The Society of Architectural Historians has selected Glasgow for its annual gathering when it will pay its respects to Mackintosh and to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Alexander “Greek” Thomson, the city’s other pioneering Victorian architect. The conference will take place at the University of Strathclyde and be attended by some 600 historians, architects, and museum professionals.
Delegates will tour a number of Glasgow’s architectural gems, including the Glasgow School of Art, and Holmwood House, the south side villa designed by Thomson.
Oddly, while I have been to Holmwood House a few times since it was opened in 1998, I’ve yet to even go through the doors of the Glasgow School of Art, and the closest so far has been taking pics just after the fire.
While Mackintosh’s legacy has come to be well-known and preserved in Glasgow, many of Thomson’s best works have sadly been left derelict, or demolished.
The event will take place in the Botanic Gardens on June 11, the final event of a four-day conference that is taking place outside of North America for the first time in 43 years.
The Society of Architectural Historians will host its 70th Annual International Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, from June 7–11, 2017. Meeting in Glasgow reflects the increasingly international scope of the Society and its conference, and we expect SAH members from all over the world to join us in Scotland’s largest city, world renowned for its outstanding architectural heritage. This is the first time that SAH has met outside North America since 1973. Architectural historians, art historians, architects, museum professionals and preservationists from around the world will convene to share new research on the history of the built environment. The Glasgow conference will include 36 paper sessions, eight roundtables, an introductory address and plenary talk, 33 architecture tours, the SAH Glasgow Seminar, and more.
Society of Architectural Historians
2017 Annual International Conference
June 7-11 | Glasgow, Scotland
University of Strathclyde, Technology & Innovation Centre
If you’re not familiar with the Sometimes Interesting web site, then I suggest you bookmark it visit occasionally.
It’s not for those who like sites that post an endless stream of posts that treat their subject to a ‘butterfly touch, but caters for the reader who has an attention span that surpassed the oft-quoted modern limit of ‘three minutes’. Find an entry there that you like, and you’ll need at least one cup of coffee and a biscuit.
There aren’t many Scottish entries to be found there, but those that are will be found to have been treated in some detail, and as one who has looked online for information relating to them (albeit a few years ago, so more has been added online since then), I am still surprised at what they manage to come up with, often with details I have not seen elsewhere.
Maybe that really means I need to update my own notes, and not rely on past finds.
I had to look twice when I saw the picture at the head of the site when I visited earlier today, as I though it was very similar to St Peter’s.
Of course, once I spotted the title, I knew why…
St. Peter’s Seminary is an abandoned Roman Catholic education facility near Cardross, Scotland. Built near the banks of the Clyde River and located just a half-hour outside of Glasgow, it was intended to be Scotland’s National Seminary. The radical shape was penned by a now-legendary Scottish design firm, and paid homage to one of architecture’s greats.
While the building won multiple design awards, it failed to reverberate within the ranks of the church in transition. The architecture was striking, but so was the building maintenance. Combined with escalating operating costs and a decline in enrollment, St. Peter’s closed just fourteen years after opening – and it has been abandoned ever since…
When I was little, and I mean really little, I was regularly dragged into “town” with my mother and grandmother. Those were the days when ladies went for tea, and tea rooms were still plentiful, with all the big stores being so equipped. No identical fast-food clones were to be seen. The stores were generally all well-respected big names (of their day), and generally sold the best of products.
In those days, Glasgow city centre was a very different place compared to what is seen today, and was rightly described as “busy”.
My memory may be flawed, but as far as I can recall, the streets (no pedestrian precincts back then) were packed with people like sardines, and the same was true of the road and its traffic.
Nowadays, I don’t see much of interest while wandering along Argyle Street, with some really crappy shops selling cheap rubbish, nameless computer bits, phone deals, discounted electrical goods (some of dubious brands) and lots of fast-food outlets, and clothes with overpriced ‘labels’. While there are busy spots, there is not the same general mass of people or vehicles. Crowds form near fast-food outlets, while traffic tends to be public transport rather than masses of private vehicles.
Many of the building are run down, with the upper floors apparently abandoned and derelict (filthy windows), and a number even have holes punched in those windows (or even the walls) with protruding scaffolding showing that the floors and walls are at risk of collapsing.
