Glasgow's Princes Square shopping centre named 'building of the century'

Princes Square summed up the forward looking ambition of late-1980s Glasgow. Picture: Jean O'Reilly

Princes Square summed up the forward looking ambition of late-1980s Glasgow. Picture: Jean O'Reilly

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The Scottish Parliament and the modern extension to Edinburgh’s Victorian Royal Museum have lost out to one of Glasgow’s main shopping centres to be named the nation’s best building of the last 100 years.

Princes Square, the conversion of a 19th century cobbled courtyard off Buchanan Street in 1987, won a public poll staged staged as part of a nationwide Festival of Architecture.

Interior of Princes Square. Picture: Jean O'Reilly

Interior of Princes Square. Picture: Jean O'Reilly

The building of the century winner was named during a spectacular finale night for the festival in Dundee, ahead of two contenders from the UK’s first UNESCO “city of design” - the home of its rep theatre company, which opened in 1982, and the DCA arts centre, which was unveiled in 1999.

Princes Square, which has been a key player in transforming the image of Glasgow, was also named ahead of an art deco pavilion on the Isle of Bute, a tyre and rubber factory in Renfrewshire and what is reputed to be Europe’s smallest castle, at Achmelvich, in the north-west Highlands.

The 12-year-old Holyrood complex, designed by Spanish architect Enric Miralles, and Benson & Forsyth’s 1998 new wing for what is now known as the National Museum of Scotland, have been among the most widely praised modern landmarks in the country.

Others to make the final 10 included the conversion of St Conan’s Kirk, at Loch Awe, in Argyll, which spanned four decades, and the waterfront arts centre, in Stromness, in Orkney.

Decorative ironwork from the roof of Princes Square. Picture: Jean O'Reilly.

Decorative ironwork from the roof of Princes Square. Picture: Jean O'Reilly.

More than 400 buildings had originally been suggested via public nominations for the honour, which was instigated by the festival’s organisers, the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, which described Princes Square as “not just another shopping centre.” The overall winner was drawn from more than 10,000 public votes this year.

Originally an open courtyard with stables, the four-storey merchant square was created by architect John Baird in 1841 and named in celebration of the birth of the Princes of Wales.

The grade B-listed buildings were transformed in the 1980s by developers GRE Properties and architects Hugh Martin and Partners, whose brief was to “preserve and restore the original buildings, but create a modern shopping and dining centre of quality and distinction with an emphasis on style.”

A panel of experts formed by the RIAS had selected a 100-strong longlist which was featured in Scotstyle - a series of more than 30 exhibitions staged the length and breadth of the country to help promote online poll which produced a shortlist of 10 and then selected the eventual winner.

The RIAS description of Princes Square for the online poll stated: “The architects decided to cover the cobbled square with a vast, vaulted, glass dome and insert new internal walkways and socialising spaces.

“The combination of the symmetrical criss-cross escalators, spiral staircases and towering vertical white pillars creates a most enjoyable experience.

“Though the shopper is not quite outside, nor are they entirely indoors either. The historic charm of the 1840s square remains through the retention of the original frontages.”

Neil Baxter, secretary of the RIAS, said: “Roofing over an historic off-street move was a really clever and innovative move and Princes Square actually shifted retail theory and changed patterns of architecture, not just in the UK, but throughout Europe.

“Previously there was a theory that retail didn’t really work above two storeys. Princes Square fundamentally changed that.

“From almost anywhere within Princes Square you can see almost everywhere else and you can see how to get there. It has been there for almost 40 years now, but it has really stood the test of time."

Claire Wilkinson, marketing manager of Princes Square, said: “It is absolutely wonderful news to be named Scotland's favourite building.

"We know that Princes Square has always been one of the most special places in Glasgow to visit and that is now the case for the whole of Scotland.

"Every one of the other 99 Scottish buildings nominated for the award are truly outstanding and fantastic examples of architecture at its best."

More than 1.2 million people are said to have attended the 460 Festival of Architecture events which have been staged since the beginning of the year.

Mr Baxter said: “The Festival of Architecture has tapped into a keen public appetite for architecture and events on an architectural theme. It is the most substantial ever year-long celebration of a single art form in Scotland’s history.”

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