credit_-Vishnu-Prasad-via-Unsplash Photo of neoclassical sandstone roof top with pillar details against blue sky

Streets steeped in history

By Sarah Green

 A walk through Glasgow’s architecture unveils the city’s unique history

Enriched with both diversity and flair, Glasgow’s buildings showcase some of the best work by Scottish architects from across the ages. The city houses a plethora of distinct styles, from medieval to modern, which give this vibrant city individuality and character.

The Glasgow Cathedral is the oldest building in the city. It is a medieval masterpiece, encompassing a clearly Gothic style. Construction started in 1136 in honour of St Mungo, a local Christian missionary who founded the city and became its patron saint. The cathedral was at the heart of the medieval ecclesiastical settlement, though now located in the East End due to the city’s expansion around it. The scale of the Cathedral cannot go unnoticed. Its greatness and grandeur can be seen through the tall, pointed arches and ceilings which reach a soaring height. Windows feature on the same scale; they are tall and arched, framing vibrant stained glass that transmits religious images and fills the cathedral with light. 

The 19th century was a period when Glasgow’s architecture flourished. As the local economy boomed, wealthy merchants invested money into planned developments throughout the city, employing architects to design housing and commercial buildings. Classicism became the default style. Architects aimed to imitate Greek and Roman architecture from the Classical period, reviving what they perceived to be ideal forms and perfection. This included the use of columns with supporting beams and long, unbroken horizontal lines to create symmetry and simplicity. By having a common style, architectural consistency was maintained throughout the city. Alexander ‘Greek’ Thompson was a major architect who worked in a neoclassical style, seen in constructions such as Great Western Terrace in the West End and Vincent Street Church in the City Centre. Another notable neoclassical building is Wellington Church designed by Thomas Lennox Watson, located beside the University of Glasgow’s main campus. Corinthian columns embellish the front of the building, showing the Greek influence in Watson’s style. 

Despite Classicism being the dominating architectural style in 1800s Glasgow, there are also examples of Gothic revival. Thompson disapproved of Gothic architecture, and there are few examples in the City Centre. However, Sir George Gilbert Scott and William Leiper designed remarkable buildings by taking a neo-gothic approach. Gilmorehill, the main campus of the University of Glasgow, has incredible neo-gothic features, most notably the cloisters. This arched area connects the East and West quadrangles together with impressive fluted columns and ribbed vaults. The cloisters have proved popular with filmmakers, providing a set for many different movies.

Another spectacular neo-gothic building is Templeton Carpet Factory. The multicoloured exterior symbolises the building’s purpose – to house carpet production. Glazed brick, red terracotta and enamel tiles contribute to the fanciful facade, creating colourful patterns on the exterior walls. This reflects the weaving of Templeton’s luxurious and intricate carpet designs. 

Charles Rennie Mackintosh designed buildings at the turn of the 20th century in a unique style that is synonymous with Glasgow. When concerned with the decoration of buildings, he paid high attention to detail. His works can be recognised by his use of elongated and distorted forms that are based on nature. Queen’s Cross Church in Maryhill displays natural influences; soft, curved lines are used to decorate the exterior which juxtaposes the strong angular shape of the building. The way Mackintosh designed windows is also noteworthy. In one of his earliest works, the office block for Glasgow Herald, he used tall windows that stretched the length of the storey. This was possible due to metal support structures that carried the weight of buildings, allowing glass to be used liberally. Additionally, Mackintosh used oriel windows which are curved to mark his style. 

Lining the bank of the Clyde, the Riverside Museum was built in 2011 by Zaha Hadid. The zinc panelling shows Hadid’s contemporary style. The city and river are connected through its pointed and fluid shape. The Riverside Museum’s geometric shape also aims to shine a light on Glasgow’s historical engineering tradition, while displaying exhibits that show the possibilities of engineering in the future.

All the architectural styles discussed are important for creating the city we know and love today. The buildings referenced are all worthy of a visit to truly capture their stunning beauty, and can easily be located with a quick Google search. Keep your eyes peeled as you explore to find more amazing architecture adorned in the bricks of Glasgow. 


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