Abandoned: the curse of the Egyptian Halls

The sad tale of the decline of Glasgow’s Egyptian Halls, a city centre listed building designed by Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson.

The Egyptian Halls is a category A listed building located in central Glasgow. It was built between 1870–72 and designed by Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson, a talented Scottish architect regarded as a pioneer in sustainable building.

During his lifetime Thomson was mostly ignored outside of Scotland but his reputation was established in the 1950s and his influence more understood, especially on central Europe architecture and on American architects such Frank Lloyd Wright. He is known for his highly eclectic style developed from Greek, Egyptian and Levantine sources. Despite its name the Egyptian Halls is mostly modelled on Greek classical architecture.

It is considered a ground-breaking building but fell into disrepair and has been deteriorating from the second half of the 20th century. It was saved from demolition in 2011 but its beautiful exterior is lost behind scaffolding and plastic sheeting. Everyone wants to save it: from the local council and Scottish authorities to Historic Scotland and world heritage organisations. So why is it in the last chance saloon?

As we were shown round the building by one of the current owners, Dundee businessman Derek Souter, the troubled case of the the Egyptian Halls reminded me of Jarndyce v Jarndyce. In Dicken’s novel, Bleak House, Jarndyce v Jarndyce is a large inheritance case that has dragged on for many generations, sucking in and devouring protagonists, nourishing disagreements and feuds, providing jobs and money for lawyers whose interest is to spin it out a much as possible. When it is finally resolved it is discovered that the legal costs have devoured the whole estate.

Egyptian Halls (Wikipedia)

Rich details in the exterior of the Egyptian Halls (Wikipedia) – currently covered by scaffolding.

Substitute a building for a fortune and it is similar tale. Since the 1980s there have been repair orders, compulsory purchase orders, missed opportunities, fractious meetings, proposals and byzantine legal wrangles. Entire Caledonian forests have disappeared to fund reports and documents. Innumerable officers and experts have been appointed into the job, appointed out of the job and then retired. Money has been spent, salaries have been sustained and interests have been vested to no avail. When the process is finally resolved many people will still be paid for achieving nothing as the Egyptian Halls may well be a pile of debris.

Souter and his long term co investors/directors Kelvin Kerr and Duncan Souter appear to be the building’s last hope yet there are still funding and other issues. Bits of the building are falling off and after decades of neglect time is not on its side. Private Eye’s architecture correspondent – ‘Piloti’ has commented on the story several times describing the building as ‘an urban architectural wonder’ – and is one of many backing Souter’s development plan for a luxury hotel.

It is unbelievable that a key historical building in the centre of Glasgow has been reduced to this state. Yet despite exploiting its architectural heritage for boastful tourist marketing Scotland and Glasgow’s authorities have always displayed a talent for losing valuable buildings to neglect, development, vandalism and fire. Some believe they would only be too pleased to see a problem building gone. They point to golden opportunities for effective collaboration and lay the blame squarely at the myopic complacency of the public authorities. Had there been will and investment the building and Union Street itself would be thriving far more than its current state of decline.

Exterior of Egyptian Halls, Glasgow

Exterior of Egyptian Halls, Glasgow

 

Inside the Egyptian Halls, Glasgow

Inside the Egyptian Halls, Glasgow

Souter is passionate about seeing the building saved and believes that it can be the centrepiece for a rejuvenated Union Street. Maybe the curse of this abandoned building will finally be lifted when the first guests check into Glasgow’s newest hotel.

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Further information

More photos inside Egyptian Halls

Egyptian Halls, Glasgow – Smugmug

Egyptian Halls website

Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson

Private Eye: issues 947, 950, 1011 and 1271

STV’s 2001 Artery Programme on Alexander “Greek” Thomson

 

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25 thoughts on “Abandoned: the curse of the Egyptian Halls

  1. Alex you did so well to get into this wonderful building. Thanks for bringing it to attention as you say its a real architectural gem that needs to be preserved. Sounds like some kind of re-purposing is needed. If it was in London it would be luxury apartments sold in China.

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    • Ha – not that well. It fell into my lap somewhat as a friend knows Derek Souter the co-owner. I wonder if in London, paradoxically, it might have been saved because of the pressure of finance and property to make fast deals. I can’t think of an equivalent city centre property in London that’s been disused for so long but then my knowledge is very out of date these days. I think in London they would gutted the interior and kept the exterior as seems to be the way at the moment, but that’s better than a full demolition.

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  2. What a beautiful building – gorgeous detailing – and scandalous that it has been left to rot. In Melbourne they would grudgingly keep the façade, build a seventy storey apartment building on top of it and market it as a heritage building 😉

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    • I guess at least they would still keep the façade. This building might be completely demolished. That kind of approach is also happening in London – part of Smithfields Meat Market was also recently threatened with a similar very unsympathetic development.

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    • Very true – you get used to a fine building being derelict and then emotions and reactions stir when it changes or it is threatened. Perhaps this is how a building slowly dies.

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  3. I’ve lived in LA, in another city that has historically had a cavalier attitude towards its (frequently amazing) architectural heritage, so certainly understand the sadness and frustration behind this post. Here’s hoping that Glasgow learns from the past…

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    • Sad to hear revessurpapier – I fear it’s a story repeated across many cities. A friend of mine tells me similar things about Singapore for example and of course London has recently had a fair few battles, some of which have been won mind you.

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  4. I’m really sorry to see that things have got to this pass. I remember the building when it housed the “Third Eye” centre and even at that point in the eighties there was a shadow over the place-but no-one thought for a moment that it wasn’t worth saving. Your interior shots and report are fascinating as always. I’m going to go and find the Facebook page for the building now.

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    • Thanks Iain – it is astonishing how this has happened and here’s (faintly) hoping things can be turned around. I am intrigued by the Third Eye Centre. Will have to look that up as it sounds like sometime Glasgow must have back!

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      • Alex, it was an arts centre, they put on a number of very good exhibitions in the 80’s..you could buy art books and I think there was a caff. .I seem to recall that it was still there into the early nineties, but then I moved to Aberdeen and lost touch. I’m shocked that it doesn’t survive somewhere else in the city, but it was no doubt heavily subsidised by the council.

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