And this is without touching on the gaps where buildings have been removed, or trying to count the number of shops that are just empty:
This is an example of the sort of abandoned upper storey seen in Argyle Street:
And a closer look (I need to work out if I can find records of what these building were built for, and who occupied them).
And finally, details from that building which shows a piece of decorative carving, and what I think is some Art Deco window frame detail, together with the sort of holes I mentioned being punched through the windows themselves, complete with scaffolding and wooden reinforcement (click the thumbs for bigger versions):
The £15 million facelift (or revamp if you prefer), has been approved by Glasgow City Council, hopefully putting the nail in the 6 coffins holding the daft proposals that were presented for makeovers, and silencing the whining noise in the corner (the architects that won the contest to have one of those 6 proposals chosen, but was then jilted when Glasgow City Council saw sense, and dropped the lot in light of comments made by Glasgow’s citizens).
While the 6 designs proposals may – or may not – have been very nice, all of them suffered from lacking any grasp of reality regarding Scotland’s weather, and the heritage of the square. Within a few years, I am pretty sure they would have looked very tired, and been an endless source of maintenance costs.
That process is said to have a cost to taxpayers of £100 k, and of £200 k to the applicants. Apparently the applicants are not happy, but nobody forced them to take part, and whatever happened, 5 of them would not have been happy, so in reality, all that has happened is that one more is not happy, making 6 rather than 5… big deal (not) – and that extra one threw his toys out of his pram.
If you have the time, it’s interesting to follow the links to other sites (given in the news stories referenced below) with active members commenting on the process.
Because it’s rather amusing to see that they initially contained many negative comments regarding the 6 proposals, and suggestions that things in the square should be restored with more grass, and the statues in place, with near universal condemnation of the red ‘tarmac’ and calls for something to cover it up so it no longer offended the eye.
Now, would you believe that the same sites now have comments which largely complain about “Not much being done” in response to this approval.
Has someone else already coined the phrase “You can’t win”.
No radical redesign
On Thursday, Glasgow City Council agreed that the makeover of the civic space should occur in two stages, before and after the Commonwealth Games is held in 2014.
Under the plan, the red tarmac that is currently in place at the square will be removed and “a grey, surface treatment, using Epoxy Resin” will replace it.
The council hopes the first phase of the revamp will be completed by September this year, while it will also involve cleaning the statues in the square, installing new lighting and introducing two new grass beds at the site.
Councillors heard this first stage will cost around £500,000, while the second phase that will include further landscaping works and lighting improvements, would cost around £14.5m and further details of it will be presented to councillors this autumn.
Council leader Gordon Matheson told the executive committee meeting on Thursday that there will be a “possible public consultation” on the second phase works after the 2014 Games, although a report before councillors stated it would not include a “radical redesign” of the space.
A plan for the promised facelift of George Square is due for review and approval by Glasgow Council this week.
There’s no mention of any involvement by the architects who were so upset after they won the competition (the STV story does not give any indication as to who is responsible for the new plans), but were dumped when it was clear the people didn’t want the radical changes any of the entries had proposed, despite the architect claiming to have support. The designs – all probably more appropriate for Continental Europe rather than soggy Scotland – were dumped in favour of a facelift, and a degree of restoration of George Square to the way it used to be, when the people were quite happy with it.
Following a botched design competition in January, it was announced the square would undergo a substantial facelift rather than a controversial redevelopment.
The first image of how the civic space could look was released on Saturday, ahead of a report on the first stage of the redesign going to the council’s Executive Committee on Thursday.
Leader of Glasgow City Council Councillor Gordon Matheson said: “The people of Glasgow were very vocal throughout the design competition that they did not want a radical redesign of the square.
“They wanted the statues to remain, the grass to stay and the red tarmac to go. We listened to their views and have responded.
“Work will begin on phase one of the redeveloped square in July and is scheduled to run until September.
“The two grass beds on the western side of the square will be returned, ensuring a greener square at the heart of our city.”
“We are introducing feature lighting to the statues, the Cenotaph and trees within the square.”
A grey surface treatment using epoxy resin, which will replace the current red tarmac, is said to be extremely hard-wearing in icy conditions and should achieve a notable improvement in the appearance of the square.
