“Why does it always rain on me…?” Fran Healy, the lead singer of the famous Scottish band Travis, moans in one of their songs. Well, maybe the fact that he has been living in Glasgow, the city where he hails from, has something to do with it.
Glasgow is famous for its rainy days, strong ale and smiling, friendly people. Aside from all that, Glasgow is also known for its magnificent architecture – from establishments that have been around for hundreds of years, to modern buildings that look as if they come straight from the future. Filled with a wealth of history, the city’s full-bodied character is partly attributable to the fact that it contains some of the most beautiful buildings in the world.
The city of architectural wonder
As you walk through the cobbled streets of Glasgow, you can see an eclectic display of architectural styles; from Victorian, neo-classical and the sensuous Art Nouveau to the futuristic constructions of glass, steel and titanium. The city houses some of the most interesting buildings in the world. The columns and arches that can be found on some of the buildings make you feel as if you are in some ancient Greek city or in a bygone Roman era. Glasgow is the hometown of two of the most famous names in the world of architecture, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Alexander ‘Greek’ Thompson, and their works can be seen all around Glasgow, giving the city a distinct character and unique charm with their original, and often unusual, designs. Some of the architecture that can be found in this city are some of the best in the country, earning it the status as United Kingdom’s City of Architecture and Design in the year 1999.
Cultural: Glasgow School of Art
Charles Rennie Mackintosh is perhaps Scotland’s most outstanding architect, and undoubtedly one the country’s – and the world’s – most celebrated architects. Among his works that can be found all over the city are Scotland Street School, Glasgow School of Art, the Lighthouse, the Willow Tea Rooms and the Hill House. His buildings are famous for its unconventionally asymmetrical features, lending them a unique quality.
Mackintosh won a competition to build this art school, and it is his most renowned, most important work. Situated on Renfrew Street, it was built in two phases: The East Wing was built between 1897 to 1899, and the West Wing was built between 1907 to 1909. Built of masonry and brickwork, it is a bold breakaway from the traditional methods of architectural adornment, combining the designs of Scottish baronial architecture and the influences of French’s Art Nouveau. Its meticulously-detailed interior and exterior are slightly off-centre in design with asymmetrical placements and features, marked by lofty spaces, wide windows and stern structures. It boasts a design that is aesthetic yet highly functional. This is the finest example of Mackintosh’s work in building design, and is certainly one of the most influential buildings ever constructed in Great Britain.
Religious: Glasgow Cathedral
Located just outside the city centre beside the Glasgow Royal Infirmary on Castle Street, it is the country’s largest, and Scotland’s only main medieval building to have survived the Reformation in one piece. The construction of the building began in the 12th century, and took 300 years to complete after its consecration in 1136. It is actually a double church – one built above the other – dedicated to Glasgow’s patron saint, St. Mungo, and it is also believed to have been built on the site where he had been buried. It is a superb example of gothic architecture, with its First Pointed-style steeples and bell tower. This cathedral has one of the finest collections of stained-glass windows in the country, which can be viewed throughout its interior, giving it an almost surreal quality when the bright rays of sun filter through during sunny spells in summer.
Constitutional: The City Chambers
This magnificent set of Victorian-style buildings is situated on the eastern side of the city centre’s George’s Square, and is the headquarters of the Glasgow City Council. A mosaic of the city’s coat of arms on the floor, depicting the legendary tales of St. Mungo, greets visitors as they step into its sumptuous entrance hall. The majestic Venetian-style interior consists of pillars of marble and granite, winding staircases of marble, freestone and alabaster, and a ceiling decorated in gold, topped by a stained-glass dome.
Educational: University of Glasgow
Located in University Avenue in the West End, this university is the second oldest university in Scotland after St. Andrews, and the fourth oldest in the United Kingdom. It was founded in 1451 by the bishop William Turnbull, as a result of King James II’s wish that Scotland have two universities to equal Oxford and Cambridge. Its initial accommodation complex was part of the religious quarters of the Glasgow Cathedral, and its main campus was originally located in High Street before being moved to its present location in Gilmore Hill in 1870. Its main campus building, also known as the Gilbert Scott Building – in honour of the architect responsible for its design – adopts the Gothic Revival style, with a Gothic bell tower that belies the modernity of its Victorian construction.
Contemporary: The Armadillo and the Glasgow Science Centre
These buildings are the most remarkable examples of Glasgow’s shining, modern architecture. The Clyde Auditorium, affectionately known locally as ‘The Armadillo’ due to its segmented body resembling the animal, is part of the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC) complex. Situated on the north bank of River Clyde, these two buildings are Scotland’s national venue for public events. The SECC was built from 1983 to 1985 and is United Kingdom’s largest exhibition centre, whilst The Armadillo was built from 1995 to 1997. Designed by the award-winning architect Sir Norman Foster, The Armadillo is one of the most famous and readily-identifiable landmarks of the city, and its design has been likened to that of Sydney Opera House.
Facing the SECC and the Armadillo across the Clyde River on the south bank, are the Glasgow Science Centre and the Glasgow Tower. The Glasgow Science Centre consists largely of a gleaming titanium crescent overlooking the river – like a spaceship straight out of a science fiction movie – comprising a Science Mall with three floors packed with exhibits, interactive workshops, laboratories and live science shows; the IMAX with a screen bigger than a football pitch and the Scottish Power Planetarium, one of the finest planetariums in the world.
Next to the building is the Glasgow Tower, which not only offers an unbeatable view of Glasgow from its 105 metre-high cabin, but also contains galleries housing exhibitions and multimedia presentations on the city’s past and future visions. This tower was designed by Richard Horden Associates, and despite its tall and slender structure, its aero-dynamite design enables the entire building to remain stable whilst rotating 360 degrees on its base. It is also the only building in the world which is capable of doing that.
There are many more significant architecture to marvel at in this city – The Egyptian Halls, The Lighthouse, the Queen’s Cross Church, the Willow Tea Rooms, The Gallery of Modern Art and St. Vincent Street Church, among others – so head on down to Glasgow for some of the finest examples in architecture from some of the most renowned designers in the world. Architecture students from all over the world have been known to flock over to this city in an ‘architectural pilgrimage’, particularly to admire Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s works up-close. Best of all, most of these attractions, including the museums, cost nothing to gain entry into. Make sure you have an umbrella armed with you though, as you never know when it’s going to rain!