Scotland: Glasgow dares to be different

By Graham Reid

Graham Reid looks at innovative architecture - modern and historic.

Clyde Auditorium, also known as the Armadillo. Photo / Graham Reid
Clyde Auditorium, also known as the Armadillo. Photo / Graham Reid

Locals call the striking building by the River Clyde - once the heart of Glaswegian shipbuilding - "the Armadillo" and it's easy to see why.

Looking rather like a slightly squat Sydney Opera House, the Armadillo huddles almost fearfully in the shadow of the enormous, now redundant, Finnieston Crane, a muscular reminder of Glasgow'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 that will host the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

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

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

"Aye, there's a lot to see when you look up," says a 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 St, 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), the 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, inside 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.

The Willow Tea Rooms on Sauchiehall St - 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 myself by birth and upbringing, I did note it wasn't too expensive either.


Getting there: Cathay Pacific offers daily flights from Auckland to London via Hong Kong. Special fares are available.

Further information: See Glasgow Architecture or

Graham Reid flew to London with assistance from Cathay Pacific Airlines and

- NZ Herald

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