Glasgow College of Building and Printing

The Herald has defended this prominent Glasgow tower block, currently a giant bill board in the city centre, from accusations that it is the “second ugliest building” in the UK.

Prof Alan Dunlop, architect of the Glasgow Radisson and award winning Hazelwood School, is quoted as saying it is one of the “finest and most elegant buildings built in the 1960s that Glasgow actually has.”

Yes, it has “brutalist elements” such as the roof top concrete structures, which are reminiscent of Le Corbusier (so too the piloti, the concrete legs) but he calls it “refined” and “with real elegance”.

It is actually one of a pair of striking buildings designed by Peter Williams for Wylie, Shanks & Partners.

Part of the problem of course is weathering and deterioration of the fabric, which is to be expected in a building from 1964.

The B-listed tower block is to be renovated as a space for expanding tech and digital businesses, but the partner podium building is to be demolished.

Norco House, Aberdeen

Twentieth Century Society at risk list

The Twentieth Century Society publish a list of the buildings they consider most at risk in the UK every 2 years.

With the most recent, most are in England, just 2 are in Scotland:

  • Norco house in Aberdeen (previously John Lewis)
  • Scottish Widows building in Edinburgh, which was designed by Spence, Glover and Ferguson and received the RIBA Award for Scotland in 1977. Currently subject to a £100m redevelopment planning application
Norco House, Aberdeen
Scottish Widows building, Edinburgh
Ad Meskens, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

High Sunderland

A 1957 Category A-listed house in the borders, designed by Peter Womersley, adjacent to his other classic work, the studio for Bernat Klein (who lived at the house for 60 years).

The house nearly burnt down in 2017 but has been fully refurbished (and winning a RIAS award into the bargain).

High Sunderland

I love the sunken living room area, the balance of wood panels (including ceiling), stone and glass.

From e-Architect

Cumbernauld town centre fails to achieve listing

Historic Environment Scotland describe it as of “special interest” but not worthy of protection through the listing process.

The reasons given are odd – “Because of the advanced development proposals for Cumbernauld Town Centre, we decided not to proceed with listing at this time”.

This leaves North Lanarkshire council free to develop it as they wish, which could include total demolition. Which seems a bit like saying yes, it’s really important, but because the owners have other plans we’ll let them do what they want. Whereas the whole purpose of listing is to protect important buildings from the commercial vagaries of their owners, for the benefit of the wider population.

They add “Although we have decided not to list the site, we hope that our report will inform the decisions that are made about the site.” Which again, is at the whim of the owners to do.

Victoria Hospital in Kirkcaldy

Listed by Historic Scotland as a significant example of Modernist post-war hospital design, with architectural and historic interest.

Designed by architects department of South East Regional hospital board. The “matchbox on a muffin” design of tower and podium is a now classic design. Queen Mother’s hospital in Glasgow is similar.

Victoria Hospital in Kirkcaldy [Historic Environment Scotland]

More history here with an original model photo:

Cumbernauld town centre in 1960s

Cumbernauld centre sold

CUMBERNAULD’S town centre is to be demolished and replaced, according to North Lanarkshire Council’s plans, after agreeing a deal in principle to purchase the centre from its private owners.

The Herald cites Owen Hatherley’s comments about Cumbernauld in his new book, “Modern Buildings in Britain – A Gazetteer”,  where he calls it a “terrible mistake”. The vision was for the town centre to be a long spine of “buildings as constantly growing and morphing organisms,” but what actually happened was “shopping mall developers who didn’t care much for Copcutt’s sculptural Brutalism… inserted various kinds of tat into it before they decided to eat away at the original building, until all that was left was a tatty and gaunt fragment”.

Cumbernauld town centre in 1960s
[from the Big Issue]

This seems a very difficult time to plan a massive regeneration, given the uncertainty about the future of the British High Street.

South Lanarkshire council building, Hamilton

Lanark County Buildings

Not East Kilbride, but A listed buildings also in South Lanarkshire, not too far away – indeed, it is South Lanarkshire’s council headquarters. Lanark County buildings is the original, confusing name, given that it is located in Hamilton!

In the Sunday Herald 2021 list of 20 favourite modern Scottish buildings, the 17 storey tower in the International style is straight out of New York. The architect was David Gordon Bannerman, who worked for the county (and who curiously does not appear to have designed anything similar, just a couple of schools which have mostly been replaced, with the exception of Caldervale high from 1970).

The use of glass, concrete and steel, the regularity of detail and lack of ornamentation, the simple form are typical of the style.

Apart from the tower, there is also a large formal plaza with a central pond running the width of the plot, and the linked cylindrical Council chambers building (“podium”) contrasts nicely.

Susan O’Connor argues in The Architecture of Public Service (Twentieth Century Society, 2018) that such formal areas were part of the aesthetic of Le Corbusier and others who established this style, and its purpose was ceremonial. There are no benches after all, and the entrance to the building is actually over a bridge above the garden, not through it. These kinds of gardens are just as much about status as the redundant columns and fancy staircases of 19th century town halls, such as that in Glasgow. OK, they don’t insist on sticking the formal rooms up on the top floors in the old way, but there is still a fancy banqueting hall with a black timber block ceiling interspersed with recessed golden mosaic coffering, and full length tweed curtains, matching carpet and wallpaper, plus contrasting cedar panelling.

In many other places, such plazas have been cleared to make way for car parking, for example the Arts Tower in Sheffield…

Slate is used on external surfaces, a reminder of Lanarkshire’s mining history. There are county crests on walls and etched into glazed doors, which make the building a bit more local, and a little less International.

And like other civic buildings of the time, clerks and managers are not banished to dark, back corridors – they can now enjoy views from picture windows high above the surrounding landscape, a more democratic approach mirrored in better staff facilities eg canteens.

South Lanarkshire council building, Hamilton

Dundee repertory theatre Class A listed

Built in late 70s, early 80s, one of the next generation theatres that had a more open, surrounding stage.

Design largely dictated by restricted site, but various volumes of simple form, in stone that matches neighbouring buildings and square.

Foyer underneath theatre space has ceiling that is simply the stepped rows of seats above.

Triangular details reflect the shape of the theatre space.