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Detail drawing by Gerald Blaikie of ironwork at upper levels of Ca' D'Oro Building, Glasgow

Drawing of cast iron mouldings at corner of Ca' D'Oro Building, Glasgow


Glasgow was a European pioneer in the use of cast iron and steel for commercial buildings. The use of these modern materials, which led the way to the early skyscrapers in North America, was also developed by local architects and foundries to provide cost-efficient floorspace in Victorian Glasgow's thriving business district.
Large-scale production of industrial ironware had began in the area as far back as 1786, the year when the Clyde Ironworks were established in Tollcross.

The rapid urbanisation of Glasgow in the early 1800's had created an unprecedented building boom with a demand for new warehouses and mills which would eventually lead to the fabrication of cast iron buildings.
The Carswell brothers, William (died 1852) and James (died 1856), were responsible over a 65-year period for many of the utilitarian premises resulting from this expansion. The brothers are credited with the introduction of iron castings in the construction of Glasgow's factories and warehouses. The obituary to James Carswell in the Glasgow Herald of 25th February 1856 states that "they were in their day the most extensive contractors as wrights in the city". It goes on to say that "the Carswells were the first to introduce iron pillars in buildings, as well as iron fronts and facings ".
The Carswells were starting out on their careers in Scotland around the time when the world's first building to feature iron beams and columns was erected; the Ditherington Flax Mill in Shrewsbury, England, which dates from 1797.
The obituary informs us that the brothers came to Glasgow from Kilmarnock in 1790 to set up in business as wrights and builders. They erected their workshops on a clearing they had created from a cornfield, adjacent to a footpath which would later become George Street. The period was one of a growing population and a business community all pressing for new accommodation, which the Carswells were able to provide in an efficient and cost effective way.

Warehouse in Trongate

Looking at some of the semi-derelict buildings in this area you can gain an insight into how the building styles and construction methods evolved. The example (right) features prefabricated ironwork in both internal and external construction elements. The tell-tale signs of rust on the slim cast iron window frames give a clue that new factory-produced materials were involved in the construction process.
This type of building was an intermediate step towards the fully framed multi-storey structures which were soon to follow. The external masonry was loadbearing; the floors were carried on timber joists or wrought iron beams, supported internally on cast iron columns and externally on the masonry walls. The green netting in this example is required to protect the disintegrating stuccowork, rather than the ironwork.

By the time of the Carswell brothers' deaths in the mid-1800's, the industrial areas of the expanding city contained 122 furnaces, burning coal from 37 local pits to produce over a million tons of pig iron annually. An indication of the huge demand was demonstrated on 14th December 1855 when the Glasgow Herald reported that weekly cargoes of Irish ironstone were arriving from Ballycastle, County Antrim, to supplement the flagging supplies of Scottish ore. The rich deposits of indigenous black-band ironstone which had been discovered in Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire in the early 1800's were completely exhausted by the end of the century.


Gardners Warehouse

Gardners Warehouse

Crystal Palace

Gardners Warehouse in Jamaica Street, south of Argyle Street, dates from 1856 and is the oldest completely cast iron fronted commercial building in Britain.
The façades to both Jamaica Street and Midland Street are fashioned entirely in cast iron and plate glass following a simple and graceful pattern. Its designer, John Baird, used the innovative materials to produce a structure of extraordinary elegance and lightness.
Gardners had been in the forefront of the Glasgow furniture trade for over 150 years from 1832 to 1985, when the company was acquired by their Edinburgh rivals Martin and Frost.
In August 2000, after an extensive refurbishment, the building re-opened as a bar/restaurant with the new title of the Crystal Palace. It is now one of the largest and brightest pubs in Glasgow city centre. It has lots of natural light from the seemingly endless glazing to keep the window cleaner (right) very busy!

Engraving of Gardners Warehouse Glasgow 1856

This engraving from around the time when the warehouse was built shows a rather incongruous scene, where the modernity of the building is contrasted with the happenings in the street.
Workmen pushing hand carts and passengers on a horse drawn omnibus are seen alongside top-hatted gentlemen on horseback and ladies going about their business.

Gardners Warehouse had been supplied with all the latest fixtures and fittings including one of the earliest ever safety elevators, imported all the way from New York City. This type of elevator had been invented by Elisha G. Otis in 1852.
Otis had demonstrated his elevator in spectacular fashion at the New York Fair of 1854, when he cut the hoisting cable to show the lift being held fast by an automatic safety mechanism. His invention paved the way for the development of practical multi-storey buildings which evolved into skyscrapers with the coming of structural steel.

