Andrew Merrylees was interviewed by Clive B Fenton at RCAHMS 7 July 2005.
AM Andrew Merrylees
CBF Clive B. Fenton
AM My CV should give you some indication of what I’ve done. There were some large jobs and some very small ones as well, you know, the odd pulpit for a church in Crossford in Lanarkshire and things like that - I’ll try and see if I can unearth that because I’m sure it’s among my papers somewhere.
CBF It would be helpful if you could give a resume of your career.
AM I was employed by Basil Spence and Partners, first in 1952, as a student, and then in 1957 as an architect. I became an associate in 1968 and partner in 1972. I resigned in 1985 and set up my own practice. I am now retired, but a consultant to a new practice, which was formed by a merger with a firm in Glasgow with Guy Maxwell, who used to work for me and who previously worked for Spence. The Edinburgh, Hamilton and Glasgow practices are all merged together now [as] Hypostyle and I’m consultant to all three practices. The Glasgow office specialises in housing, the recent redevelopment of the Gorbal, for example. We (i.e. Merrylees & Associates) did mostly public buildings and universities. It was a sensible merger, both geographically and in terms of content – job types. (With Spence) I was involved in mostly university buildings Edinburgh, Heriot Watt, Dublin, Liverpool, Aston, Newcastle. Then, the Post Office sorting office at Brunswick Road.
CBF Was that done out of Moray Place?
AM Yes. Shall I just go through my history quickly? I was at Glasgow School of Architecture, which was only one school at that time and we did technical subjects at technical college and art subjects at the art college. Then we had a few evening lectures putting the two things together as architecture. I think it was a very good course. I started there as a full-time student in 1951 – I think there were only 7 students in the whole year. Most people only did part-time in those days. There was an influx in 3rd year, with another 30 who had done been studying part-time. In the summer of 1952 I thought it would be a good idea to go through to Edinburgh, just as a change from Glasgow. So I knocked on Basil’s door, and said “Here I am”. I got a job for the summer and went back every summer until I graduated. It was a 5-year full time course and I then did a postgraduate course in planning. That took me another year.
In 1957 I went back to Spence. I was working on things like the crematorium - I remember doing the detail for the spiral stair and the benches. I was at that end of the working office –doing detailing. We did a lot of detailing. By that stage Basil had gone to London, having got the Coventry job. It was amazing. I would ask questions of my seniors in the office and I would have to wait 2 or 3 days until the answer came, having been to London and back. Basil kept a very tight rein at the beginning.
CBF I’ve seen correspondence between Moray Place and the London office showing that the partners wrote individually to Basil about their own specific jobs.
AM That’s right. With the Scottish Widows Building in St Andrew’s Square I remember him sending up some very rough elevational drawings and I got the job of setting up the perspective, in the old fashioned way, with vanishing points. It took me about a fortnight. Then Basil came up, put it on the light box, got on with his pastels and things and in about an hour or two he had produced this wonderful thing. Then my drawing was put in the bin - ha ha. But, he was a magnificent draughtsman.
Basil was great and kept in touch with me all the way through my career. He used to send me letters saying “I liked your such and such design” and that sort of thing. But I never kept those –– which is a pity isn’t it? But you never think about keeping these They didn’t mean anything to me at the time, Of course, they really did mean something, but not as historical artifacts. I was obviously identified somewhere along the line because I used to be sent to London to spend a few days in the office to be brainwashed, or indoctrinated, or however you like to put it, which I loved. I also went to places like Sussex University, which was building at the time, and Southampton and various other jobs. I just went on visits to Sussex with the project architect. I can’t remember his name. Was it Michael Ogden? He was the senior architect anyway.
CBF What was the first thing you did in the office?
AM I remember the first thing was folding the drawings, after that it was Broughton Village Hall. I know nothing about it other than - we were doing this beautiful model and I did all the slates on the roof, which must have taken about a week, cutting out strips and pasting them on. That was 1952-3.
The Lithgow Group stand I certainly did. That was built with ship building technology with proper teak decks and caulking even to the extent of curving them. At that time Lithgow owned most of the yards on the Clyde, like Fairfields and also the kitchen people. The whole group was represented on this stand, which was opened by Princess Margaret. That was in the Kelvin Hall.
CBF I’ve seen a letter of 1959 from Spence to Glover saying that the design for the stand looks interesting and dynamic.
