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Modern Times: 1950s to The Present Day

Buildings and Cityscape

By John Rodger

Barrowfield Housing After the Second World War Glasgow's mainly Victorian housing stock was considered to constitute a serious "housing problem" in terms of density, sanitation and poor structural conditions. The concentrated war effort had demonstrated the efficacy of a certain type of centralised planning, and it was widely assumed that this model could be used to redesign and inject new life into the city. Several plans were proposed to clear Glasgow city of slum tenements, re-house some of the population in rationalised modernist blocks, and "overspill" the remainder into modern peripheral "schemes" and satellite New Towns.

Demolition and Rebuilding

Cowcaddens, 1950s In the1950s Glasgow city centre was divided into twenty-nine Comprehensive Development Areas, with much demolition and rebuilding proposed: two New Towns, East Kilbride and Cumbernauld, and expansive modern schemes were built on the outskirts of the city at Easterhouse, Drumchapel, Castlemilk and Pollok.

M8 Motorway Into the 1960s the city centre demolitions were increased with the building of the Inner Ring Road. This motorway cut a swathe through such areas as Townhead and Charing Cross and effectively isolated the city centre. Not only was the old city being broken up, and the remnants isolated, but now the plans and actions for its repair also began to lose coherency. As population decreased with dispersal to schemes and New Towns the question of the loss of political power and big city prestige began to arise. From around 1961 onwards Housing Committees began to build on gap sites as and when they appeared, rather than following a long term overall planning policy for cleared areas.

High Rises

Moss Heights The first high rise flats had been built at Crathie Drive, Partick (1946-54) and Moss Heights, Cardonald (1950-54), but now that there was pressure to rehouse quickly and relatively densely, new blocks started rising all round the city. Most of these blocks were built quickly and cheaply, often through "package deals" with commercial contractors employing designs by mere "low status contractors' architects". Thus while there is some interesting high-rise work by local architects such as at Pollokshaws (Boswell, Mitchell & Johnson, 1961-74), on Duke Street (Honeyman, Jack & Robertson 1961-74), and arguably also in the demolished (1993) Queen Elizabeth Square by Basil Spence (1960-66), we also have Wimpey's blocks at Royston (1959-61), Reema's at Springburn, Maryhill and Ibrox and Cruden's brutalist slabs at Sighthill (1964-69). Ironically this "build -'em - high, build -'em - quick" trend may be said to have reached its nadir with the construction of the so-called "highest flats in Europe" at the Red Road (1962-70) by Sam Bunton and Associates.

Martyrs' Public School The late 1950s and 1960s did, however, see an increase in design of public buildings with several fine churches and schools by Gillespie, Kidd & Coia, including their Our Lady & St Francis secondary school (1964), and also in commercial design with buildings like the CWS Centenary House (1968) by Kenneth Masson.


The Merchant City In the 1970s the political, social and economic climate changed such that so great a faith could no longer be placed in wholesale modernist planning solutions for the problems of the city. The housing on the peripheral schemes had been built quickly and cheaply and at length became run down; few amenities had been provided for the population there and people began to regret the loss of the "community spirit" of the old city. In 1971 Assist Architects had started a programme which demonstrated the possibilities for rehabilitation rather than demolition of the stock of Victorian tenements. Overall there was a new appreciation for the old and traditional - neatly symbolised in 1974 by the rerouting of the Inner Ring Road to avoid Charles Rennie Mackintosh's Martyrs School (1895) which had been scheduled for demolition - and finally in 1976 plans for Stonehouse New Town were dropped, and the funds redirected into the Glasgow East Area Renewal (GEAR) programme.

Glasgow Garden Festival As rehabilitation of tenements neared completion, attention was given to gap sites and urban infill on the old tenement street pattern, and throughout the 80s and 90s architects developed new designs for brick tenements imitating the traditional sandstone. Particularly influential was Shakespeare Street, Maryhill (1984-89) by Ken Macrae and MLDO.

City of the Future

Glasgow Science Centre This new urbanism also encouraged city centre apartment living for the relatively well-off, and one particular area dubbed the "Merchant City" was converted from warehousing blocks into stylish housing, boutiques, cafes and bars. The most notable projects here were the conversion of two city blocks into courtyard housing, namely Ingram Square (1982-89) by Elder & Cannon, and the Italian Centre (1991) by Page & Park.

In the 1980s and 1990s Glasgow was re-branded as a post-industrial "city of culture" and three separate year-long international festivals were held, one for Gardens (1988), one for European Culture (1990) and ultimately, Architecture and Design (1999). In the push for the creation of a new "image" there were several important projects in the cultural field, including the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall (1990) by Sir Leslie Martin & RMJM and the Tron Theatre (redeveloped by RMJM 1998). As a culmination of the 1999 Festival there was The Lighthouse, a conversion of a Mackintosh building to an architecture centre by Page & Park.

Moving into the new millennium however, it is still difficult to get a coherent overview of Glasgow architecture. There are plans to develop and repair the north bank of the river at Partick and the Science Centre (2001) by BDP has at last occupied the former deserted docks where the Garden Festival was held. There are some interesting new developments of the modernist heritage of housing, like Graham Square (2001) by McKeown Alexander, which have moved beyond the brick tenement styles of the 1980s and 1990s. On the other hand there are also worrying aspects to some developments, like the rupture and resulting breakdown of the Georgian grid on Blythswood Hill caused by such over-scaled and obtrusive buildings as the UGC cinema (2001) on Renfrew Street and the Bewley's Hotel (2000) by Murray Dunlop Architects.

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