Such is the wealth of Glasgow’s architecture, it’s almost impossible to pick its finest buildings . . . but we know a man who can as Ann Wallace reveals

Asking Niall Murphy to choose the ‘best’ Glasgow building is giving him an impossible task, he says. The deputy director of Glasgow City Heritage Trust (right) explains: “My favourite changes on a weekly basis – there are so many fantastic buildings in Glasgow that it is hard to pin down.”
Glasgow City Heritage Trust is a charity that gives out almost £1 million each year to help people protect, repair, and promote the city’s historic buildings and places. Here, Niall lists his 10 favourite Glasgow buildings. 


1. Glasgow Central Station
71 Gordon Street
“My favourite space in Glasgow, as it is so atmospheric,” explains Niall. “I love the way the huge, no-nonsense roof trusses leap across the concourse, and how they contrast with the delicate, classically detailed timber-clad pods that slide and squeeze into the concourse space, encouraging passengers to flow like water towards the trains. Designed by James Miller and Robert Rowand Anderson, it is hands down the best public space in Glasgow, even if it is under cover.”

The National: Getty ImagesGetty Images (Image: Getty Images)
2. Charing Cross Mansions
2-30 St George’s Road; 
540-6 Sauchiehall Street; 
357-9 Renfrew Street
“This elaborately grand red sandstone edifice is the apotheosis of the tenement in Scotland,” says Niall. “Here, Sir John James Burnet takes the main elevation from Paris’s Hotel de Ville and, in a self-confident display of panache, adapts it to the curve of Charing Cross while adhering to the Glaswegian love of the oriel bay window. It would look even better with the original shopfronts restored.”

The National: Getty ImagesGetty Images (Image: Getty Images)
3. The Athenaeum Theatre 
179 Buchanan Street
“Glasgow was once so wealthy it generated two styles of architecture,” says Niall. “Everyone knows the Glasgow Style, led by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, but this building, built between 1891-1893 to designs by Sir John James Burnet and his partner John Archibald Campbell, marks the birth of the Glasgow Baroque, sparking copies right across Scotland’s Central Belt. It is a synthesis of fashionable London styles combined with the Glaswegian love of Michelangelo’s sculpture.”

The National: Getty ImagesGetty Images (Image: Newsquest)
4. The Cenotaph
George Square
“The design of the memorial to Glasgow’s war dead had to be given to the city’s greatest architect at that time, Sir John James Burnet,” says Niall. “It is a tough site, at risk of being overwhelmed by the unrelenting, magnificent backdrop of the City Chambers. Burnet opted for a moment of peace and classical restraint with a very understated design displaying his grasp of the best of French and American Neoclassicism. The beatific statue of St Mungo blessing this sacred space while tucked within his baldacchino is a particularly memorable note.”

The National: Getty ImagesGetty Images (Image: Getty Images)
5. Corinthian 
191 Ingram St
Corinthian is a complex hybrid building involving several great Glasgow architects. The main elevation addressing Ingram Street is by the hand of Sir John James Burnet, just returned, aged 19, from his École des Beaux-Arts training in Paris. If you have a thoroughbred in the stables, you want to take it out for a spin. So, his father, John Burnet Snr, lets his son loose on this and his talent shows.”

The National: Getty ImagesGetty Images (Image: Getty Images)
6. Scotland Street School
225 Scotland Street
“To see the twin stair turrets of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Scotland Street School lit up against a Glasgow sunset is to witness joy,” says Niall. “The glass is soap bubble-thin and the stone carefully sculpted. This building is a lesson in ‘less is more’. One of the great moments in Glasgow architecture is sadly marooned in a wasteland of gap sites and car parks, and desperately needs its townscape back.”

 

7. Glasgow School of Art
167 Renfrew Street
“Despite the fires which destroyed it, Mackintosh’s masterpiece is still one of the best in Glasgow, and in the world,” says Niall. “It must be restored. It shows how Mackintosh’s idiosyncratic style evolved over time. For his east elevation, he cherry-picked ideas from a range of influential Arts & Crafts architects, but by the time he returned a decade later for the west, he was absolutely his own man, and it shows in his ruthless handling of the soaring oriel bay windows of the library (one of the great architectural spaces of the 20th century) and his almost fabric-like handling of the draped stone around the west basement entrance.”

The National: Getty ImagesGetty Images (Image: Getty Images)
8. The Hatrack
142a & 144 St Vincent Street
“Though the great Glasgow Style architect James Salmon Jr always regarded the nearby Mercantile Chambers as his masterpiece, I think it is safe to say that everyone else in Glasgow believes it is The Hatrack,” says Niall. “This is the closest Glasgow gets to full-throated European Art Nouveau. The sinuous plastic stonework is full of quirky details and symbolism, with winged angels tucked behind curious trees and little temples containing cityscapes and dragons. The roofscape, which I presume is meant to be a patriotic spiky thistle, is the reason for the nickname. Above the entrance, propped on a dragon’s head, is a swelling bay of stained glass depicting the ships in the Battle of St Vincent – the reference to the name of the street –by the great Glasgow stained glass artist Oscar Paterson.  

The National: Getty ImagesGetty Images (Image: Getty Images)
9. Govanhill Baths
99 Calder Street
“Glasgow is a city of municipal socialism with a strong working-class culture and Govanhill Baths, the largest surviving Edwardian Baths complex in the city, is where all that comes together,” explains Niall. “Constructed between 1914 -1917, it is a building full of stories and the site of the longest occupation of a civic building in British history. Given its classical red sandstone appearance, you might think it was traditionally constructed. In fact, behind the stone skin the structure and pools are formed from reinforced concrete – an intensely modern form of construction for that period but a serviceable one too. 
“That makes it a very Glasgow building as all that intense modernity is geared towards addressing the needs of and lifting up the city’s working-class population.”

The National: Getty ImagesGetty Images (Image: Getty Images)
10. The City Chambers
80 George Square/20 John St
“Paisley-born architect William Young’s City Chambers, built between 1883-89, is utterly Glaswegian as it is all about the Victorian city’s love of display,” says Niall. “With its vast budget, it was meant to jumpstart the city’s economy after the collapse of the City of Glasgow Bank in 1878. It is encrusted with lavish Venetian Renaissance detail. 
“Across John Street, the later extension of 1913–29, by architects Watson, Salmond and Gray, is more austere and monumental in scale with its giant Ionic columns. It is impossible to imagine John Street without the twin triumphal arches, and their beautifully carved escutcheons containing the Glasgow Coat of Arms and, appropriately for a great port, the prows of ships.”