Glasgow determined to demolish Thomson offices
Big names are fighting to keep bulldozers off a building worked on by one-time tenant 19th-century architect Alexander 'Greek' Thomson.
Glasgow council has approved demolition of the Grade A building on the corner of Wellington Street and West Regent Street. It was used by the architect as an office in the 1870s and he made several alterations and a rear extension. But the three-storey building has been empty for 10 years and hit by settlement. Walls have bulged and cracked and the cost of retaining one of the facades would be around £149,000.
The conditional approval calls for two existing doorcases and railings to be restored. They must be used in a new 2000m2 office scheme by Cooper Cromar Architects. Its five storeys will have stone and copper cladding and cost around £2 million.
But conservationists are pinning their hopes on Historic Scotland, which has 28 days to call in the new scheme for public inquiry. Gavin Stamp, chairman of the Alexander Thomson Society, curator of an exhibition of his work at the newly-opened Lighthouse, and author of a book on the architect, said the new design was terrible.
'With a Thomson exhibition pulling in record numbers of viewers, the timing of this is astonishing,' he said. 'The new design is insensitive to what remains on the site and what the site demands. We are lobbying Historic Scotland.'
Another member, Mark Baines, a fourth-year tutor at the Mackintosh School of Architecture, said: 'One of the facades is like an end pavilion and worthy of retaining. Some of the fittings like fireplaces have been removed and used in other Thomson buildings. Others, such as etched glass in door- cases have been removed and are in the exhibition. My concern is more to do with the urban scale rather than with conservation just for conservation's sake.'
The New Glasgow Society's Alistair Fyfe said: 'Can you imagine the fuss if it was a Charles Rennie Mackintosh office? Thomson is just as important to Glasgow. We ... like the new design, but not there.'
However the architect said demolition had been approved twice in the past. A spokesman said: 'There was a previous scheme to replace the building with a replica, but that is not valid in this area where there are lots of contemporary buildings. We are adding to the new design in the area.'
The council said the demolition was an emotive subject in this year of architectural celebration when the architect's work had at last gained proper recognition. But, 'despite this interest the building continues to deteriorate with no apparent attempts being made at preventive works.'
Historic Scotland said it had just received the council's recommendation and it was too early to forecast a decision. The client is County Properties which aims to start work in early 2000 and finish in 2001.