Original Otis elevator at Gardners Warehouse, Glasgow

Original Otis elevator at Gardners Warehouse, imported from the USA in the 1850's


Ca' D'Oro Building

Ca' D'Oro Building, Union Street / Gordon Street

The Ca' D'Oro building, situated close to Glasgow Central Station, was completely rebuilt behind its retained façade in 1989, over a century after it was built. The Union Street frontage was enhanced with two additional bays, finished with cast iron mouldings which are exact reproductions of the originals.
The glass-fronted warehouse, which was completed in 1872, was designed by John Honeyman with a high roofed shopping arcade at ground level.

In the 1920's, the luxurious Ca' D'Oro Restaurant, which took its name from the gilded 15th century Ca' D'Oro Palace in Venice, occupied all the upper storeys.
In keeping with the times, the patrons of the luncheon room on the 2nd floor were entertained with live music from the resident orchestra. The gentlemen could then enjoy the facilities of the smoking rooms on the floor above. The two storey banqueting hall, an ugly addition to the roof from around 1925, was converted into a popular ballroom in the 1950's. The reconstructed version of the Ca' D'Oro now has a slated roof, which is much more in keeping with the rest of the structure.

Ca' D'Oro

At street level the shops have sculpted stone pilasters surrounding the cast iron frame, which becomes much more decorative on the upper tiers. The photograph (left) was taken on a clear mid-winter's day when the reflective qualities of the glass allowed the windows to be viewed to their best effect. Thankfully the old building's incongruous 1920's metal window frames have been replaced with large panes of fixed glass. The natural light is further augmented by a glazed atrium roof illuminating the central core of the building.

The ironwork at the upper levels is worthy of close inspection for the intricate detailing which was designed and cast at the Saracen Iron Foundry in Glasgow. The window frames are in the form of open ended figures of eight, a familiar feature of the Venetian style.


Imaginary street scene from Walter Macfarlane's catalogue

Walter Macfarlane's Saracen Works were the Scottish counterpart of Daniel Badger's Architectural Ironworks in New York City. Both foundries mass-produced highly ornamental architectural elements which the architects of the time could readily select from manufacturers' catalogues to fit into their designs.
150 years ago, the providers of warehouse space on both sides of the Atlantic anticipated modern practice where architects can select prefabricated components to meet the needs of commercial projects.
Macfarlane's ironwork was shipped to places as far away as India, Brazil, South Africa, Australia and the West Indies.

The drawing , right, shows an imaginary idealised street scene from Macfarlane's catalogue with iron castings everywhere to be seen.


Cast iron at Glasgow Central Station

Cast iron warehouse abutting huge cast iron bridge at Glasgow Central Station


Cast Iron shop front

Cast iron façade of Scottish Music Centre, Merchant City


Twomax clothing factory, Gorbals

Former Cotton Mill, Gorbals

The oldest surviving iron-framed fireproof industrial building in Glasgow is a former cotton mill in Old Rutherglen Road, Gorbals, which was latterly known as the "Twomax" clothing factory.
It was built for Robert Humphries between 1816 and 1821 in a very plain functional style, with no attempt to provide a grand façade which would have been demanded by entrepreneurs later in the century.
The various levels of the building had brick arched ceilings supported by double rows of cast-iron columns at each floor.The top storey with its large glazed studio windows was a twentieth century addition to the original block.
The building was converted for use as offices in 1998.


Derelict Warehouse, Gorbals

Derelict Warehouse, Gorbals

This derelict warehouse at Coburg Street, Gorbals, shows the outline of an adjacent demolished building in the brickwork.
The fresher coloured brickwork at the lift shaft for the elevators serving the upper two storeys could be an indication that that the block had been extended upwards at a later date from the original construction.


Guild Hall, Queen Street

Not all Glasgow's architects and their clients embraced modern construction ideas. The formation of multi-storey 0ffice blocks by traditional methods, however, becomes impracticable once you reach a certain height. The example, left, shows the seven-storey Hunter Barr Building in Queen Street, designed by David Barclay, which was built between 1899 and 1903. The grey lead sheeting at three different levels indicates where the wall thickness changes, getting progressively heavier as you go down towards the street. It was built on the "Wedding Cake" principle, where the lower storeys had to be very substantial indeed in order to carry the weight of the upper levels, which you can see are not exactly lightweight!
Lead flashings are commonly seen on roofs to provide protection from rainfall but the differences in wall depths in this building are so substantial that protection is required for the progressively thicker stonework at each layer.