It’s quite a while since I made it past Bridgeton Cross and the former Olympia, which had been closed and derelict for the best part of 20 years, and threatened by vandalism and possible demolition.
Originally known as the Olympia Theatre of Varieties, the venue opened on 18 September, 1911, designed by the architectural practice of George Arthur & Son, specifically John Arthur, who continued the practice following his father’s death in 1899. The interior was designed by Frank Matcham (1854-1920), describes as the most prolific theatre architect of all time. The theatre originally sat around 2,000 in the stalls and dress circle, and was equipped to show films from its opening. In 1924, acquired by Scottish Cinema and Variety Theatres (later ABC – Associated British Cinemas), after which the ‘variety’ aspect was dropped, and it became a full-time cinema. By 1938, new Art Deco interior by McNair & Elder (Charles J McNair and Henry F Elder) incorporating concealed lighting, decorative grilles and other architectural elements of the 1930s replaced the original lavish plaster scrollwork of French Renaissance style, resulting in a vastly changed auditorium with seating for 1,689 which reopened on 21 November, 1938.
Like many cinemas, the Olympia eventually succumbed to falling numbers, and closed it doors on 9 March 1974, having had its name changed to the ABC in 1963. The building came back into use for a time, after being converted into a bingo club in 1978, operated by County Bingo. It ended its working days as a furniture store, although that only survived until 2000, after which the building became vacant and derelict.
It came to the notice of the media in 30 November, 2004, when a serious fire took place within the building, which resulted in the death of which a man who had been sleeping rough within, and who died of smoke inhalation.
Period views of the building and its interior can be seen on the excellent Scottish Cinema web site page: Olympia, Bridgeton
Work began on the £10 million project by Clyde Gateway – the regeneration agency responsible for the East End – to bring the historic B-listed Olympia Theatre back into use exactly 100 years after its first opening in 1911.
Probably the most impressive part of this work was the removal of the building’s 5 ton wooden cupola for restoration, and its return some eight months later, when the restored dome was lifted back into place by a 60 foot crane.
The building has been transformed externally, using areas of glazing to open up the existing façade with a new glazed frontage onto Orr Street, which allows activities on the ground floor and in the first floor sports training areas and the upper floor offices to be seen from the street. A new granite plinth runs along the ground floor on Olympia Street before wrapping up and over the large curtain wall opening on Orr Street. Primary access to the building is from the corner of Orr Street and Olympia Street, via the original theatre entrance, covered by a new canopy which recreating the original (lost over time) of the Olympia Theatre. More glazing on the ground floor library allows the interior to be viewed from Olympia Street. The foyer now allows access to all levels via a new spiralling timber clad stair.
The regenerated building opened on 3 December, 2012, when the public library and a café opened on the ground floor, with the sports area on the floor above operated by Amateur Boxing Scotland. Office spaces are to follow in the remainder of the building.
You can read a more extended description of the building, its past, and its regeneration here: Bridgeton Olympia : January 2013 : Features & Reports : Architecture in profile the building environment in Scotland – Urban Realm
When I stopped to take a photograph, I was reminded that this was one of the most irritating places where one may try to take what is arguably the ‘best’ picture of the building, showing the entrance in the centre, and the two wall leading away and to either side. Without a ladder, or perhaps access to one of the upper flats on the facing building, you can’t avoid a set of traffic lights planting themselves right in the middle of the pic, in front of the door. The only way to avoid it is to offset the view, and that just wastes the symmetry.
Still, it’s better than no pic at all, and looking at nothing more than a gap site, which I really thought was more likely than not a few years ago.
Seriously though… somebody needs to do something about that damned traffic light!
Coming just days after the collection made it into the news following the suggestion that Sir William Burrell’s bequest terms of ‘No transport for fear of damage’ be set aside at the behest of Glasgow City Council, and that the collection be sent on a world tour while repairs are carried out to the museum building, comes news of the building itself being granted category A listed building status.
The grant was made by Historic Scotland as the building reached its 30th birthday on the basis that it represents a masterpiece example of design from the 1970’s – the museum was completed and opened within the setting of the city’s Pollok Country Park in 1983, at a cost of some £16.5 million, and followed a 13 year path for its design and build.
