework, contributes to a naturalistic, outdoor aesthetic that speaks to the surrounding exterior landscape. This naturalistic aesthetic was likely inspired by interwar sports hall design in Scandinavia, for example SALK-hallen in Alvik, Sweden (1937), and earlier uses of glulam in public buildings like Malmö Central Station (1923). The building also displays the Modernist concept of honestly showing how a building is constructed both in form and in materials. The 1960s was also the height of the 'space age' and there was much optimism for the future, subsequently many designers were influenced by both Modernism and Science Fiction (The Historic England Blog). This may have gone some way to influence the designers of Bell's Sports Centre, possibly inspired by structures such as the Palazzetto Dello Sport in Rome (1957), Kagawa Gymnasium by Kenzo Tange (1961-4) and the Houston Astrodome in Texas, United States (1965).

Bell's Sports Centre is one of a small number of domed sports and leisure centres in the United Kingdom. The earliest dome-style centre in the UK was the Lightfoot Centre (now known as the Walker Activity Dome) by FaulknerBrowns which opened in Newcastle in 1965. The design of Bell's Sports Centre was likely influenced by FaulknerBrowns' 61m span laminated timber (glulam) dome, then the largest dome of its construction-type in Europe (Historic England, p.9; The Sports Leisure Legacy Project, section 2.3.3). Once completed, the diameter of the dome at Bell's Sports Centre surpassed the Lightfoot Centre and for a time was recognised as the largest dome in the United Kingdom (Live Active Leisure, p.8).

The Dictionary of Scottish Architects notes the design of Bell's Sports Centre was one of John Beattie Davidson's outstanding achievements while working as junior depute burgh architect at what was then known as Perth Town Council Architect's Office (with David Cockburn as Perth Burgh Architect). Davidson also supervised the construction of the domed sports centre, as well as supervising the construction of many houses in the Letham Development in Perth (Obituary of John B Davidson).

The development of the first sports centres and multi-purpose halls was a step into the unknown for the private and public sector architects who were designing the first of this new type of civic building during the early period of development in the 1960s. The architecturally striking structural form of Bell's Sports Centre shows technological excellence and innovation and is indicative of early indoor sports centre design that developed after the Wolfenden Report was published in 1960. The large, unobstructed hall with a large amount of headroom meant the space could be used for a variety of indoor court sports, as well as jumping and throwing activities, with bleachers around the perimeter for spectator seating. It was a highly flexible space designed with robust fixtures and fittings, such as the durable Granwood flooring and glulam beams, that was able to be erected relatively quickly.

These early centres were designed according to current requirements and these spaces were often developed and changed over time to suit the evolving way people used the space. The dome at Bell's Sports Centre has been upgraded and altered over time, including the refurbishment of the Granwood flooring and the addition of 21st century LED lighting to the main hall space, but this is to be expected from a venue that has had near-constant, heavy use over the past 50+ years. Overall, the structural form and modern character of the original sports hall has been retained in terms of its materials, plan form and layout.

Setting

Bell's Sports Centre is an architectural landmark along the western edge of Perth's North Inch public park on the banks of the River Tay. It is located close to the city centre and is easily accessible by foot, car and public transport. Its domed shape fits in to its natural landscaped setting and it is well-situated for the playing fields and grounds of the North Inch. The building is also visible from the riverside path to the east.

The sports centre forms part of a sporting landscape that includes Perth Bowling Club, the North Inch Golf Course and Perthshire RFC. The rugby club plays its home games on the North Inch and is based within the Gannochy Pavilion at Bell's Sports Centre. Bell's Sports Centre has evolved and increased in size since its opening in 1968, but these additions are, individually, smaller in scale to the original dome. The later structures attached to the south and southeast section of the dome are excluded from the listing.

Historic interest:

Age and rarity

Bell's Sports Centre is Scotland's second earliest surviving purpose-built, indoor sports centre built after the Wolfenden Report of 1960. It is the only domed sports facility in Scotland, and it is the second example of a domed sports hall to be built in the United Kingdom.