Atrium at former Hunter Barr Building

When this building was converted into modern open-plan offices, as the "Guild Hall" in 1986, it was Scotland's first major atrium office scheme. The view, right, is from the rear of the building after the redevelopment.
Behind the massive façade, four distinct steel-framed structures were erected around a central atrium, which has a glazed roof providing natural light to the core of the block. Within this interior courtyard, glass fronted elevators glide up the full height of the building. The atrium concept is intended to provide ample means of escape and containment of fire, should it break out on any particular section.

Atrium at Guild Hall, Glasgow

Atrium and elevator at Guild Hall, Glasgow


Many of the most modern office blocks in Glasgow city centre are hidden behind the shells of 19th century buildings.
The above retained façade in Ingram Street was one of three similar developments in progress in the same area during early 2003.

Façade retention, Ingram Street

Façade retention, Ingram Street


At the annual exhibition of the Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts in 1899, drawings were displayed of three different sets of chambers in Glasgow city centre. These monumental sandstone fronted office blocks contained lots of little rooms separated by brick partitions.
The architect of Baltic Chambers was Duncan McNaughtan and his perspective drawing and upper floor plan are shown below.

Baltic Chambers, Glasgow, 1899

With the exception of the corner suites, each set of windows in the massive façade represents one of the small individual offices shown in the plan. There are further small offices gaining natural light from windows facing the central "Open Court".
This compartmentalised type of block was not readily adaptable for the modern requirements for open-plan office space, hence the adopted solution of façade retention and total reconstruction behind it.

Baltic Chambers, Glasgow, 1899

Baltic Chambers, Glasgow, 1899


The drawings below show the other chambers, displayed at the same exhibition as Baltic Chambers in 1899.

Atlantic Chambers, Glasgow, 1899 Waterloo Chambers, Glasgow, 1899

Atlantic Chambers (left) and Waterloo Chambers (right), Glasgow, 1899


In St Vincent Street, at the heart of Glasgow's business district, you will find James Salmon's slender 1902 office block, the Hatrack.
This narrow eight storey structure has an extraordinary rooftop, quite unlike any other in the city, which led to the building's title. It was thought more to resemble a piece of ornate furniture than a functional roof.

The Hatrack

Hatrack Building

The Hatrack's integral framework allowed the architect to create large areas of glass surrounded by a minimal amount of decorative stone, giving the façade a lightness and modernity for which Salmon and some of the more adventurous Glasgow architects were gaining a worldwide reputation at the time. The masonry on the Hatrack's façade is merely a facing, being part of a 3 dimensional "curtain wall" which doesn't carry any dead loads from the building as would be expected in traditional sandstone construction. The effect of depth is enhanced by the use of bay windows, recessed arched windows and projecting iron and stone balconies. The building's exterior was tastefully decorated in the Glasgow style, using the same modern construction methods which gave Gaudi the freedom to realise his fantasies in Barcelona around the same time.

Salmon's drawing of the Hatrack Building, below, was displayed at the annual exhibition of the Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts in 1900.

James Salmon's drawing of the Hatrack Building, Glasgow, 1900

James Salmon's drawing of the Hatrack Building, 1900

I suspect that Salmon was inspired by Oriel Chambers in Liverpool, built in 1864, which features a skeletal frame encased in fine sandstone allowing the use of large areas of glass in its elevations to the streets. Like Glasgow, Liverpool was a trans-Atlantic port and both cities were open to modernistic ideas which were also shaping the cities of the United States. The sheer originality of Oriel Chambers aroused much local controversy in Liverpool. Its innovative architect, Peter Ellis, was thought to be extremely daring in a city which took great pride in its wonderful Victorian neo-classical architecture.
Liverpool also has what is considered to be Britain's first ever skyscraper, the Royal Liver Building, which was built in 1911. The steel and concrete structure was designed by W. A. Thomas to have 13 floor levels, making it much higher than any comparable building of the time.
My drawings of both Oriel Chambers and the Liver Building are featured in my English Architecture – Iconic Buildings web page.


Orient House

Orient House

The ubiquitous concrete and steel structures of the present era go back as far as the 19th century in Glasgow.
Orient House in Cowcaddens, which was completed in 1895, is the best preserved Victorian example of the style. It was designed by William J Anderson, who was appointed as Dean of Architecture at Glasgow School of Art in 1894, during the building's construction. This was the time when the innovative ideas of Glasgow architects such as the young Charles Rennie Mackintosh were in their formative stages.
Anderson died in 1900, unaware of how popular his experimental methods of construction would turn out to be in the new century.

Orient House

The overall theme of the composition is Italian Renaissance, but the use of novel materials gives the building a feel quite unlike other warehouses of the period.
It was constructed with a steel frame and internal steel beams, with concrete floors and ceilings. The external walls have a stucco finish which further emphasise the Italianate style. It had a flat concrete roof finished with asphalt, which would have been very unusual in Glasgow's rainy climate.
In between periods of commercial use, the Orient building was used as a lodging house. It became unoccupied in the early 1970's and, after a long period of abandonment, was converted into flats.
It has been suggested that a fatal accident in 1899 in one of Anderson's unconventional structures was a contributory factor in his early death at his own hands at the age of 36.

Tomb of William J Anderson

Tomb of William James Anderson at Cathcart Cemetery


Lion Chambers

Anderson's experimental construction methods were developed further by one of his former pupils at Glasgow School of Art, James Salmon, in the design of Lion Chambers on the east side of Hope Street.
Salmon and his partner, John. G. Gillespie, produced a modernistic building which was perhaps too ambitious for 1907 when it was completed. It was built with lightweight reinforced concrete with a conventional outward appearance which disguises the fact that the external walls are only 4 inches thick. From the 4th storey upwards the tower stands on its own without the support of the adjoining block. On these upper levels there are very small common landings leading to a narrow staircase, less than 6 feet wide, tagged on to the side of the building.
The structure was fabricated with the patented "Hennebique Ferro-Concrete" system, which was widely used for civil engineering projects at the time.

In April 1995 the 7 co-owners of the block were refused planning permission for its demolition owing to the historical and architectural novelty of the structure which made it a category "A" listed building. Protective metal mesh was placed around the external shell to hold together the disintegrating concrete.
Lion Chambers is currently unoccupied after the last unit was vacated in late 2009 by G A H Douglas & Co, who had been one of the original occupants in 1907. It will remain an empty shell until the money and the collective will is found for refurbishment.
A more likely scenario, given the probable cost of renovation, is that the owners will be granted their wish to pull it down.

Photograph of Lion Chambers, 1907

Photograph of Lion Chambers displayed at the Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts Exhibition, 1907


 news article describing early concrete blocks

Glasgow was in the forefront of mass-produced factory-made concrete building materials. Earlier forms of structural concrete had been made "in situ" as far back as the 1870's with Alexander Thomson's Egyptian Halls.

This news article from 1911 describes a new industry starting in Glasgow, manufacturing concrete slabs and breeze blocks which were described as "bricks" at the time. The prefabricated slabs came in various sizes with widths varying from one to four inches. The materials used to create these new products were very abundant and were previously thought to have no value. The "breeze" or "clinker" was found in the residue left after the burning process to produce gas and coke.

Before the introduction of breeze blocks, heavier concrete blocks with aggregates of gravel or broken stone were used. The new breeze blocks and clinker concrete slabs helped make robust lightweight structures, but it was hard to convince traditionalists that the new lighter products were as structurally sound as the heavier versions.
The strength of the blocks was determined by the proportions of water, cement and clinker in the mix. Concrete products manufactured in the early twentieth century lacked the conformity of more modern ones and varied in strength, but many of them have survived to the present day.


Glasgow's most famous Victorian architect, Alexander Thomson, did not restrict himself to designing unique churches and houses. His warehouses and office blocks are not the ordinary run-of-the-mill buildings of the day but are further examples of his design genius.
His earliest city centre warehouses had more in common with his domestic and ecclesiastical commissions, but in 1868 he boldly experimented with iron elements in the frontage for the Buck's Head building in Argyle Street. The paintwork on the exotically styled external iron pillars (left) was beautifully restored as part of a total make-over which was completed in 2003.

