Historical Context

Evening view of the Egyptian Halls flanked by 2 storey buildings.

Thomson’s finest commercial building was the Egyptian Halls, located a stone’s throw away from Central Station. Work started in March 1870 to provide new commercial premises for iron manufacturer James Robertson but in true Thomson style the completed work was far more than a mundane commercial property. A trade journal of the time described the halls as ‘probably the architect’s most successful effort… we doubt if its equal for originality and grandeur could be found in any city’. (Adapted from, Alexander Thomson-The Unknown Genius by Gavin Stamp. Laurence King Publishing 1999.)

Alexander Greek Thomson was chief architect to the Second City of the Empire and drew his inspiration from far off lands despite never once leaving the country of his birth.

From unique houses to churches and villas to significant commercial developments such as the Egyptian Halls. Thomson’s signature is writ large around Glasgow. Ornate pillars and intricate design mean that a Thomson property is more a work of art and an attractive always-functional building. Throughout his working life he showed that the design of city buildings can rise above both the boring and mundane.

Classical with Greek and Egyptian detailing. Symmetrical 4-storey commercial building with modern shops at ground floor, traces of original fascia and shop surrounds; 18 regular bays. Polished ashlar with cast-iron frame. Sash and case windows. 1st floor superimposed antae with richly sculpted brackets before anta pilastrade; 1st floor sculpted, incised cornice. 2nd floor coupled, slim anta pilastrade, rosette frieze, cornice, ante fixae. 3rd floor eaves gallery of squat Assyrian columns, recessed T-pane glazing, rich frieze, modillion cornice, parapet with ante fixae. Built for the iron manufacturer, James Robertson, in the 19th century. (Adapted from Historic Scotland)

Historical Photograph of Union Street Crossing, From Jamaica Street.

It would appear that the Egyptian Halls originally stood so much higher than its neighbours, had been a single-minded statement combining the very latest building technologies, improving internal conditions by using natural light and ventilation, and all within a powerful and stylised architectural statement.  As such it was a very contemporary building with interesting visual parallels to contemporaneous work in America by the likes of Louis Sullivan.  Thomson sought to address the failures of past buildings, to create a new improved environment within such buildings, and to have a clear and obvious declaration of presence and success.  This was created without any acknowledgement or reference to adjacent buildings other than to draw clear distinctions.

Since then there have been considerable changes to other buildings in Union Street that have removed or changed details, have changed building proportions and unified height of buildings along Union Street.  As a result, the Egyptian Halls now merge with the street elevation where previously it had been a clearly singular and striking statement.

All of this is a clear demonstration of the dynamic nature in such city centre areas.  The drivers of such evolution are invariably commercial and the constant search for ways to revitalise the commercial appeal and sustainability of individual business areas, and each of the premises within those areas.

It is against this background of understandable evolution that the Egyptian Halls have been subsumed into a broader image of Union Street.

The Egyptian Halls, like Union Street, are in desperate need of being revitalised.

September 18th 11:30 am