AM Good. Another exhibition that I was involved with from the beginning was the Royal Highland Show. I remember going out there and doing the survey. I did a lot of landscape sketches but I don’t know where they are - just of clumps of trees and the old house and so on. I also did a layout of the show ring. I designed the Judges Box. It was an open frame with a big glass box. That was my first architectural booboo because we had glass all the way down and I did not realise that a lot of the judges wore kilts and they were sitting up at first floor level so we had to frost the bottom bit of the glazing. I also designed the Chunki Chicks stand. It was timber Japanese sort of thing – I don’t think it’s still there.
I think I did the Judges Box at the same time as I did the ABRO building at King’s Buildings, the one with the exposed steel frame. I remember doing the model for that but I’m sure Archie Dewar was the person who actually built it. Archie worked on the Highland Show too. He did the Shepherds’ Restaurant.
CBF Archie said that Norman Hunter was job architect.
AM I remember the model. The mouse house had triple glazing and all sorts of things.
After a little while I was doing quite a number of homers (i.e. private jobs), which one does at that age and I just decided that I really needed some practical experience in running bigger jobs. It seemed to me that it was going to be a long time before I ever got to be a job leader. So I actually left for a couple of years and set up my own practice in about 1959-60. In Moray Place I had been doing a lot of detailing on large jobs but now I was doing the basic concepts and getting involved with contract procedures and all the nitty gritty of building. I had not done any practical training. It was not like it is now where you get a year out. I kept in touch with Hardie Glover, who really was my mentor, and when the Edinburgh University Library came up he invited me back as the project architect, in the early 1960s.
CBF Basil had the Library commission in 1954 but I believe it was quite a time before anything was designed.
AM Of course, he had a master plan for the whole of George Square. I don’t know how long it took to get to my stage but all I had was a footprint and an elevation of Basil’s, which I did not like. It had vertical fins! So Hardie and I produced another scheme and sent it down to Basil. He liked it. I remember doing the big drawings for the RSA summer exhibition and he insisted that I put “delt Andrew Merrylees” on the drawing, although it was Basil Spence and Partners at that time. It was quite funny because eventually those fins appeared in Newcastle Public Library and the swimming pool at Hampstead. So he wanted them somewhere. He went through these phases with motifs, such as the Sussex arches as well. You can see them on the Canongate housing and Abbotsinch.
CBF So you went back to Spence in about 1962?
AM About then. The Library didn’t start up right away so I had to wait and actually worked on Abbotsinch airport in the meantime. I did the landscaping of the car park with Sylvia Crowe. She did this beautiful landscape that was eventually covered over with tarmac. I also did the boiler house at Abbotsinch and I remember being sent out with Hamish Steers, from Ove Arup’s, to look at the test piling. It didn’t really mean anything to me, of course. They were driving these piles down - it is really all built on porridge What they were trying to do was see how close to the first one you could drive the second before the first one started popping up. So I had to spend a few days sitting in the sunshine with a bottle of wine, provided by the office, having a picnic watching this process. There is more structure underground than there is above in that building. I remember being taken on the first flight in there for a champagne breakfast when the airport was opened.
After we did the university Library, for which I really did everything; from the basic design down to the detailing - I was going through my Japanese phase at the time.
The design process was interesting because we actually nominated the building contractor very shortly after the design team was appointed and we worked with them as what would now be known as a management contractor. It was Gilbert Ash’s first job up here and we had Hugh Stewart working alongside us on the design team. Arup’s engineers would propose a foundation of a certain shape and the contractor would say “no if you run all these together on a strip foundation it would mean that there is 90% mechanical dig and 10% manual dig, as opposed to the other way round. So you can make cost savings there”. And we had a concrete structure that was designed so that the in-situ part would take the 5 working days in the week and the pre-cast stuff would be done on a Saturday morning. So we worked to this cycle of construction. Then there were the two tower cranes. We knew what the capacity of the cranes were at different points and Arup’s therefore designed their pre-cast units to the maximum capacity of the cranes. We worked out lots of things like that. At that time I remember we were working at £5 per sq. foot, which was the UGC grant, and we got it all within that. We then added a basic form of air conditioning, which was unheard of at that time. It was all done in 2 years from start to finish at £2m, which I suppose is about £30m or more nowadays. So it was a successful job. It ingrained in me how important it is for the designer and the builder to work together. If you can manage that at the earliest possible stage, everybody benefits.
CBF Of course you had the library users involved too. Richard Fifoot, for example.
AM Dick Fifoot was involved. We all were – Hardie Glover, myself and Archie Dewar, who was the office furniture guy. Then there was Maxwell Young, who was the factorial secretary to the University. There was also Ian Thomson, who was the Librarian seconded to work on this thing. We all went to Ostend, hired a Mercedes, drove all the way through Germany, Frankfurt, Strasbourg and ended up in Munich visiting all the libraries and galleries on the way and that took about a fortnight and flew back from there after having had a nice weekend at Garmisch-Partenkirchen; all at the expense of Edinburgh University. You don’t do that nowadays. And, for the same job, the office sent me and my wife to Denmark one February and we spent two weeks going around all the libraries, Aarhus, Copenhagen etc.
