Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Glasgow Day 5 - Merchant City Architectural Walk

Master of Architectural Placements. One Window Tax Closes, another Tax Window Opens.

9 °C

 No Random Walk Down Glasgow's Streets 
While there's little doubt that Glasgow is small compare to Paris. Sure, London, Paris or even the smaller cousin city Edinburgh has many more buildings that are far grander. Glasgow is therefore quantitatively inferior than either Edinburgh or Paris, but qualitatively it has its beauty and charm. In some way it outshines the contenders I mentioned. I should mention that while Edinburgh seems to be busier (with tourists), and has grander buildings, it's essentially one street - the Royal Mile - old town.

There have been some friendly rivalries between Glasgow and Edinburgh. These neighbouring English city rivalries are all too common, like Sydney and Melbourne (in Australia), Christchurch and Auckland (in NZ), etc.

At least one of the thing that I find Glasgow arguably outdoes the other great European cities is their strategic placement of buildings. Don't get me wrong, Paris is probably the best example of how landmarks could be strategically placed to maximise visual impact.

The Historical Axis in Paris that I discussed in great length in this article shows such masterful placement of architectural elements within the city to create grand vista (and symbolic representation). This is just the best example in the numerous instances of such strategic positioning of public buildings.

Having said that, how could I still possibly say that a relatively smaller-scale city of Glasgow could measure up to Paris? Its very strength lies in its smaller size, and simplicity. Any kind of architectural or city planning theme would be clearly expressed without being lost in the patchworks of cluttering landmarks.

 Perfect to a T 
One of the strategic placement I'm referring to the positioning of a prominent public building at the intersection of a 'T' junction where the building facade faces squarely down the street. And many centres of cross roads also exploited for best visual effects. The best and most well know examples are the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art and the St. George Tron Church. The Tolbooth and Tron Steeples are also served as great examples.

Ingram Street Sign, Merchant City, Glasgow, Scotland, UK
Ingram Street lies in the heart of the Merchant City

To see this theme is being beautifully orchestrated, take a walk down Trongate St and continue into Argyle St. Start your walk on the eastern end from High St. As you walk westwards, take a look towards your right on the street that comes up. You'll be looking at public building locating on Ingram St, which is considered the centre of the city. You would be rewarded with nice architecture that look back at you squarely from Ingram St looking like a cowboy ready for a quick draw with you (shoot them with your camera). I.e. the building's centre line is nicely aligned with the street's centre line, giving it a nice symmetry and focal points. (There's nothing interesting on the left to look at as it's the southern fringe of the city, or as the cops would say, "Move on! There's nothing to see here").

Glasgow city map, Scotland, UK
Just look towards the city centre, and they'll look back at at you
(click to enlarge)

Statue of George Hutcheson, Hutcheson Hall, Glasgow, Scotland, UK
George Hutcheson

Hutchesons Hall, Glasgow, Scotland, UK
Hutchesons Hall, view from Trongate St
with statues of Hutcheson Bros on 2 sides

Statue of Thomas Hutcheson, Hutcheson Hall, Glasgow, Scotland, UK
Thomas Hutcheson

Ramshorn Kirk, Glasgow, Scotland, UK
Ramshorn Kirk ('kirk' = 'Church' in Scottish)
staring down Candleriggs St, viewed from Trongate St

The Ramshorn Kirk was bought by University of Strathclyde, and is renamed to Ramshorn Theatre to reflect its new function.

Arches behind the Glasgow City Chamber, Glasgow, Scotland, UK
Stately and imposing arches behind the Glasgow City Chamber
running on John St

Very little of this could be seen in London or Edinburgh. This usually happens when a city is continuously evolving, and ending up with irregular patchworks of building placements. Glasgow is given me the impression that the various building was being carefully placed as part of a grander city planning. Glasgow received the City of Architecture and Design award in 1999. Well, if they didn't get one, I'll surely happy to hand one out to them, in spirit at least.

Another thing suggests to me that this placement is all part of the city design is the that the street names are usually named after the public buildings that run off it. E.g. St George Tron Church faces down George St. Hutcheson St runs off the Hutchesons Hall. To name just 2 examples.

Remember too that all the revenues that radiating from Arc de Triomphe Etoile is all part of city planning. something so symmetrical couldn't occur with the natural evolution of a city. It's happened by design, not by accident. As far as the percentage of such strategic placement of landmarks are concerned, Glasgow easily far exceeds that of Paris.

Another thing that I consider a plus because of the city small size, it's tourist number. You won't have to worry too much of the tourist queues, people blocking your cameras, etc. I had a distinct feeling that I was the only tourist in town. Well, I did see about 3 other people with cameras in the 2 days while I walked around the city. Mind you, this wasn't exactly high season or weekend with bad weather blowing in.

Quite often, I could stand in the middle of the road - the best vantage point - to take photos without being run over by the very low traffic volume (at least in the Merchant City area).

 The Taxing Problems in the Bedroom 
You can't explore the city without a visit to George Square. Aye, you can, but you'll miss a imposing sight. If you get to Glasgow by train, this is the 1st sight you will be greeted as you exiting the Queen Street Railway Station. This is the city's square, the focal point of the city, a large public space where citizen could be assembled.

George Square, Glasgow, Scotland, UK
George Square with the imposing facade of the City Chambers

Speaking of which, a political demonstration was being held on the date of the funeral of Lady Thatcher. The Iron Lady is the 1st female UK prime minster, the longest running in the 20th century, and the most controversial (some say divisive). Love her or hate her, you can't ignore her.

Political rally at George Square, Glasgow, Scotland, UK
Political rally at George Square

Protesting against Bedroom Tax, Glasgow, Scotland, UK
Tommy Sheridan leading the campaign against the Bedroom Tax
atop an open top bus (he probably tour the city on it afterwards)
Protesting the Torries policy, Glasgow, Scotland, UK
Protesting against the Tories

If you joined any guided tour in UK at all, you would be likely to be pointed out why some of the old private buildings have windows that were bricked up. As the Window Tax was based on the number of windows in a house, by bricking up the windows, less tax would be paid (this tax loophole was never bricked up). This policy was introduced in UK in the 18th and 19th centuries (as well as in  France and Spain). It's said, erroneously I might add, that the term 'daylight robbery' comes from this tax as it was a tax on light )it was more like a tax on space).

The Window Tax was repealed in 1851. But while one tax was thrown out the window, another - the Bedroom Tax - was thrown back into the window. The 2 taxes aim at the 2 opposite spectrum of the social classes. One aims at the rich while the other at reducing the social benefits of the welfare recipients.

While Margaret Thatcher didn't introduce the Bedroom Tax, she was the icon of Tory Party that introduced this tax barely a month ago (it's so new that it hasn't even a wikipedia entry yet). Several such rallies had been held previously, but this one was staged to coincide her funeral.

It was the 3rd tax, the Poll Tax that saw the beginning of the end for Thatcher's office.

This is Francis Q, reporting live from Glasgow, over to you lads and lasses...

1 comment: