Glasgow: A Designer’s City


I’d like to think of myself as someone who has traveled a fair bit, Canada, The USA, Uganda, Kenya, Italy… erm Wales but when it comes to heading north of the green green grass of home I have been a bit rubbish until now! This past week I spent a few days with some friends up in Scotland, Glasgow to be precise. Whilst I knew Glasgow was home to “The daddy” of the Arts and Crafts movement and Art Nouveau Charles Rennie Mackintosh I did not realise what gems of design and architecture are on every street.

Have a look at what I saw and what an influence this city has on me as a designer after the jump

University Glasgow

Glasgow is Scotland’s largest city and has the 3rd largest population of any city in the United Kingdom. There is a wealth of 19th Century architecture from the University to the majority of the central shopping district to the grand museums. Glasgow is home to of one of the largest naval shipyards in the country and the city was bombed heavily during the 2nd world war but since the 1980’s has seen significant regeneration. The city was named European Capital Of Culture in 1990 and is known by Lonely Planet readers as one of the Top 10 tourist cities on the planet. The regeneration doesn’t stop there as Glasgow has recently won the bid to host the 2014 Commonwealth Games which will help leave a considerable legacy of design and architecture through the first half of the 21st Century.

Our hosts, knowing I was a designer first took us to The Lighthouse which is the old Glasgow Herald newspaper printing house design by Mackintosh in 1895. When the Herald moved out it lay derelict until it underwent a £13 Million (about US $20 Million) refit and was opened in 1999 with the vision:

“To be a leading body for the promotion of architecture, design and the creative industries, locally, nationally and internationally by engaging people of all ages through a creative exhibition, education and business programme.”

Lighthouse SymbolsInside The lighthouse is a history of the works of Mackintosh put to the background of other world events and whilst this is not the greatest collection of his works it is enough for you to understand his legacy and point you to the other places in the city he created.

Where The Lighthouse stands out is its exhibition space with a mixture of historical displays, teaching sessions and an investigative look at future design and architecture. This means there is something for young and old and there are new exhibitions every month so I will make it a point to return next time I am in the city. The take on design is a very fun loving and interactive one that is welcoming to children and school parties as well as those who like the more aesthetic things in life, such as the wall symbols for the nearest toilets.

Lighthouse_StairsOne final joy to behold is the watchtower, now open to the public you can climb the spiral staircase and reach the stunning rooftop views across the city and beyond. One such view is on the banner of this article.

Admission for Adults is £4, Concessions for £2 Kids for £1.50 however entry on Saturdays is free! The shop is worth a good look as well, it is stoked with design literature, bits and bobs by Alessi and the Eames’ and various other design goodies at a reasonable price.

You can follow The Lighthouse on twitter here

Glasgow City Council own most of the museums across the city and they were left by their respective creators to the city meaning that entry is free for all except certain temporary and usually traveling exhibitions. This is a wonderful thing and is a real encouragement for visitors to the city to get out and explore the rich cultural heritage Glasgow has to offer. Details of all the free museums across Glasgow are here at Museums Glasgow

I’m not going to go into all the works of Mackintosh that you can see across Glasgow, that’s for yourself to explore and research into through sites such as The Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society

Scotland Street SchoolThere is one other gem I would like to direct you too and this is a Mackintosh gem, it’s the Scotland Street School Museum in the south of the city, designed by the great man between 1903 and 1906 it used to have teaching space for 2000 children in perfect Mackintosh form.

The green of the window and door frames off set the red sandstone walls and this theme of green adding a splash of colour is followed inside the school in the corridors and classrooms.

Today, the school has been renovated and turned into a historically accurate representation of school life through the first half of the 20th century with classrooms dedicated to the Victorian Age, the Second World War and during the 50s and 60s. In addition to this there are exhibition spaces for life as a school child during the Second World War and an example of a cookery class. An extra treat for us was a visiting exhibition of Mechanics Alive!!! which is a showcase for one of my favourite school projects, using cams and cogs to create deeply thought out automated events such as a man eating spaghetti out of a bath and a circus bear attempting to eat it’s tamer.

As before, entry to the Scotland Street School is free and runs off the Council and your donations so if you go, do donate and spend your money in the shop.

Templeton BuildingElsewhere around Glasgow are some startling examples of architecture and urban design from the 19th, 20th and 21st Centuries ranging from the Norman Foster Designed Clyde Auditorium (affectionately know as the Armadillo) and the rejuvenated south bank of the River Clyde to the grandeur of Glasgow Green with the Doulton Fountain and the People’s Palace. The most curious example of Glasgow’s 19th Century Architecture is Templeton Place (pictured) originally a carpet factory opened in 1857 the facade was modeled exactly on Doge’s Palace in Venice. It is now home to flats and the recently formed West Beer Brewery who’s produce is well worth a taste while you are in the city.

In the three days we were in Glasgow we barely scratched the surface, we visited 3 of the 13 free museums and didn’t have the time to sample the shopping or the stunning country side in the local area but we did get a feel for the place. Its busy, diverse both culturally and architecturally and with a wealth of things to see and do.

As a designer it was great to go to a city that embraces design and architecture in the way Glasgow does, a lot of cities across the UK are caught somewhere between the identi-kit new developments and some of the character has been diluted. The city is still developing and growing and will continue to produce the innovation and exciting design and architecture for many years to come.


About Peter Woodthorpe

I am a Research Design Engineer living in Leeds, West Yorkshire in the United Kingdom as well as a Childrens Worker for Kidz Klub Leeds. I hold a International Master of Design degree from the University of Leeds.
This entry was posted in Architecture, General Design, Product Design and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Glasgow: A Designer’s City

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