The Lion Chambers:
Lion Chambers (1904-07), is a centrally located A-listed blend of minature skyscraper and Scottish castle combining a small footprint (33x46ft) with a use of then modern technology to soar upwards over eight storeys and exhibit a host of traditional tower house stylings in tandem with the cutting edge structural system. Designed by James Salmon II with John Gaff Gillespie the Chambers were commissioned by W.G. Black, a lawyer and member of Glasgow Art Club. The building was designed to feature a basement printing works, a ground floor retail area, legal chambers above and to be crowned by artist studios which could take advantage of the superior light quality such an elevated position would allow.
The building is the city's second reinforced concrete building (the Sentinel Works, also derelict being the first - link) and one of the first in the UK. Whilst the squat powerfully proportioned tenements still rose around the city using brick and stone and mass walling tied together with timber floors the revolutionary reinforced concrete techniques employed at the Lion Chambers was displaying a modernity of experimental technique in stunning contrast to that of the tenements. The building uses the patented 1892 system by the French engineer Francois Hennebique which uses iron encased in concrete creating a strong lean fireproof structural system whereby the reinforcement gives the structure the tensile strength concrete lacks when used on its own. This structural system has been developed and alongside steel framed structures remains the most popular structural design system to this day in larger buildings, albeit it now using steel reinforcement rather than the early use of iron.
The Chambers were built by the Yorkshire Hennebique Contracting Company Ltd and the use of reinforced concrete meant the walls were extremely thin, which allowed a maximisation of the interior space. The material was by nature fireproof and allowed construction without exterior scaffold. The exterior shell of the building comprises of 21 continuous columns which slim from 13 inches square at ground level down to 8 inches square as they rise, the non-load bearing panels between thus pared down to a mere 4 inches thick, whilst the floor slabs are a mere 4.5 inches deep.
The exterior walls are rendered with a stucco and a bas relief armourial panel on the west elevation between floors one and two pronounce the building's name, then two busts of The twin concrete cast in situ busts of Sheriff Guthrie to the left (north) and Judge Lord Scott Dickson to the right (south, one looking north-west and the other looking south-west down and across Hope Street. The building is crowned by a turret at the north-west corner, a gable on the west and south elevation and the Bath Lane elevation lacking the on street frontage is treated in a more utilitarian manner with simple bay windows filling the entire facde from the first to eighth floors.
The building now lies vacant and in a very poor condition. The structural technique employed has meant its repair has been more challenging than many more traditional buildings. Since 1991 the building has been under threat with demolition proposals from the owners being pursued on several occasions as the cost of repair outstrips the value of the building's potential to earn revenue. In the mid-1990s the building's multiple owners were served with Dangerous Building Notices following fears of collapse and falling material from the building. Finally in 2001-04 scaffolding was replaced with the current system still in use of encasing the building: a wire mesh to prevent any further falling debris. 2010 saw the last tenant leave (Douglas: an office supplies shop) and 2013 sees the building still vacant and in a perilous condition. The preceding twenty years has seen the involvement of all the usual agencies, from Glasgow City Council, to Historic Scotland and Glasgow Building Preservation Trust and attempts to push the project along have been undertaken, but as yet the funding gap and will to drive the project to a satisfactory conclusion have failed. Like the Alexander Thomson Egyptian Halls to the south, yet again one of Glasgow's most prominent and centrally located A-listed architectural icons is locked in a complex drawn out spiral of decay as many strive to save it and yet the impetus, willpower and solutions continue to remain just out of reach. Time is always the enemy of such buildings as it allows the continued decay and cost of repair to continue to escalate, and inevitably in some cases lead to eventual demolition if the decay is such that loss of structural integrity eventually occurs and the cost of action then is unachievable combined with the comparative lack of enforcement and protection the listing process in reality provides.
1) Stamp, G. (1995) The Independent
2) McKean, C., Walker, D. & Walker, F. (1989) Central Glasgow An Illustrated Architectural Guide, RIAS/Mainstream Publishing 1st ed.
3) Glasgow Sculpture www.glasgowsculpture.co.uk
street address: 172 Hope Street, Glasgow, G2 2TU
Latitude / Longitude: 55.863654,-4.257439 (sourced using Google Maps)
Site visits: 22 July 2012 and 21 September 2013 and 24 October 2013
West and south facades rising high above the neighbouring buildings with the gables to be seen topping a portion of each elevation (24/10/2013)
West elevation onto Hope Street showing the extreme compactness of the site and the way the miniature skyscraper then rises utilising reinforced concrete to minimise the size of the wall panels and columns to maximise the floor space (22/07/2012)
Top of the Hope Street elevation with gable, turret and romanesque arched window and gothic style pointed windows under the metal clad turret top (11/10/2013)
Another view up the Hope Street elevation (22/07/2012)
Directly under the west elevation looking straight up with the turn of the west/north corner above and the bay to the right soaring upwards (22/07/2012)
Metal mesh was secured to the building following incidences of falling debris (22/07/2012)
Bas relief armourial panel on the west elevation (22/07/2012)
Organic growth at the junction to the neighbouring building to the south (22/07/2012)
The twin concrete cast in situ busts of Sheriff Guthrie to the left( north) and Judge Lord Scott Dickson to the right (south) (22/07/2012)
Sheriff Guthrie (22/07/2012)
Judge Lord Scott Dickson (22/07/2012)
Judge Lord Scott Dickson (22/07/2012)
Looking up at the top halves of the west and south elevation (22/07/2012)
West elevation (22/07/2012)
Metal clad turret crowning the north-west corner with gothic arched windows (22/07/2012)
Romanesque arched large window (22/07/2012)
Minor window to the north of the large window (22/07/2012)
The north and west elevations and the view down Bath Lane with the utilitarian window wall rising above providing the preferred north light into the artists' studios (22/07/2012)
Top of the north elevation (24/10/2013)
The turn of the turret ( (24/10/2013)
Looking north up Hope Street with the basement entrance in black and red (near) to the former print-works and then the now closed shop premises with estate agent sign above (22/07/2012)
Gazing up the turn of the north-west corner ( (24/10/2013)
North-west corner windows ( (24/10/2013)
Still visible on a north-west corner window, now it is the building needing aid ( (24/10/2013)
View up the heavily fenestrated north elevation (22/07/2012)
North elevation windows (22/07/2012)
The blank east elevation away from the main streets from Bath Lane (22/07/2012)
The back court of the building (22/07/2012)
Graffit at the rear of the building and its southern neighbour (22/07/2012)
View looking west from an elevated position far above the Chambers. The Chambers blank east elevation can be found between the red horizontal bars at the top and base of the photographed (21/09/2013)
Looking up Hope Street and the rise of the building over its neighbours (West Regent Street to the right) (22/07/2012)
View from West Regent Street as the Chambers peeks over the building tops with its almost witch-like gable sitting like a hat above the street (22/07/2012)
South facing elevation top, with rusted downpipes and the gable top (22/07/2012)
The building peeks over West Regent Street (22/07/2012)