Scotland Architects Thu, 16 Apr 2015 13:04:17 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (J25 Template) Alexander Thompson Alexander 'Greek' Thompson / Architects
  • Name  : Thompson
  • Born  : 1817
  • Died  : 1875
  • Category  : Architects
  • Finest Moment : Queen's Park Presbyterian Church (1867)

Born 17th child into a family numbering an astonishing 24, Thomson was born at Balfron, Stirlingshire. He was apprenticed to John Baird and lived and worked in Glasgow. He was a prolific architect, designing buildings of the types needed by a rapidly expanding Victorian Glasgow; churches, houses, terraces, warehouses, tenements, offices. Throughout his career, he showed a continuous inventiveness and experiment.

His use of Grecian patterns, often nearing the abstract, was not the only influence on his architecture, though it led to his nickname. He also shows designs with Egyptian suggestions, though more often than not, his designs are in fact very idiosyncratic, very personal.

Not only was he original in design, in his choice and experimentation in materials he often showed new ways. From the 1860s onwards, his use of iron-framed construction and facades of cast iron and glass were indications of styles to come. He is regarded as one of the great forerunners of the Modern Movement.

Well known and admired buildings designed by Thomson include a domestic terrace at Moray Place, built in 1859 but probably designed two years earlier. It has a severe, withdrawn serenity, a simplicity and lack of fussiness. Stone columns are plain oblongs of stone, no more, no less. Doors and windows are deep oblong holes in the wall.

Other fine buildings designed by him include several churches. Three United Presbyterian churches, at Caledonian Road (1856), St Vincent Street (1859) and Queens Park (1867, later demolished). The latter was one of the few serious wartime casualties that Glasgow's architecture suffered. It demonstrated Egyptian and even Indian features, though Thomson never left Britain, and even Scotland rarely.

The reputation of Glasgow as a great, if not the greatest, Victorian city of architecture, owes much to Alexander 'Greek' Thomson.

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Scottish Architects You are here: Heritage |  Great Scots

Alexander 'Greek' Thompson / Architects

A bold architect who put the Egyptian look into Victorian Glasgow.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh / Architects

Visionary Glasgow architect who became internationally renowned as a pioneer of the Modern Movement.

James Craig / Architects

Architect of Edinburgh's New Town.

John Scott Russell / Architects

Designed the world's first iron battleship.

Robert Adam / Architects

An architect who, like Mackintosh after him, designed every detail of a room.

Sir Basil Spence / Architects

Architect best known for the rebuilding of Coventry Cathedral after World War II.

William Henry Playfair / Architects

Designer of many of Edinburgh's public buildings.


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Charles Rennie Mackintosh Charles Rennie Mackintosh / Architects
  • Name  : Mackintosh
  • Born  : 1868
  • Died  : 1928
  • Category  : Architects
  • Finest Moment : Glasgow School of Art

If the good citizens of Glasgow were asked to select one, and only one of their own for immortality, the name of Charles Rennie Mackintosh would be a good tip to win. He was born in Glasgow the son of a police superintendent and became apprenticed to the local architect John Hutchinson (1884-9). Just as crucially, at night he attended classes at the Glasgow School of Art, then under the directorship of the visionary Francis Newbery.

In 1889 he joined the firm of architects Honeyman & Keppie, initially as a draughtsman, then as a partner from 1904. One of his colleagues here, Herbert Macnair, shared similar ideas in design. Newbery also spotted two of his day students, the MacDonald sisters Frances and Margaret, as being like-minded, and introduced them. They became known as 'The Four', and introduced the world to the 'Glasgow Style'. This was allied to, but was distinct from, Art Nouveau. It would also lead into Modernism. But at the same time, much of it reached back into Scotland's baronial history.

Mackintosh was a natural and prolific artist and draughtsman; his sketch books are filled with details which would often later be incorporated into building features. He had a love of flowers, reflected later in his series of flower watercolours.

Initially engaged to Jessie Keppie, he later broke this off and married Margaret MacDonald. Jessie never married, and remained a spinster all her life. Margaret, herself a talented artist, was often asked by Charles to add her own skills to designs, in particular the finishings of rooms such as fabrics, and details of furniture. Their trademark, often imitated later, would be elongated, split blooms. This was often used in posters, books, furniture, cutlery, and in fact in almost every detail of any project. Mackintosh designed each and every item in a room, right down to the curtains and carpets, the handles on cupboards, the doorknobs.

But at home it was a familiar, sad old story. Rival architects, a slow public. In London, exhibiting at the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society in 1896, Mackintosh's work was reviled. It was acclaimed when first seen in Vienna, at the 8th Secessionist Exhibition in 1900. It was also met with great approval in Munich, Dresden, Turin, Budapest and Moscow.

