Not a member?
Register and login now.

Issue 45 - 10 Best Buildings

History & Heritage

This article is available in full as part of History & Heritage, visit now for more free articles and information.


Scotland Magazine Issue 45
June 2009


This article is 9 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

Copyright Scotland Magazine © 1999-2018. All rights reserved. To use or reproduce part or all of this article please contact us for details of how you can do so legally.

10 Best Buildings

Given the wealth and diversity of important buildings in Scotland, choosing 10 is difficult. David Fleetwood makes some suggestions.

Mavisbank, Polton, Midlothian Mavisbank is a gorgeous relic of a former golden age; a rural retreat set in an Elysian glade overlooking the Esk. It was built by one of the superstars of British architecture, William Adam, between 1723 and 1727 for Sir John Clerk of Penicuik.

Mavisbank expresses Adam’s vision of classical architecture perfectly: a symmetrical two-storey house, it was initially used as a country villa by the Clerk family. However, by 1840 the original design had been added to with two large wings and it was later used as an asylum. The additional wings were demolished in 1 954, and the house gutted by fire in 1973. After state intervention it was saved from demolition in 1987. It featured on the BBC series Restoration in 2003 and attempts are ongoing to restore it. Culzean Castle, Maybole, Ayrshire The influence of the Adam family on Scottish architecture is significant. William’s son Robert inherited his practice and Culzean Castle is considered the best example of his work. Its turrets and battlements dominate the Firth of Clyde, whilst its classical windows and interior details hint at intellectual sophistication. Adam designed an L-plan castle as instructed by his client David Kennedy, 10th Earl of Cassilis.

The fusion of baronial and classical features illustrates both his military might and cultural aspirations. The design includes a processional staircase, several suites of apartments and a large circular salon. The castle was donated to the National Trust in 1945 with the stipulation that an apartment be reserved for General Eisenhower, who visited several times.

Tel: +44 (0)844 493 2149 Iona Abbey, Iona Iona Abbey is an Iconic religious and architectural site, which has been at the heart of Scotland’s religious life since St. Columba landed there in 563 AD. The monastery he founded was attacked by Viking raiders several times and the original timber buildings burnt to the ground. Its replacement was built in stone on the site of the present buildings but was also damaged by Viking raids. For safety, the Abbey’s relics were sent to Dunkeld, although the graveyard remained that of Scottish kings until the death of Macbeth in 1057. In about 1200 the island once again became the centre of a religious community; the monastery remains were replaced with a grander Benedictine monastery and an Augustinian nunnery. During the 1560 reformation a large number of early stone crosses were removed. Its fortunes were revived in the late 19th century when the Iona Cathedral Trust was set up. St. Peter’s Seminary, Cardross Religion has always played a key part in Scottish history, not least for its diverse architecture. In contrast to Iona, St. Peter’s Seminary is a hymn in concrete.

The Catholic seminary was built in 1966 by the high-profile practice Gillespie, Kidd and Coia.

It is recognised as one of the finest buildings of its time and was awarded the prestigious RIBA award in 1967. The design was highly influenced by the architecture of Le Corbusier and radically reinterprets the traditional monastic plan.

The seminary is now closed and the building has been badly vandalised. Its present skeletal nature emphasises the sculptural form of the design and the contrast between its stark modernism and natural setting. Glasgow School of Art, Glasgow Glasgow School of Art is one of the most important buildings by world-renowned arts and crafts architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh and was his first major commission in 1897.

The building occupies a complete street block with an eclectic design influenced by Scottish Baronial styles and unified by the addition of art nouveau decorative motifs.

Mackintosh also embraced modern building techniques, notably using large braced industrial glazing systems. The interiors were designed with equal attention alongside Margaret MacDonald and include geometric motifs contrasting with sinuous art nouveau forms. The building is still functioning as an art college. Titan Crane, Glasgow The 150-ton cantilever crane dominates the skyline of Clydebank, a symbol of Glasgow industry. It was built in 1907 by the engineering firm Sir William Arrol and Company and was the first of its kind in Scotland. Only 14 such cranes survive worldwide. The giant crane was built to complete the heavy lifting required in a shipyard. It dominates the skyline with its large latticework girders instantly recognisable. It was upgraded in 1938 with additional steelwork added to accommodate the increased size of the ships under construction. The crane has been restored and is open to the public, providing an insight into Glasgow’s industrial history and panoramic views. Tivoli Theatre, Aberdeen The Tivoli Theatre is an outstanding example of a Victorian theatre. The building has a striking presence with a three-storey Venetian Gothic entrance. It was designed by two of the most high-profile theatre architects of the period, CJ Phipps and Frank Matcham. The interior is extremely well-preserved, containing the majority of the original stage machinery. The auditorium is curved with a steep circle and upper circle supported by cast iron columns.

The theatre was originally known as Her Majesty’s Opera House, re-opening after work in 1910. It was originally a variety venue, hosting a number of high-profile performers. There is a current campaign to restore the building. St. Vincent Street Church, Glasgow St. Vincent Street Church is a radical reinterpretation of the form of a church building, full of biblical symbolism juxtaposed with highly modern construction methods. The building exploits its sloping site with a large foreboding tower whilst the church hall is in the basement.

Thomson became known as ‘Greek’ Thomson and applied the style to all his work. St. Vincent Street Church is the only remaining example of his church architecture, illustrating his personal interpretation of religious faith with an interior denoting the power of God and the diminutive stature of man. New Town, Edinburgh Scotland also has a tradition of developing areas as single unified designs. An internationally important example is Edinburgh’s New Town. James Craig’s design uses a simple axial grid with a principal axis along George Street linking two garden squares. This is flanked by two further principal streets with mews lanes in between. An earlier design by Craig had echoed the form of the union flag and the street names reflect this; the principal street is named after King George and the mews lanes are Thistle Street and Rose Street. The world-famous unified Georgian facades grew from Craig’s plan, with streets and squares laid out by high-profile architects. It is now a World Heritage Site.

New Lanark, Lanarkshire Scotland also boasts important examples of industrial planning, such as the model mill town developed by Robert Owen from 1800-1825 at New Lanark. The mills were founded in 1786 and were sold to a partnership including Owen in the early 19th century. Owen’s social and welfare programmes developed into a movement for utopian socialism. Around 2,500 people lived at New Lanark and Owen resolved to improve their working conditions. He opened the first infant’s school in Britain in 1816. New Lanark was celebrated throughout Europe and business was profitable with a highly motivated and healthy workforce. The mills closed in 1968 and are now open to the public as a World Heritage Site.