Thomson's innovative approach to design reached a new level in 1873 when his most famous commercial work, Egyptian Halls (below), was built.


Egyptian Halls

Egyptian Halls, 1873

Alexander Thomson's Egyptian Halls, on the eastern side of Union Street, is a well-disguised commercial building behind an elaborate façade. The magnificent frontage has a row of shops at ground level. Above the shops the exterior is different at every storey, displaying a highly original selection of exotic themes.

Interior view of Egyptian Halls, Glasgow

Cast iron columns support the continuous floors which were formed with a loose clinker concrete reinforced with iron joists.

There was a £3 million proposal in 1996 to demolish and redevelop the block behind a retained façade in a similar way to the nearby Ca' D'Oro building. This scheme was abandoned when the joint owners failed to reach agreement.
In 1998 the upper floors were stripped back to their original form in preparation for future construction work which never materialised.
In May 2008 plans were finalised to bring the whole building into the single ownership of Union Street Properties, who intended to carry out a major refurbishment scheme.
In September 2010, it was announced that funding problems had delayed the start of any work on the building. Historic Scotland offered the developers just £1.5m for external stone repairs and nothing at all towards the restoration of the cast iron structure. Various other funding sources are also now threatened.

In September 2012 I was invited to look round the and take photographs inside the Egyptian Halls, by Derek Souter of Union Street Properties Ltd.
The visit gave me fascinating insight into the construction methods of the 1870's.

The drawing, right, details the first floor windows over the shop fascias in Union Street. It is somewhat idealistic, giving an idea of what it should/ could look like if the money was found to clean and restore the blackened stonework to its original condition. The decoration at this level of the façade features many of the familiar motifs and emblems which can be seen inside and outside Thomson's houses, churches and commercial premises throughout the city.


Column at St Vincent Street church

The most ostentatious use of cast-iron in the city can be seen in Thomson's St Vincent Street church where the gallery is supported with rows of slender columns with disproportionately large capitals, featuring maritime and botanical motifs.

I have created a page featuring many of the offices and warehouses of Alexander Greek Thomson. It also features illustrations of his houses and churches built in Glasgow.

 


Glasgow’s most spectacular industrial building has to be Templeton’s Carpet Factory at Glasgow Green which was completed in 1892. William Leiper's Venetian Gothic block was faced with multi-coloured bricks and finished with sandstone dressings. During construction there was a partial collapse, resulting in 29 fatalities.
The elaborate façade provides perfect cover for the conventional Victorian Mill building hiding behind it.
In the 1980’s the building was extensively restored and converted into the Templeton Business Centre.

Front of Templetons Carpet Factory, Glasgow Detail of Templetons Carpet Factory, Glasgow

Views of Templeton's Carpet Factory, Glasgow


Bank of Scotland

Union Bank of Scotland, St Vincent Street

By the 1920's steel-framed buildings were becoming more commonplace in Glasgow. Local architects were finding the confidence to imitate the monumental structures of North American cities which the general public were now able to see in the movies. In the United States, the 19th century cast-iron buildings had rapidly evolved into steel framed skyskrapers. Steel, which has a lesser carbon content than cast iron, contains other metallic elements to give it the tensile strength which is required for multi-storey construction.
James Miller, who was a master of many architectural techniques, used American styling for the Glasgow chief office of the Bank of Scotland, which was originally built for the Union Bank. The completion year of 1927 is inscribed in the stonework to assist we students of architectural history. The impressive edifice can be viewed from either St Vincent or Renfield Street, where it dominates the corner.
The scale of the building has to be witnessed first hand. The Ionic columns at the front stretch up over the first 3 storeys, which includes the banking hall which has more office space above it.

In July 2005, as part of an £18.4 million redevelopment scheme, permission was granted to tear down the original floors retaining only the façades and the banking hall from the original building.
The rebuilt structure, completed in the summer of 2007, has six levels of modern office space and a new glazed rooftop storey.

The photograph, right, was taken from St Vincent Street and features the south façade illuminated by the midday sun. It was shot in December 2005, during the demolition work on the upper storeys.

New structure appearing from rooftop, September 2006.


If you wish to see further examples of how early 20th century commercial Scottish architecture compared with that in the United States, I have included drawings of the use of cast iron and steel in American Landmark Buildings as part of my new website, which looks much further afield than my own backyard.


  
st Vincent Street Church, Glasgow

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