A classic example of the attitude in Britain is seen in the publication Our Homes and How to Beautify Them (1902), where they reproduce a fine lithograph of a design for a dining room in a house in Mackintosh's portfolio, Haus Eines Kunstfreundes (House for Art Lovers). While the magazine printed the lithograph, showing they must have had some fascination for it, they also described it as 'dreadful', and 'mad'. As a touching tribute to Mackintosh, Glasgow built a house to this design in Bellahouston Park, completed in 1992. There is also the Mackintosh House at Glasgow University, completed in the late 1970s.

Mackintosh, meanwhile, was working on a design for a new Glasgow School of Art (1896-1909). This was to be his architectural masterpiece. The commission told him that money was short and that he was to keep it simple. This he did, but still his originality and attention to detail shone through nonetheless. And it remained functional. Other projects completed include Windyhill, Kilmacolm (1899-1901), Hill House, Helensburgh (1902), open to the public, the Willow Tea Rooms, Glasgow (1904), Scotland Street School, Glasgow (1904-06), and Queen's Cross Church, also Glasgow.

Disillusioned, Mackintosh left Glasgow in 1913, moving to Chelsea, London. He worked on textile designs and flower studies. His last architectural project was 78 Derngate, Northampton, in 1917. They moved to France in 1920, where his happy stay resulted in many fine paintings. In 1927, with his health declining, they returned to London, where Mackintosh died on 10 December 1928.

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James Craig Architect


James Craig / Architects

  • Name  : Craig
  • Born  : 1744
  • Died  : 1795
  • Category  : Architects
  • Finest Moment : Winning the competition to design Edinburgh's New Town in 1766

By the middle of the 18th century, the citizens of Edinburgh were too filthy for their own good.

Born in Edinburgh, Craig made his name as an architect for his layout of that city's New Town. The Old Town sprawled along the spine of volcanic rock between Holyrood House and Edinburgh Castle, and in many ways, mostly unsavoury, it was an extraordinary site. In 1603, the time of the Union of the Parliaments, it probably contained more people than any other city in Britain, except London and perhaps Bristol. There were about 30,000, with another 5,500 in Leith.

The population continued to increase, but not by building outwards; rather by building upwards, by sub-dividing the fine old houses into many one-roomed flats, and by building over the gardens. By 1700, some tenements reached a horrendous 14 stories high on the sloping side. Not only were they over-crowded, they were filthy, even by Scots standards, which were regrettably filthy enough even in rural areas.

'Every street shows the nastiness of the inhabitants: the excrements lie in heaps' In a morning the scent was so offensive that we were forc't to hold our noses as we past the streets and take care where we trod for fear of an accident disobliging our shoes, and to walk in the middle at night for fear of an accident on our heads. The lodgings are as nasty as the streets, and wash't so seldom that the dirt is thick eno' to be par'd off with a shovel; every room is well-scented with a close-stool, and the master, mistress and servants lye all on a flour, like so many swine in a hogsty. This, with the rest of their sluttishness, is no doubt the occasion of the itch which is so common among them.'

So wrote Joseph Taylor in 1705, and this was not about the poorest of the town, but the middle-classes. Enough was enough, even to the Town Council, and in 1766 they held a competition, for plans to extend Edinburgh on the far side of the Nor' Loch. Six plans were received, with James Craig's being the winner. His plan was quite straightforward, consisting of a rectilinear plan of three main streets, Princes Street, George Street and Queen Street, running parallel, with a square at each end. The whole plan was a grid some five streets deep and seven streets wide, the broad central axis terminating in grand squares at each end. St George's Church sat at the western end of the scheme, St Andrew's at the eastern.

In the New Town, the filth was not quite as evident as it had been in the Old Town; the middle classes were by now gaining a new respect for sanitation, at least as far as the main thoroughfares and their own living quarters, the sanitation for the poor areas still had a long way to go.

Craig's career was brief and was mainly based in Edinburgh. Other work included: Observatory House on Calton Hill (176-92).

He was never really successful after the New Town, and died in debt.

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John Scott Russell John Scott Russell / Architect
  • Name  : Russell
  • Born  : 1808
  • Died  : 1882
  • Category  : Architects
  • Finest Moment : Launch of HMS Warrior, 1860.

HMS Warrior was launched in 1860, the world's first wholly ironclad battleship; it was designed by Russell, who may be regarded as the first naval architect.

He was born on 8 May, 1808, in Glasgow; 16 years later he had graduated from Glasgow University. Another 8 years on and he was Professor of Natural Philosophy at Edinburgh, researching into water waves and their interaction with ships' hulls. By the 1830s and 40s, steell was king in Central Scotland, to be followed quickly and logically by shipbuilding. Russell's timing was perfect.

He designed new hulls while working in Scottish shipbuilding yards before moving south to London in 1844, where he became a shipbuilder on the Thames. He designed, or co-designed a numbet of ships, including The Great Eastern (1856), and HMS Warrior (1860).

His magnum opus was the three-volume Modern System of Naval Architecture (1865-65).

