Among the Scottish cities, Glasgow is well-known for its 19th-century Victorian architecture and, perhaps even more so, for the 20th-century ‘Glasgow Style’. Some of the city’s most notable buildings were designed by Scottish architect, designer, and artist Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Read on and learn more about Mackintosh Architecture in Glasgow.
Guest Post by Graham
Over the past 25+ years, Graham has travelled the length and breadth of the country hailing from Glasgow on camping overnighters, hillwalking adventures, road trips and random getaways. During this time he has accumulated an intimate knowledge of Scotland and the wide array of architectural styles on offer. He blogs at MyVoyageScotland.com. Follow his adventures on Facebook @MyVoyageScotland.
Architecture in Glasgow
Despite the city dating back to the 6th century, Glasgow’s cityscape is dominated by structures from the 19th and 20th centuries. Some of the most notable buildings include the Finnieston Crane from the 1890s, the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum from 1901, the Glasgow Armadillo from the early 2000s, or the Riverside Museum from 2011.
The two main landmarks from earlier periods are the 12th-century St. Mungo’s Cathedral (the oldest building in the city) and the 15th-century Provand’s Lordship. The 1628 Trongate steeple situated on Trongate, one of the oldest streets in Glasgow, is also notable.
However, much of the city’s landscape is dominated by buildings designed by Mackintosh. A prominent member of the Arts and Crafts movement and the main representative of the Art Nouveau (“Modern Style”) style in the UK, Mackintosh significantly contributed to the city as we know it today.
10 Centerpieces of Glasgow Architecture
With that said, let’s have a look at the 10 centerpieces of Glasgow architecture whose majority has been contributed to by Charles Mackintosh himself.
1. Glasgow School of Art
The Glasgow School of Art is accommodated in a number of buildings. Considered Mackintosh’s masterwork, the most famous of the school’s buildings – the Mackintosh Building – was designed by the architect between 1896 and 1909.
The particular building designed by the Scottish architect is located on Renfrew Street and was built in a period of the school’s fast growth. Due to financial limitations, the first half of the Mackintosh Building was completed in 1899 and the second half in 1909.
Now, the Mackintosh Building is closed down – on May 23, 2014, a fire damaged the building’s west wing, including studios, some archival stores, and its library. While restoration is underway, the Mackintosh Building will be closed to the public.
2. Scotland Street School Museum
A Glasgow landmark and a popular attraction for tourists nowadays, the Scotland Street School hasn’t seen much success.
The Scotland Street School was again designed by Charles Mackintosh somewhere between 1903 and 1906. The school’s design was based on the Falkland Palace, 10 miles south of Perth and the Rowallan Castle in Ayrshire. The key features of the school building are two tower staircases executed in the Scottish baronial style, as well as the tiled Drill Hall.
The design process wasn’t quite smooth for Mackintosh – he often debated with the school board that wanted a less expressive design, probably to cut costs. In the end, the budget exceeded the intended amount, but as a result, Glasgow can now delight visitors and locals with one of its most progressive attractions.
The Scotland Street School was designed for the enrollment of 1,250 people. By the 1970s, however, the area of the school was experiencing urban decay, which caused the enrollment to fall to 100. Eventually, the school was shut down in 1979.
Now, the iconic building houses the Scotland Street School Museum with some of the most interesting tours one could participate in in Glasgow and perhaps the whole of Scotland. Visitors get an opportunity to take part in a Victorian classroom play, with actors playing strict teachers to recreate the atmosphere of the school.
3. The Lighthouse
Currently, The Lighthouse houses Scotland’s Centre for Design and Architecture which was opened in 1999 as part of Glasgow’s status of UK City of Architecture in Design. However, the history of this building dates back over a century.
The Lighthouse was completed in 1895, and it was again designed by Charles Mackintosh. Formerly, The Lighthouse housed the Glasgow Herald newspaper’s warehouse. Namely, it was designed to accommodate an 8,000-gallon water tank to protect the building from the risks of fire.
As such, the building hasn’t been named “The Lighthouse” until its renovation in 1999.
Now, one of the key features of The Lighthouse is the uninterrupted view of Glasgow’s cityscape from the Mackintosh Tower. The ascent to the Tower situated at the north of the building perhaps is no less memorable than the view that’s presented to you above – the helical staircase offers quite a spectacle on the way up.
4. Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery
The Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery under the University of Glasgow is the oldest museum of Scotland, as well as perhaps the richest.
The Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery was established by the will of Scottish anatomist and physician William Hunter (1718-1783). The core of the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery’s original collections and its funding came from the bequest of William Hunter.
A physician and anatomist, Hunter has collected a substantial medical collection in the years of his activity. While this collection is the centerpiece of the Museum’s exhibits, Hunter has collected well beyond medicine, including paintings, prints, books, manuscripts, coins, insects, and many other artifacts from many other fields of human activity.
The museum opened in 1807 in a building on High Street adjacent to the original campus of the University of Glasgow. Following the relocation of the main campus of the University to Gilmorehill in 1870 due to pollution and crowding on the original site, the Hunterian Museum along with its collections was moved as well to ensure that Hunter’s will stays in effect.
5. House for an Art Lover
While not built under the supervision of Charles Mackintosh, the House for an Art Lover is abundant with touches from his architectural style. Well, this building was actually constructed from the drafts of Mackintosh!
In fact, the drafts and the construction of the House for an Art Lover are separated by nearly a century, with the latter having been drawn by Mackintosh in 1901 and the construction itself having started in 1989.
