A Glasgow kiss

I’m posting my pieces on two rather wonderful buildings in Glasgow, which were part of the Lost and Found: Glasgow feature on Blueprint for Living (you can hear the half-hour segment here), as the city icons don’t get printed on the Blueprint website.

It was interesting thinking of Glasgow and which buildings to talk about. Of course Rennie Mackintosh came to mind but I’d already covered his School of Art a few years ago (read it here). I remembered how lovely the Burrell Collection had felt when I first visited, and Templeton’s is such a great example of the wackiness that makes Britain’s Victorian industrial architecture such a joy to seek out.

I used to visit Glasgow a lot as a child. My grandparents lived in nearby Eaglesham and we would often have days in the city or running about in its many parks. When they moved to a more isolated spot in the Kyles of Bute, we still had to cross Glasgow to get there. We would drop in on my great grandmother in her flat in Hotspur Street, which I don’t remember too much about, except that it felt very dark and there was a playground with roundabouts across the road which my sister and I would escape to, usually after we’d been given a packet of Spangles or Fruit Polos. I still have family in and around Glasgow, which is comforting, somehow.

In the 1960s, Glasgow felt a dour place. We would drive through some areas and almost always see men literally lying in the gutter, drunk. ‘Dear, dear,’ my mother would say. I remember the feeling of all the stone everywhere, from the rows of tenements to the grander buildings on Sauchiehall Street. Cities at that time were still blackened from the smoke of a century or more but that’s changed. The lovely features that characterise so much Victorian architecture emerged in the cleaning, showing that Glasgow was, in fact, a rather fine city.

Today it’s a cultural highlight of any visit to Scotland. And when you’ve had enough of its art, architecture, music, and theatre then you can easily slip away past Loch Lomond and on to the glorious Highlands and feel a million miles away.

The pieces (although in Glasgow a piece is a sandwich, a jeely piece meaning it has jam in it):

Templeton’s carpet factory

Glasgow’s reputation as a powerhouse of the British Empire is clear in the grandeur of its buildings. Like the People’s Palace, a red-stone building that sits alongside the source of Glasgow’s wealth, the river Clyde. It opened in 1898 as a kind of celebration of the city, with an art gallery and social spaces, set in parkland that provided respite from the smoggy surrounds. Beyond it, though, you’ll see a building of the same period that is much grander and perfectly expresses the city at the peak of its power. Templeton’s Carpet Factory was based on the Doge’s Palace in Venice and it’s as though the architect has done it from memory, with a façade of colourfully zigzagging brickwork and pointy Gothic windows topped with battlements that all recall something Venetian if not the actual palace itself. A wing was added to the side in 1936 that fused the same elements of crazily-coloured brickwork with the streamlined style of the moment, which is curiously successful. The architect was William Leiper, who produced notable Arts and Crafts buildings throughout the region (including a handsome church in nearby Kilmacolm in which my parents were married).

Imagine how spectacular Templeton’s would have appeared in 1892, adding yet more pinnacles to a Glasgow skyline busy with domes and towers as well as shipyard cranes. That coloured brickwork evoked the patterned chenille carpets that Templeton pioneered and which could be found in the smartest places, from the ballrooms of transatlantic liners like Titanic to the White House and even Canberra’s original Parliament building. This is no dark Satanic mill but an architectural hymn to the glory of commerce. As always there was a human cost, with two horrific accidents, one when 100 weavers were trapped by a collapsed wall, leaving 29 dead, in 1889, and another when a countless number of weavers was killed in a fire in 1900.

The great mills of Britain are awesome things, often modelled on buildings of the venerable civilisations of the past. Here, Glasgow is presented as a new Venice, a city built on trade just like the original. Restored and remade now into offices and apartments, Templeton’s continues to give back to the city, a reminder of the sweat that made the city and of a time when the workplace was sometimes as dazzling as the products made within.

Burrell Collection

When Glasgow was nominated the European City of Culture in 1990, few were as astonished as those who lived in the city itself. Culture? Here? It was a turning point in the city’s history and much of that was down to the opening of the Burrell Collection a year earlier. The collection of artworks and artefacts that spans five centuries was amassed by a Scottish shipping magnate, Sir William Burrell, who gifted it to the city in 1944. Finding a home for it took time, until a competition for a new building was won in 1972 by a team of young Cambridge architects, including Australia’s own Brit Andresen, with its leader, Barry Gasson, completing it in the 1980s.

Set in leafy Pollok Park on the outskirts of the city, the building uses the landscape to highlight the diversity of the collection, where the view into light-dappled woodland seems to accentuate the beauty of, say, a late-medieval Madonna and Child or a sculpture from ancient Greece. Some of its treasured architectural works were also incorporated into the structure, such as the great stone archway at its entrance, to create a dignified and sophisticated building which blends a lightweight framework and large areas of glass with the solidity of the local Lanarkshire stone which has a lovely blush to it. Its low, spreading architecture seemed to harmonise perfectly with the collection in the way a good film score adds to the power of a film.

And yet, we have moved into a different era, when the museum building must compete with the treasures for our attention. The understated Burrell Collection is closed currently for refurbishment that will open it up, making it more accessible and customer friendly. Many fear it will lose the unique, almost sacred atmosphere it used to instill. It will remain, though, a building that directed the world’s somewhat surprised eyes towards Glasgow and which showed how the Scottish vernacular could adapt to modern times, creating an architecture that was innately civil and dignified, words that few applied to the Glasgow of the past.

*A Glasgow kiss, by the way, is a common term used to describe a headbutt to the face.

Categories: Architecture, Design, TravelTags: , , , , , , , ,


  1. Love this! Glasgow was a surprise to me when my daughter went to uni there and we visited several years ago. There’s something both humble and proud about the city that just feels so very Scottish (although Edinburgh’s more sedate charms are undeniable). I long for them to leave the mess of the UK and join the EU — it feels like they are truly European on so many levels.

    • It’s always such a pleasure when a city surpasses your expectations, and I bet your daughter had a ball discovering the many layers of this brilliant city. My nephew was tat uni there, too, and just loved it… And woe, woe and thrice woe re Brexit. Maybe the Scotland’s auld alliance with France will come into play yet again. In which case my passport’s definitely Scottish, not English…

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