He died at Ventnor, on the Isle of Wight, on 8 June, 1882.

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Robert Adam Architect Robert Adam / Architect
  • Name  : Adam
  • Born  : 1828
  • Died  : 1892
  • Category  : Architects
  • Finest Moment : A synthesis of the best of European design in architecture and interiors.

Born 3 July 1728 in Kirkcaldy, Fife, his father, William Adam, was already Scotland's best known architect. William was master mason to the Board of Ordnance in North Britain, as Scotland was sometimes called following the last Jacobite defeat in 1745. He also had a prosperous construction and contracting company in Kirkcaldy, so that Robert and his elder brother James grew up in a comfortable and cultured family environment.

The family soon moved to Edinburgh, where Robert entered the Edinburgh High School. In 1743 he enrolled at Town's College, now Edinburgh University, but dropped this after two years to go into his father's architectural office. In 1754 he started his grand tour, in company with the Hon Charles Hope (of Hopetoun House). Charles Hope was the Earl of Hopetoun's younger brother. Robert was immensely ambitious, and was quite open in his initial plans for the trip, which included setting out 'to lay in a stock of good acquaintance that may be of use to me hereafter.'

In Florence, however, Adam met a young French architect and draftsman, Charles-Louis Clerisseau, who then accompanied him on the tour as instructor. They went on to Rome, where Adam spent most of his time, soaking up the architecture. He returned to London in 1758 and set up practice.

His father had used a wide range of sources for his designs, and Robert Adam was to further this with his use of a wide range of classical sources. His main influence lay in interior decorations, using plasterwork with neo-classical and Renaissance motifs. Like Mackintosh in the distant future, he designed every detail of a room. This was allied to the work of contemporary French designers. He also used ideas from Sir John Vanbrugh.

An ambitious development by Robert and his brother James was to prove a financial disaster; the Adelphi on the Thames. This was a terrace of 24 grand houses on the river's north bank, but in the end the properties had to be disposed of by lottery. It dented his reputation, and he spent the last ten years working in Scotland, where he left Register House (1774-92), elevation designs for Charlotte Square (1791), and Culzean Castle, in Ayrshire (177-92).

He died on 3 March 1792, in London.

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Sir Basil Spence Sir Basil Spence / Architect
  • Name  : Spence
  • Born  : 1907
  • Died  : 1976
  • Category  : Architects
  • Finest Moment : Rebuilding of Coventry Cathedral

Born 13 August 1907 in Bombay, India, Spence was educated in Edinburgh, where he also studied architecture. He continued his studies in London, where for a brief period he worked in Sir Edwin Luyten's office, ironically for the design of the Viceroy's House in New Delhi.

He returned to Edinburgh in 1930, working for a while at Rowand Anderson & Paul, then on his own. Typical projects were in housing and commercial buildings, as well as country houses. In 1951 he designed the Sea and Ships Pavilions for the Festival of Britain, marking perhaps the return of Britain from the trials of World War II.

Also in 1951 came his greatest success; winning a competition for the rebuilding of war-bombed Coventry Cathedral. This was completed in 1962, and won Spence widespread praise for his sensitive treatment; blending the ruins of the 14th century church with a monumental, richly-decorated modern treatment.

He was knighted in 1960, and from 1961-68 was Professor of Architecture at the Royal Academy. Later works include Knightsbridge Barracks, London (1970), and the British Embassy, Rome (1971). Regarded by many as one of the leading British architects of the 20th century, Spence died at Eye, Suffolk, on 19 November 1976.

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William Henry Playfair William Henry Playfair / Architect
  • Name  : Playfair
  • Born  : 1790
  • Died  : 1857
  • Category  : Architects
  • Finest Moment : University of Edinburgh, (1818-34)

Born the son of an architect in 1790, William Playfair trained for the same profession in Edinburgh and in London. He also made a visit to France in 1816. On his return to Edinburgh the following year, he seems to have transformed himself into an assured architect, winning the commission for the completion of the University building. This had been started by Robert Adam, and was to have been his greatest work, but progress on the 'Old Quad' was halted in 1793, to be picked up by Playfair.

Playfair modified the original design. The entrance front is made from Craigleith sandstone (the huge quarry of which formed Edinburgh's first 'hole in the ground'. (Edinburgh, as any cultured Glaswegian could remind you, if so inclined, is famous for holes in the ground, a legacy perhaps of dim-witted planners and a seeming natural reluctance to spend good money.)

The interiors of the University finished by Playfair are all to his own designs. The following year he completed designs for Calton Hill estate in Edinburgh; thereafter he made his name as the designer of public buildings in Edinburgh. The National Monument (1824-9), Royal Scottish Academy (1822), and the National Gallery on the Mound (1850-7). Many of these are examples of Greek revival but Playfair could do Gothic, as in the New College (1846-50), and, in his early country houses, Italianate villas. He died in 1857.

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