Originally, the building was designed for a competition for a “Haus eines Kunstfreundes” (“Art Lover’s House”) hosted by the German design magazine “Zeitschrift für Innendekoration.” The project was disqualified due to unfinished sketches and late entry, but it was praised for its pronounced personal style.
The construction process wasn’t exactly smooth – soon after its beginning, it was paused in the early 1990s. But the Glasgow School of Art along with the Glasgow City Council revived the project in 1994, and the House for an Art Lover was finally opened to the public 2 years later.
Now, the House for an Art Lover accommodates art exhibitions from a number of leading Scottish artists and designers. It also includes a cafe and shops, as well as functions as a conference venue.
6. Kelvingrove Museum
The 1901 Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is one of the most popular visitor attractions in Glasgow and Scotland, housing 22 galleries with Renaissance art, taxidermy showpieces, as well as artifacts from Ancient Egypt.
Most notably, the Centre Hall of the museum features a concert pipe organ originally commissioned for the Glasgow International Exhibition held in 1901 in Kelvingrove Park. This organ was installed in the exhibition’s concert hall that was capable of seating 3,000 viewers.
The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is located near the main campus of the University of Glasgow on Gilmorehill and adjacent to the Kelvingrove Park. Interestingly, the entrance of the museum faces the Kelvingrove Park – there is even an urban myth that the museum’s architect has jumped from one of its towers upon realizing that the building was built back to front. In reality though, the entrance was intended to face the park from the very beginning.
7. Queen’s Cross Church
Completed during the early stages of the Glasgow School of Art project, the Queen’s Cross Church is the only church completed by Charles Mackintosh. This church is also known as The Mackintosh Church.
Due to Mackintosh’s distinct style and its difficult positioning on a corner plot adjacent to tenements and a large warehouse, the Queen’s Cross Church is perhaps the most remarkable church of Glasgow.
Unlike many churches in the city, the Mackintosh Church also doesn’t have a large towering style. In contrast, it’s rather squat and looks more like a Norman castle.
The interior of the church – in particular, the stained glass windows – certainly aren’t as lush as in other churches and cathedrals, but it undoubtedly possesses the recognizable touches of Mackintosh. The pulpit is also carved by the architect’s design, repeated five times around its curved front.
In the 1970s, the Queen’s Cross Church was decommissioned. But due to Mackintosh’s works’ popularity, it wasn’t demolished or converted into a theatre like other decommissioned churches – instead, it became the home of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society. Today, the Society operates the church as a tourist attraction.
8. Willow Tearooms
Designed by Charles Mackintosh, the Willow Tearooms opened for business in October 1903 at 217 Sauchiehall Street. The Willow Tearooms are the only surviving tearooms designed by Mackintosh for his patron and local entrepreneur Miss Catherine Cranston.
The Willow Tearooms rapidly gained popularity and are now the most famous of the numerous tearooms established in the city in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. However, the Willow Tearooms have found themselves on the brink of closure due to various changes of ownership and trademark disputes over the years.
Thankfully, the Willow Tea Rooms Trust purchased the tearooms in 2014. After a period of restoration – largely to Mackintosh’s original designs – the Willow Tearooms were reopened in July 2018 under the name Mackintosh at The Willow.
By the way, don’t confuse Mackintosh at The Willow with the Willow Tearooms at Buchanan Street owned by Anne Mulhern. The Mackintosh at The Willow is housed in the original Willow Tearooms building. The modern Willow Tearooms are also accommodated in buildings designed by Mackintosh, but the two tearooms belong to different owners, and Mulhern has won the trademark battle for the name “The Willow Tearooms” in 2017.
9. Glasgow Necropolis
The Glasgow Necropolis’s creation was heavily influenced by the growing population and fewer and fewer people attending church. These two factors caused a wave of pressure for cemeteries across Britain. Aside from that, the establishment of the Paris Père Lachaise Cemetery a few decades earlier played its stimulating role as well.
The land that would become the Glasgow Necropolis was purchased in 1650 by the Merchant’s House and originally accommodated the Fir Park with its fir trees. After the fir trees died out and were replaced with mostly elm and willow, the area was turned into an arboretum and a Victorian park.
In 1831, Chamberlain at the Merchant’s House John Strang wrote “Thoughts on Death and Moral Stimulus” (“Necropolis Glasguensis”) where he pondered about the adaptability of the Fir Park into a Père Lachaise and that it could be used much more productively after conversion “into a general and lucrative source of profit.”
Shortly after the passage of the 1812 Cemeteries Act allowing burial for profit, the Glasgow Necropolis opened officially. 50 thousand people have been buried here since then, but not every grave has a stone, and only a small portion of the existing stones are named.
The Necropolis accommodates around 3,500 monuments, one of which is a Celtic cross to Andrew McCall designed by Charles Mackintosh.
Today, visitors of Glasgow can book a tour through the Glasgow Necropolis and be presented to the history of this unique landmark in a bit more detail.
10. Martyrs’ Public School
Home to Glasgow City Council’s Social Work Leaving Care Services, the Martyr’s Public School is one of the earlier works of Mackintosh.
The architects of the Martyr’s Public School were Honeyman and Keppie. At the time, Mackintosh was a senior assistant in the practice, but his influence in the building is seen quite clearly, especially in the details.
For many years, this building has served as the non-denominational public school for Townhead. After WWII, it became the Martyr’s Primary School, the name under which it’s famous today. Throughout the following decades, the building would see a few additional reorganizations until finally becoming the home to Glasgow City Council’s Social Work Leaving Care Services.
Now, what do you think? What’s your favorite piece of architecture in Glasgow? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!