The five earliest purpose-built, indoor, community-use sports centres in the United Kingdom were Harlow in Essex (opened 1964, now demolished), Afan Lido in Wales (opened 1965, now demolished), Lightfoot in Newcastle (opened 1965, proposed for listing to Historic England in 2022), Stockton on Teesside (opened 1966) and Bracknell (opened 1967).

The development of sports centres in Scotland ran largely in parallel to what was happening in England and Wales (The Sports Leisure Legacy Project, section 6.2.1). As the construction of new, purpose-built centres was getting underway, a handful of drill halls were converted for immediate sports use in the mid to late-1960s, including Greenock (1966), Dumbarton (1969), and Arbroath (1969) (The Sports Leisure Legacy Project, sections 2.14.2 and 6.2.1). The first of this 'new' type of purpose-built, indoor, community sports centre was Bellahouston Sports Centre in Glasgow which opened in January 1968 (The Sports Leisure Legacy Project, Chapter 2, 2.8). The sports centre, now known as Glasgow Club Bellahouston, survives today in a much refurbished and altered form (2023). Bell's Sports Centre in Perth was the second purpose-built, indoor, community sports centre to be constructed in Scotland (after Bellahouston, which is now largely altered).

Between 1968 and 1979, 65 community sports centres were built in Scotland. A number of these centres, from the mid-1970s onwards, were more specifically leisure centres, which marked a shift away from sport for training and competition towards facilities for recreation and fun. A significant number of these centres remain in use, many of them having been refurbished and developed over time. Others, such as the Olympia in Dundee (built 1974, demolished 2014) and the Magnum Leisure Centre in Irvine (1976, demolished 2018), no longer survive. Around a further 25 or so centres were constructed in Scotland in the 1980s which encompassed sporting swimming pools, recreational leisure pools and leisure centres (The Sports Leisure Legacy Project, section 6.2.1).

Bell's Sports Centre stands alongside other architecturally innovative and contemporary public amenity sporting buildings, such as Dollan Aqua Centre in East Kilbride (built 1963-5, listed at category A, LB48682) which was inspired by Pier Luigi Nervi's Olympic complex in Rome. Nervi's domed sports arena, the Palazzetto Dello Sport, opened in 1957 for the 1960 Summer Olympics. Whilst constructed in reinforced concrete, it also inspired FaulknerBrowns' Lightfoot dome in Newcastle (1963-5) and by extension Bell's Sports Centre in Perth as its closest contemporary in terms of style, plan form and construction materials.

Bell's Sports Centre is the second earliest surviving example of a purpose-built, indoor, community sports centre in Scotland. The design of the centre and the facilities it provided were at the vanguard of indoor sports centre design during the early years of the Scottish Sports Council (now Sport Scotland). Designed for "maximum and multiple use" for a variety of individuals, community groups, schools, amateur and professional sportspeople, as well as a large-capacity venue for matches, exhibitions and events, Bell's Sports Centre was constructed as a highly adaptable civic building. Perth Town Council Architect's Office, and John Beattie Davidson in particular, demonstrated ingenuity by choosing such an outstanding and unique design that would stand as an exemplar on the national stage. Bell's Sports Centre is the only example of a timber laminated dome sports centre in Scotland and is one of only a small number of domed sports centres throughout the United Kingdom.

Social historical interest

Social historical interest is the way a building contributes to our understanding of how people lived in the past, and how our social and economic history is shown in a building and/or in its setting.

Bell's Sports Centre is named after Arthur Kimmond Bell, often referred to as A K Bell (1868-1942). He was a Perth-born businessman and philanthropist, and a partner at the whisky distillers, Arthur Bell and Sons Ltd. In 1937 he founded The Gannochy Trust and gifted part of his estate for "certain charitable and public purposes for the benefit of the community of Perth and district" (The Gannochy Trust). The Gannochy Trust met the cost of building Bell's Sports Centre, around £225,000, and since then, has contributed more to the construction of additional buildings at the site, including the Gannochy Sports Pavilion in 1975-9. The Gannochy Trust is a philanthropic charity that continues today (2023).