The Burrell Collection housed within (literally, since some parts are architectural features incorporated into the fabric of the building) now attracts some 200,000 visitors every year, and comprises a collection of some 8,000 objects of art, paintings, and pieces of furniture which shipping magnate Sir William Burrell amassed over the years, and left to the care of the city of Glasgow after his death – with a number of conditions to be met. These included the provision of a suitable home for the artefacts, with a protective environment which would guard them from the horrendous pollution which then covered the city in Burrell’s time. The coal-fired industrial revolution was then completely unregulated, and both the city and the land were slowly turning black under a pall of soot which was pouring forth endlessly from all the chimneys and steam engines driving the Victorian industrial revolution. Burrell wanted his treasure protected from that black poison. And there was also the aforementioned restriction on allowing the exhibits to travel, as he feared such journeys would lead to the items being damaged while in transit.
Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs Fiona Hyslop said:
The Burrell Collection is one of Glasgow and Scotland’s most impressive buildings of its period. This is a fantastic building that not only houses the internationally renowned collection of art and antiquities from across the world but is itself a masterpiece of structural design.
Category A status is the highest level of architectural protection given to buildings, and makes up about 8% of 47,600 listings in Scotland. It is awarded to buildings which Historic Scotland determine have “national or international importance, either architectural or historic.
Further information: Burrell Collection
In an outburst which probably means there was more interest in collecting cash than the accolade of winning the design contract, The Glaswegian has named architect John McAslan as slamming Glasgow City Council for running a “hopelessly handled mess”.
He is reported to have said:
The design world is littered with competitions that have never come to fruition but I can’t recall a competition being so immediately abandoned.
It is unique and I think it has been hopelessly handled by the council and its leader Gordon Matheson.
We were selected as the winners and notified by email – but we were notified simultaneously that the council had abandoned the process.
I haven’t had any other contact from the council but I have written to Councillor Matheson suggesting we meet and talk about what happened and try to salvage something from the wreckage of his making.
It is bizarre and brings a lack of credibility to the city and the process.
You just don’t behave like that – it’s not the way competitions should be run.
Has he not read the papers or seen the other stories in the media?
Instead of throwing a strop and having a hissy fit, he should be making mileage out of the fact that his design won, and offering prayers to his preferred deity for not being stuck in the middle of a probable long drawn out war between the council and the citizens of Glasgow.
Glasgow City Council was smart enough to see that their high-handed and self-appointed decision to mess with the city’s George Square yet again, and make it into a bigger mess than it had already become, was going to start a fight with the people of Glasgow, and move a “sure” cosy job in the City Chambers down and step into one that was perhaps only “safe” in future.
The council ran to the line, and credit where credit is due, did not carry on regardless and drag the affair out for weeks, months, or even years, while wasting yet more time and money on a fight with the people, who had spoken and expressed their general dislike for the idea.
McAslan is not so wise, and is seeking to drag this out in some way and for some reason.
Were there hands being rubbed in the knowledge that when the project overran its initial budget of £15 million pounds, the cash would not be cut off leaving the contractors to pick up the excess, but that the taxpayer would have funded the overrun?
And, in the real world… how many of these project come in under budget, or even on budget?
I’d rather wanted an original picture of George Square, from the formal days when it was full of set displays and iron railings, but I don’t have any that are safely out of copyright, and I don’t want to upset anyone who might own the ones I have – so, this handy pic of a possible good view of George Square after McAslan modifications seems as good as any.
I’m surprisingly disappointed by this (response), as I had been impressed by the company a few months ago, while reading the architectural press and learning that it had been part of a short-listing for companies that would be involved in plans to double the size of the city of Moscow, and that it was already underway with a number of projects in the surrounding area.
That a practice with offices in Edinburgh (and London, and Manchester) can win business in such a place is no mean feat.
Update – January 2013
The cynical might be forgiven for thinking that they’ll do anything to get their hands on the £15 million (or perhaps the more attractive overrun).
From none of the plans apparently being reported as popular with the people, the “Loser” appears to be claiming some sort of wide support for the revamp – strange, very strange…
One of the things that can be found in the history of Glasgow City Council is a strange tendency for its members to pursue their own desires in the face of opposition from the people of Glasgow, often amidst claims by citizens that council plans have been put in place without any consultation, or ignoring them if they have been heard.
