THE tool stores, wallpaper shops and cheap carpet outlets are still there, but the heart of Glasgow’s famous Barras has almost stopped beating. On a dull Thursday afternoon, between weekend trading, the shuttered, faded-green central building, McIver’s, built in 1921 to usher in the market’s heyday, lends the area the feel of an abandoned Wild West outpost.

We’re in the historic east end, just off the Gallowgate in the Calton district. Around the corner, behind the Barrowland ballroom, it’s a different story.

A large brick building has been given a coat of arty matt black paint, and inside it is alive with activity. Built 17 years ago by Norrie Innes’s Glasgow-based design and architecture collective Rock DCM, the place is undergoing a modern-day metamorphosis.

Hard-hatted workmen are building a mezzanine level and they’re digging holes in the ground of the glass-vaulted space to plant trees and bamboos 12 feet tall. Upstairs, a group of artists is busy restoring thousands of pieces of reclaimed parquet flooring. I spot some antique Belfast sinks and open copper piping, there’s lots of waxed wood, and can’t stop a gasp when I notice the state-of-the-art kitchen that’s just been installed on the ground floor alongside a bar.

It’s here that I meet Ricky Scoular and Brian Traynor, the brains behind the development project that will see BAaD (Barras Art and Design) transformed into a food hub for the entire Calton area. At its centre is the new restaurant, a’Challtainn (Gaelic for Calton, meaning “the hazel wood”).

“After all, Glasgow used to be known as the Dear Green Place, and Calton was once quite pastoral,” remarks Traynor wryly. “We want to create a calm, green space for dining because we want food to be at the centre of our events-based space.”

A permanent head chef has been appointed and the menu will focus predominantly on seafood. Ingredients will be sourced from the Fish Plaice in Saltmarket and they are “foraging around” for suppliers local to the area.

The ground-floor units around the light-filled space will be occupied by working businesses including a bakery, a coffee roaster, a Malaysian kitchen and others. “But definitely no cafes selling cupcakes.”

A’Challtainn’s kitchen also has access to a brand new space on the other side of Calton Entry – a large courtyard occupied by a funky three-storey container park for artists’ studios. These will overlook the herbs, vegetables and plants that will be growing there too, among independent food producer market stalls.

In the short term there will be a Christmas market here, where takeaway food will include whelks and mussels and oysters – a nod to the original Maggie Divers’ oyster stall of the 1920s and 1930s, when the shellfish, now a luxury item, were cheap and easily accessible.

All of which may seem like anathema in the Calton, which infamously has one of the lowest life expectancy rates in Europe. But we’ll come back to that later.

Scoular and Traynor – iconoclasts who respectively own the popular underground Sub Club music venue in the city centre, and run the Riverside Festival of electronic music – took over the space from Innes two months ago, and their enthusiasm is catching. Yet it’s typical of this dynamic duo, who have become known for their groundbreaking seafood restaurant pop-ups in the east end of the city.

The Fish Plaice pop-up, which took place in a lane on the Saltmarket during the three weeks of the Commonwealth Games in 2014, was a sensation by anyone’s standards.

It’s fair to say Glasgow had never seen anything like it. Over the brick lane behind the existing Fish Plaice market, near Glasgow Green, they’d strung up canvas ship sails to form a ceiling, decorated it with lights, installed tables and chairs, a temporary kitchen and bar, and found themselves with a two-hour waiting list within days – based purely on word of mouth. It proved so popular that they successfully applied for a one-week extension to their licence to enable locals to come and experience what the tourists had. The pop-up got through 200 fresh lobsters, a tonne of monkfish, 500,000 pink shrimps and unheard-of quantities of fresh langoustines and scallops every day.

Their success is largely down to their ability to spot unusual or neglected locations, secure them for temporary use, and make them look fabulous.

“We proved there’s a real demand for the kind of food experience we were giving local people,” says Scoular, who is from Clarkston in Glasgow's south side. “People kept telling us they felt there were in a different European city, like Barcelona or Brussels. They loved eating quality seafood in the relaxed informal atmosphere.

“Up until then, seafood was seen by most Scots as luxury food to be eaten only on formal occasions like graduations or birthdays. It was seen as out of the league of most people.