Bell's Sports Centre is an innovative example of a building type that gained huge popularity in the following decades. As the length of the working week reduced, people had more free time to engage in leisure and recreational activities. The domed sports hall is a built monument to the changing social conditions in the decades after the Second World War and the development of purpose-built buildings for sports training, competition and leisure-time recreation.

Association with people or events of national importance

There is no known association with a person or event of national importance.

Other Information

The first competition event to be staged at Bell's Sports Centre in October 1968 was the Scottish District Basketball Championships. This was followed soon after by the Scottish round of the Dewar Cup Indoor Tennis Tournament Series which saw Margaret Court of Australia and Nancy Richey of the United States attend.

References

Bibliography

Maps

Ordnance Survey (surveyed 1962, published 1963) National Grid maps: NO1124SE – A. 25 inches to the mile. Southampton: Ordnance Survey.

Printed Sources

Farmer, B. and Louw, H. (1993) 'Influence of Technology' in Companion to Contemporary Architectural Thought. Farmer, B. and Louw, H. (ed.) London: Routledge, p.253.

The Scotsman (26 September 1964) How Perth's New Recreation Centre Would Look, p.5.

The Scotsman (10 October 1968) No Title, p.24.

Online Sources

Dictionary of Scottish Architects. John Beattie Davidson, at https://www.scottisharchitects.org.uk/architect_full.php?id=403644 [accessed 31/10/2023].

Dictionary of Scottish Architects. Gannochy Trust Sports Complex, with Bell Sports Centre and Gannochy Sports Pavilion, at https://www.scottisharchitects.org.uk/building_full.php?id=410237 [accessed 31/10/2023].

Gazetteer for Scotland. Bell's Sports Centre, at https://www.scottish-places.info/features/featurefirst17723.html [accessed 31/10/2023].

Geograph. Bell's Sports Centre, Perth: Taken June 1967, at https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/3974256 [accessed 22/11/2023].

Hansard. Sport (Wolfenden Committee's Report) (1961), at https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/commons/1961/apr/28/sport-wolfenden-committees-report [accessed 31/10/2023].

Historic England (2017). Sports and Recreation Buildings: Listing Selection Guide, p.9, at https://historicengland.org.uk/images-books/publications/dlsg-sports-recreation-buildings/heag107-sport-and-recreation-lsg/ [accessed 31/10/2023].

The Historic England Blog (2019) 8 Out of This World Examples of Space Age Architecture, at https://heritagecalling.com/2019/07/19/eight-out-of-this-world-examples-of-space-age-architecture/ [accessed 22/11/2023].

Live Active Leisure (2016). 50 Years of Leisure in Perth and Kinross booklet, at https://www.liveactive.co.uk/who-we-are/532-50th-anniversary-brochure/file [accessed 19/09/2023].

Small City Big Personality. The History of Bells Sports Centre, at https://www.smallcitybigpersonality.co.uk/The-History-of-Bells-Sports-Centre-50-years-in-Perth?gallery_Id=2068&item_Id=7009&item_line=4 [accessed 31/10/2023].

Sutherland, J. (2010) Revival of structural timber in Britain after 1945 in Construction History, Vol. 25, pp.101-113, at https://www.jstor.org/stable/41613962

The Gannochy Trust. Our History, at https://www.gannochytrust.org.uk/about-us/our-history/ [accessed 31/10/2023].

The Sports Leisure Legacy Project, at https://sportsleisurelegacy.co.uk/chapter-4-the-wave-of-new-centres/ [accessed 19/09/2023].

Other Information

Obituary of John B Davidson. Newspaper snippet provided by the proposer.

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Images

Bell’s Sports Centre, site entrance (west) elevation, looking east, during daytime, on clear day with blue sky.
Interior of domed sports hall showing laminated timber beams and part of the hall laid out for sporting activities.

Printed: 21/05/2024 14:00