Although I don’t pay a great deal of attention to such things (since the truth gets lost by those who like to play politics), we have had such things in the past in the form of the Go Ape story in Pollock Park, the handing over of management of museum assets to private companies (which seemed to upset many), the extermination of Paddy’s Market (to suit some trendy idea about art, possibly because it lay so near re-reborn The Briggait) and most recently, an announcement almost out of nowhere that the Glasgow’s George Square was to be subject to one of six possible makeovers, of which the council would make the final choice of the award of £15 million to the design it preferred, a choice not offered anywhere to the people of the city:
- George Square design proposals to be revealed to the public
- Glaswegians reveal what they think of George Square revamp plans
- George Square £15m revamp judging panel fails to reach decision
- George Square redesign plans axed following public outcry
With no apparent choice in the selection of the six final designs (just invitations to view the final selection, or of the final design itself, it looked as if the people of Glasgow were set for a fight, and were planning various protests and rallies against whichever of the six designs was chosen for them by Glasgow City Council.
Basically, none of the six was acceptable – with things probably not appropriate for the Scottish climate being included (such as extensive water features), and some even appearing to require the removal of the statues which have been installed in the square over the years, and one calling for the central column in the square to be moved.
There was another gem released by the council in the days running up to the final decision – any overrun in the allocated £15 million project cost would be met by the taxpayer, not the council. Which might as well be interpreted as a licence for the winner to print money, with no incentive to stay within budget… their money was guaranteed, and the council had protected its own pot.
Then, at the last moment, and just as the final choice was made by the council (why did they bother)… it was announced that NONE of the proposals would be used, although the council members had actually made their choice (well, why waste a free round of tea/coffee and sandwiches at the taxpayer’s expense) :
The design competition for a new square was won by John McAslan and Partners but the council said it would not be proceeding with the £15m contract.
Glasgow City Council leader Gordon Matheson said: “The people of Glasgow have made it clear that they do not want a radical redesign of the square.
“They want the square to look better and be a place of which they can be proud – a place they can while away a sunny afternoon or get together and celebrate the big occasions in the life of the city.
“They also want us to keep the statues where they are, and they like the grass. However, they clearly want rid of the red tarmac. I am proud to say that I am listening to them.”
Cllr Matheson said the scaled-back refurbishment would be carried out in time for the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
He added: “Only if there is public demand thereafter, will we consider a radical change.”
The design competition to completely overhaul the square was announced by the council last year.
Earlier this month, six shortlisted designs were selected from a total of 35 companies which had expressed interest in the project.
The four British firms on the shortlist were Burns and Nice, Gustafson Porter, JM Architects and John McAslan and Partners.
They were joined by American firm James Corner Field Operations and Agence Ter from France.
Their designs have been on display at The Lighthouse for the past few weeks, where members of the public have been able to register their comments.
The judging panel comprised of David Mackay, MBM Architects Barcelona and Professor Andy McMillan, former head of Mackintosh School of Architecture, Glasgow School of Art.
They were joined by David Harding, former head of Environmental Art, Glasgow School of Art, Geoff Ellis, director of DF Concerts and Cllr Matheson.
The technical advisor of the panel was Neil Baxter, secretary and treasurer, The Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS).
The panel’s decision had been due to be announced on Friday but was delayed after judges could not reach agreement.
George Square refurbishment announced
Instead, the £15 million will be spent on a facelift for George Square, including a fix for the so-called “Red Tarmac” that seems to have irritated so many Glaswegians by its continued presence on the square since the last time it was tampered with, and the place they knew and loved was generally ruined.
Speaking to STV News later, Councillor Gordon Matheson expanded on the initial news of the refurbishment:
“We’re also looking at ways to reduce traffic flow around George Square, too.
“We we still invest £15m but this is a major investment in George Square and, in the process, the grass will remain which is what the people have said that they wanted, the statues will remain — but we need to respect the history of George Square, too.
“We will introduce high-quality public realm and ensure that whenever there are major civic events taking place within the square, like the George Square Christmas light switch on, that all the requirements will be in place under the square so we don’t need to bring in any generators and all this sort of stuff.”
STV also included the following impression of the design that Glasgow City Council had chosen for the “New” George Square redesign, produced by John McAslan & Partners which has offices in Edinburgh:
I get the impression that rather a lot of Glasgow city councillors would have had to jump on their horses and get out of town if that had actually been created.
