John Betjeman, the celebrated English poet and passionate defender of Britain’s Victorian architecture said in the 1960s that the visitor, “was so entranced by Victorian Glasgow…this is the greatest Victorian city in the world.”
Indeed, at that time it was the fastest growing industrial city in the world and Second City of the Empire, with a river of shipyards that sent more ships to sea in a year than the whole of Germany. This great prosperity left a physical legacy that continues to bear fruit in the designs of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson and Sir George Gilbert Scott.
Glasgow’s extraordinary portfolio of heritage buildings were predominantly built in the half-century between 1870 and 1920, and continue to provide well-loved homes, workplaces, and public attractions that are fundamental to the visual character and atmosphere of the city.
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While many have stood the test of time, often despite the odds, others have not. In the 30 years from 1950 to 1980, over 100,000 tenements across the city were demolished, while in recent years, world-famous institutions like the Glasgow School of Art have been ravaged by fire.
While it might be expected that not all buildings will last forever, Glasgow’s plight is symptomatic of a lack of long-term public policy with preservation in mind, especially considering the majority of the city’s buildings are now over a century old and require ever more intensive maintenance as key building elements become life-expired.
Despite the post-war ravages of mass demolitions, there are still over 76,000 tenements remaining in the city dating back to pre-1920 period. Of them, the Built Environment Forum Scotland estimate that 60% are in need of urgent repairs worth an estimated £3 billion, storing-up a time sensitive maintenance crisis.