Glasgow, Scotland: Art-i-tecture as far as the I can see

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Sir Harry Lauder: Stop yer ticking Jock (originally 1906)
Glasgow, Scotland: Art-i-tecture as far as the I can see

Locals call it “the Armadillo” but it's a rather obvious name for the striking building by the River Clyde, once the heart of Glasgow shipbuilding. With a suspicious similarity to a more squat Sydney Opera House, the Armadillo huddles almost fearfully in the shadow the enormous, now redundant, Finnieston Crane, a muscular reminder of the city's industrial past.

Designed by a son of this city, Sir Norman Foster – also responsible for London's “Gherkin” and the poetically beautiful bridge at Millau in France – the Armadillo, in reality the Clyde Auditorium, is one of many fascinating buildings in this Scottish city which will host the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

IMG_1260Visitors to the Games will doubtless be enthralled by Zaha Hadid's $156 million makeover of the Riverside Transport Museum due to open in 2011, and those with a taste for the dark side may well be drawn at dusk to the Necropolis, the Victorian cemetery behind the Cathedral.

But there are any number of beautiful Georgian, Regency and Victorian buildings in the city.

IMG_1249“Aye, there's a lot to see when you look up,” says a passing policeman as I stand arching my back to take in some strange embellishments on a grand old building.

From unusual statuary to dramatically sweeping modern bridges across the Clyde, Glasgow is a visually surprising city. The Griffin Bar in Bath Street, not far from the Art Deco Beresford Apartments and the red sandstone Kings Theatre, has a beautiful Art Nouveau exterior.

But the chief attractions are buildings and interiors designed by another hometown boy, Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928), most famous being the Glasgow School of Art which celebrated its century in 2009.

Although enhanced by the lightness of Mackintosh's Art Nouveau embellishments on the outside, within the walls are austere and solid, and the stairwells dark – but the library (no longer in use but open for guided tours) appears to float with a soothing lightness.IMG_1105

The Willow Tea Rooms on Sauchiehall Street – lovingly recreated from the 1904 original – is where Mackintosh designed every detail for owner/patron Kate Cranston. Tea and cake here is a must.

At the School of Art you can purchase all things Mackintosh from posters to books of his life and work. I bought a lapel badge with a Mackintosh quote in his hard-to-read Art Nouveau typeface: “There is hope in honest error, none in the icy perfections of the mere stylist”.

I wasn't sure if that summed up Glasgow's innovative architecture and design -- especially the daring new buildings and those which were so in their day -- but it seemed to.

And, being a Scot by birth and upbringing, I did note it wasn't too expensive.

For more articles on architecture start here, and on Scotland go here.


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