There’s no good reason the original green and pleasant city centre landmark could not have been retained much in its original format of many years ago, other than the need of a few councillors who probably went on one of those stupid ‘facilitating’ (by whatever name) courses, and came back brainwashed with some idea that they would be seen as failures, or weak and incapable if they made any sort of “no change” or “status quo” type of decision, and had been sold the line that “No decision is not an option”. The latter being a favourite of my Sales & Marketing director, who liked to fire anyone that did not keep making changes. His philosophy was that one had to make a decision, because “Even the wrong decision was better than no decision.”
One can only ponder on how much good Glasgow City Council could have done for itself had the lasting memory of this sham not been one of “How much money was squandered on meeting, proposals, dinners, refreshments, expenses, etc, etc, etc…” (not to mention hours that could have been better spent on council business), and not instead been the much sharper and welcome announcement weeks ago that the council had managed to amass £15 million from various saving initiatives, and was going to spend the money on restoring George Square as per the wishes expressed by many Glaswegian in recent years, and of taking the opportunity to improve the facilities available there.
Meh… Too simple.
One of the sad things about fame is that it can be hijacked.
This happened, for example, in the 1980s, when classic cars became the plaything of the yuppy, boosting their value way over its real figure as they tried to show who had the biggest wallet – until the bubble burst. That ended up being both good and bad, as the prices meant the ordinary hobbyist was priced out of the market for a time, but also that a number of cars that would have been lost were actually rescued, and survived.
A similar thing has happened to Charles Rennie Mackintosh. A few enlightened people always admired his work (but not that many while he was still alive), then he became popular as his distinctive style became popular with those who wanted to be seen as rich and ‘kewl’.
Again, a mixture of good and bad, this has led to the preservation of work that might otherwise have been lost, but has seen the price head skyward, and a degree of contempt and increased hostility by those who consider his work to be worthless.
Elements of his work are quite distinctive, and have been stolen by others with less talent, and led to the rise of stylised copies known disparagingly as ‘Mockintosh’. Some might be better described as forgeries, as they come with a price approaching the original, but might as well be made of toffee.
But, that may be the price of fame, unfortunately.
Creative Mackintosh Festival 2012
The festival runs from October 15 to October 28, 2012, at various venues throughout Glasgow.
Festival organiser Susan Garnsworthy said:
“Mackintosh and his fellow Glasgow artists helped to take art and architecture into the modern era and were crucial figures in the explosion of creativity that characterises the early part of the 20th century.
“We decided, a century on, that we should showcase their work and honour their contribution by encouraging everyone to unleash their own creativity.”
The festival includes a display of models depicting Mackintosh buildings that were designed but never built, and ha the title Unbuilt Mackintosh.
There will also be a series of guided walks around the city, which will feature a number of architectural highlights.
Further and fuller details may be found on the web site of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society:
I find myself a little (even maybe more than a little) perturbed at the news that the refurbished National Museum of Scotland has won the country’s top architecture award, and that Gareth Hoskins Architects has received the £25,000 Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) best building award – the Andrew Doolan Best Building in Scotland Award.
Not only is this ‘merely’ a high value refurbishment project (£50 million), it relates to the old Royal Museum building, and not the new museum building that was erected adjacent a few years ago.
Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I think an architecture prize should be awarded only to a full architectural project, not a bit of ‘interior design’ or a massive refurb to an existing (and old) building.
Professor Andy MacMillan added to my feelings of disquiet by saying “This shortlist was full of subtle, intelligent, beautiful buildings which their users love. That is what it should be all about.”
That might apply of the architects who won the award had been responsible for the building that won, but they weren’t! All they did was fiddle with the interior a bit.
And in my book, architecture that ain’t.
Just in case this is interpreted as something it’s not, I think the museum is great – and I actually thought it was just fine before the refurb, which I hope will not convert what was a nice place to spend some quiet time in contemplation into a place full of screaming kids that enjoy stamping around the displays making as much noise as they can. Getting more people in is one thing, and getting them to bring the kids is a fine principle, but they seem to forget one thing – respect of others. And you daren’t say “Shhh…” because you’ll probably be the one thrown out for terrifying the little darlings (or worse).