“But I like to think we made it accessible to a younger crowd by making it affordable in a hip environment.”

“The atmosphere we created seemed to be quite different to what else was going on in Glasgow. A lot of that came from the aesthetic of the area,” adds Traynor, who is from Newlands, also on the south side. “People were coming from the west end and locals were coming too. It was a melting pot.”

The incremental transition from the Fish Plaice to this place, via the Heverlee at Tontine Lane pop-up in 2015 and the Gordon Street Lane pop-up which has recently ended, seems logical – if ambitious.

Given the creative energy required and expended at each event, not to mention the vagaries of adapting to the limitations of temporary kitchens, finding a permanent space to service their new-found customer base comes as a relief.

“It will be amazing to finally have our own permanent kitchen. There has been a lot of sacrifices made over the last two years. Now it feels like it’s been worth it,” says Traynor. “This will give us freedom to create the menu we want, as opposed to the menu being dictated by the kitchen.”

Nevertheless, BAaD – a stonking 500sq m space which opens at the end of this month – is a massive step up for them. Scoular and Traynor have self-funded the six-figure project (although Glasgow City Council is supporting it with services and utilities). They say they prefer it that way because they don’t want to be tied down or told what to do.

But there’s another reason they want to a permanent space. Pop-up restaurants are no longer new. The very suggestion that they have actually become mainstream prompts shudders from both men. It’s clear they prefer to remain firmly at the vanguard.

“We’ve re-energised four of Glasgow’s fantastic old lanes, and shown their potential as food spaces. Now that Glasgow City Council has plans to develop its street food offer in spots around the city we feel it’s time to move on and do something new,” says Scoular. “The pop-up scene in the city is fantastic and it’s given many people the confidence that they can do this. However, we feel it’s a touch saturated.”

BAaD is dramatically enhanced by its surroundings. Victorian red brick warehouses, steel zig-zag fire escapes, and the elegant 18th-century spire of St Andrews in the Square church are all visible from the large plate-glass windows of the stacked containers.

Viewed through the eyes of Scoular and Traynor, the faded utilitarian vibe of the area positively throbs with creative potential. It’s even possible to imagine a lasting renaissance could be achieved. And why not? After all, it has happened in similar areas of other great cities such as London’s Spitalfields and Hoxton, Mitte in Berlin and Melbourne’s St Kilda among others.

Far from being out on a limb BAaD is actually in the heart of an emerging artistic community. It’s just around the corner from the Barrowland (recently voted the UK’s best gig venue), and East Campbell Street is the new home of the Glasgow Collective, a "co-working destination". St Luke’s music and arts venue thrives in the restored B-listed parish church in Bain Street; and the Many Studios opened last week in Ross Street, aiming to help artists have retail outlets in the Barras Market.

Likewise, while Scoular is keen to support the local artistic community he also wants to help emerging food entrepreneurs by giving them outdoor space in a bid to re-energise the market, where a dwindling number of original traders operate on reduced hours compared to its heyday. The nearby Blochairn fish market too has shrunk in capacity. With typical prescience the boys applied for a trading licence on Moncur Street, alongside the original market buildings, so there’s potential for food producers to sell from food stalls.

“We’ve got this vision of what the Barras could be again, with young traders working hand in hand with existing businesses,” says Scoular. “We’d like to help bring a whole new generation of people to the Barras, like they have at Victoria Market in Melbourne, where my parents live.”

If it’s destined to become an arty enclave, so be it. “The rents are cheap, the light is great and the space is good, so it is a natural magnet for emerging artists,” he says, “but we hope people who actually live here will want to come too.”

In the longer term, the pair want to offer apprenticeships to young people from the local G40 postcode, along the lines of what Jamie Oliver did with his Number 15 project. The focus would be on food education and there would also be cooking classes using produce grown at BAaD to help teach them not only about good food and eating well, but also that working in food is a proper job with pay.

“Life expectancy in the Calton area is lower than the national average partly because of poor diet, and we hope we can make a difference,” says Scoular. “This is not Merchant City East. This is Calton. We’re taking a caretaker role. It’s about restoring what it once was, making its heartbeat stronger than what it is at the moment. So what we’re doing is the very opposite of gentrification.”