ASK any reasonably knowledgable Scot about Glasgow’s most famous architect of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and they will usually reply Charles Rennie Mackintosh and perhaps Alexander “Greek” Thomson.

It is a mystery to me that Sir John James Burnet, who died in this week of 1938 and who designed some of Glasgow and London’s finest buildings, is not ranked the same as Mackintosh and Thomson, for without a doubt he was responsible for architecture that created some of the “look” of Glasgow in its heyday, and thankfully some of his work still adorns the city today.

It could almost be said that Burnet was born to be an architect. His father was an architect and a very good one, too. Confusingly he was also John Burnet and many people over the years have confused the two Burnets. Most of his contemporaries did not make the mistake, however, as Burnet was informally known as JJ, and later as Sir John.

Burnet was born on March 31, 1857, and spent his childhood years with his mother, Elizabeth née Hay, at the family home in the Blythswood area of the city.

Finishing his schooling, Burnet went to work for his father in the family architectural firm before returning to his studies in Paris at the Ecole des Beaux Artes which he attended from 1872. He loved travelling and would become a frequent visitor to the Continent and later the USA.

A clear indication of how he saw his future is that he studied construction and engineering as well as architecture art – he would later draw on this education to make some superb sketches in his proposals for buildings, some of them quite lovely artworks in themselves.

Burnet graduated with a Diplome du Gouvernement in architecture and engineering before he went on a tour of Italy and France after which he returned to his father’s firm via the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in 1876. Still only 21, Burnet was quick to make his mark as an architect, winning the competition to design the first permanent home of what is now the Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts. This building was located in Sauchiehall Street and was opened to considerable fanfare in 1879, quickly becoming the main space for exhibitions by the finest painters around.

It was a considerable calling card for Burnet, and though he lost out on the competition to design Glasgow’s Municipal Buildings, and later the Glasgow School of Art, he nevertheless began to accrue some very prestigious and lucrative commissions, so much so that he became a partner in the family firm which was renamed John Burnet & Son in 1882, by which time he was already an associate of the RIBA.

John Archibald Campbell joined the firm and when Burnet senior retired in 1889, the firm of Burnet and Campbell was becoming renowned for buildings designed in the style that became known as Burnet Baroque.

Burnet’s travels, especially in France, greatly influenced him and now he brought his experiences abroad to bear on buildings he was commissioned to design.

These major commissions included two buildings which still stand in Glasgow and which are testament to his creative genius – the Athenaeum at the junction of Buchanan Street and Nelson Mandela Square, and the Barony Hall, originally designed by Burnet as Barony Church. The former is best known as the home for many years of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, while the latter served as a church for 100 years before being bought and brilliantly refurbished by Strathclyde University.

Though specialising in major public buildings, Burnet could turn his hand to any form of architecture including residential and domestic commissions as he showed when he designed Charing Cross Mansions.

Burnet also made his mark on Edinburgh, so much so that he was chosen one of the chief designers of the Scottish International Exhibition of 1908. By that time he had already designed the famous Forsyth’s store on Princes Street, the first major building in Britain to have a steel “skeleton” structure – architects and builders came from far and wide to view it and Burnet’s influence was now at its peak, so much so that the Government in Westminster commissioned him to design the extension to the British Museum that became the Edward VII Galleries.

More and more of his work was based in London, where he designed many business buildings such as the Kodak in Kingsway and the General Accident Assurance offices in Aldwych. He did not neglect Scotland, however, taking charge of the restoration of Duart Castle on Mull in 1911, while one of his best small buildings was the Campbeltown Library and Museum which opened in 1898.

The First World War interrupted his career as it did for so many people, but it then brought his firm a huge boost as he was commissioned to design many war memorials. One of these proved quite controversial as the Grangemouth Cenotaph was unveiled in 1923 to considerable shock. Burnet had designed a British Lion rending a German eagle atop the monument – he had neglected to tell the local council what he was going to do.

Burnet was highly regarded in Britain and elsewhere by his fellow architects. He was knighted in 1914 and was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1923, when the citation stated: “Few architects living can compare with him either in quantity or quality of output, and fewer still may be said to have had as pervasive an influence on the work of their own time.”

Though he took fewer commissions personally, Burnet worked into his late seventies – he designed the famous Unilever building on London in 1933 - before he eventually retired, spending his final years at Colinton in Edinburgh. He died at home at the age of 81 on July 2, 1938, and was survived by Lady Burnet.