FROM THE ARCHIVE: The Egyptian Halls - Renovation By Hieroglyph
This week’s From The Archive comes from Union Street. It also comes to you with a message. If you’d like to receive a story from Old Glasgow every week in an email, then click right here before you read on.
There’s a building that those of you who have visited Glasgow will have seen and probably paid no mind. As you pass through the Union Street exit of Glasgow Central, a giant advertising banner and a web of scaffolding greets you from the far side of the street. It’s foreboding, it’s dark, it’s dreich and, unless you’re particularly desperate to purchase the wares from the no-mark shops in the abyss below the canopy, you’re probably slinging it a wide berth.
You might be surprised to learn that one of Glasgow’s most remarkable commercial buildings lurks underneath all that stramash, crumbling ever-quicker with every passing day.
Designed by Alexander “Greek” Thomson in 1870, The Egyptian Halls had space for shops in the ground floor and contained a large exhibition hall as well as warehouse space in the upper levels. It is even said that the exhibition space once displayed one of the Egyptian tombs uncovered at Thebes.
Given that the Egyptian Halls are not so-called because of their architecture (it owes more to Thomson’s predilection for the Greek Classical style). It’s thought that it either took its name from the Thebes exhibition or an Egyptian theme in some of the ground floor shops. The truth of that is lost to time, I’m afraid. I’m going for the tomb though- that’s much cooler.
In this letter to his brother, Greek Thomson himself describes the exalted praise which the building received.
"He [the client] is very proud of the building – a writer in The Architect says of it – this is probably the Architect’s most successful effort, and we doubt if its equal, for originality, grandeur of treatment or imposing effect, could be found in any City, not excepting the Metropolis itself.”
So why not just renovate it?
It’s not that simple, genius.
As I mentioned earlier, the building is slowly crumbling as time ravages its interior and makes the outer walls structurally unsound (as shown in this email from the architect).
Funding has been a huge problem for a project seeking to preserve the building’s original construction as far as possible. It will come as no surprise to many of you that a previous plan to tear down everything but the façade received much more support from funding bodies. the story of Greek Thomson’s Egyptian Halls may yet have a happy ending.
Instead of being demolished, The Egyptian Halls may yet emerge from its scaffolded cocoon as a retail space and hotel, acting as a catalyst to put Union Street back on the retail map of Glasgow.
There’s no doubt that one of Glasgow’s finest buildings, by one of her finest architects, deserves a second chance at life, especially when the option is replacing it with yet another soulless box. Leave that nonsense to Buchanan Street.
You can find out more about The Egyptian Halls and the struggle to bring it back to life at the project’s website.
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