CBF Hardie Glover went to the States, I believe.
AM Yes, Hardie went to the States and that’s where he met Keyes Metcalf who was the doyen of library design.1 We did a lot of basic research in those days before we ever got involved in the actual project. Unlike today, where you don’t get any time at all - they say “I must have a 500-bedroom hospital by Monday” - and it shows!
CBF It’s interesting that you mention the Library as being your Japanese phase. In the little booklet that came out at the time, which I think Hardie Glover wrote, or perhaps it was you…
AM I think I wrote it.
CBF You almost claim that it wasn’t designed at all, because the site was such and such and there was a height restriction, and the city insisted on stone facings, and the module was dictated by the use pattern, as if it just designed itself.
AM Well that’s the way we liked to operate. If you do a lot of research, the more questions you ask the more answers you get and the easier it becomes to solve the problem. I mean there is nothing worse than getting a blank sum of money, a green field site and someone saying get on with it. You need these restrictions. That’s the way I have always gone about things. In fact, I’m sure I’ve still got these drawings that encapsulated the whole essence showing how the furniture module related to the book stack module, thus to the structure module, and to the fire compartmentalisation. They also show how the air condition was distributed around the spaces, and so on. I’ve still got slides of those and for other jobs as well.
CBF But, given this very rationalist programme, there are still aesthetic choices to be made .
AM Of course
CBF For instance, that fascia that holds the electric lights along the front.
AM It’s just a beam that doesn’t do anything. It reduces the scale. That’s a double-height space and it does relate to the building next door.
CBF And I suppose also relating to the buildings that were beginning to be designed for the north side of the square, which were to have a colonnade as well.
AM That building was meant to be just for the books, there was meant to be an undergraduate reading room out towards the Meadows.
I remember doing a scheme - I wish I had the photographs for that because it had a series of hexagons which spilled out onto the Meadows, which was taboo, in principle.
CBF I’ve seen the plan with the cluster of hexagons at the rear, which I thought was just a very general proposal.
AM Of course it was. It was just a contrast with the other part. But, interestingly, the office picked that up and it appears in the Scottish Widows building at Dalkeith Road. It fitted the Scottish Widows site extremely well, because of the shape of the site. It fits in snugly.
CBF I’ve also seen a photograph of a model of the library made from Perspex with an extension to the rear on a triangular plan.
AM I don’t recall that, but there were a lot of choices with the Library. We used Portland stone, which looks very white and I found out from Arup’s that it has the same coefficient of expansion as pre-cast concrete so we used that as a permanent shutter in the formation of the blocks. Arups said that we did not even need dowels. But we put them in anyway, 2 little stainless steel ones in each. Then there was the rivven York stone at the bottom.
CBF Polished granite too.
AM That’s emerald pearl granite. That was to highlight the exhibition hall and the entrance.
CBF And the material on the floor?
AM That is Norwegian quartz. You will notice the columns of very high-density in-situ concrete are beautiful. We went to great lengths to achieve it, using steel moulds with gaskets in the joints and all that sort of thing to try to get them perfect. Unfortunately they are not all perfect because when the contractor was casting – they were boiling hot by the way - he draped polythene around them. So if you look at them you will see these nice drapery shapes and every one is different, just like stone; like a big chunk of granite, or limestone. The teak was Burmese, which is not to be seen nowadays. I remember we insisted we have them in one single piece for the 2-storey entrance hall, so there are no joins there. The white beech used elsewhere was from Denmark. Would you believe the contractor went to Denmark and bought the forest? And, because he had time to do this, it was chopped down and properly kiln dried? And not one piece of wood moved in that building, which is unheard of. It is all as absolutely perfect as when it went in. And, if you look at the beech panelling, you will find that every light switch is on a panel, none encroach on a joint. Because it was my first big job I worked out the position of every piece of conduit. The contractor could not understand why! We even had Japanese mosaics in the lavatories. That was that kind of detail we lavished on it.
I think this approach was because Basil would not allow any of us to do the big concept, the big design. We had to all concentrate on detail; make a beautiful window, doorknob, or whatever.
CBF The Library has been internally altered. For some reason the central service counter was taken away. I think the idea was to reduce the size of the queues, but now they are just in a different place.
AM There is a project notice out now for a major refurbishment of the building. All the libraries are now changing. They are to be computer based with more open access. I think our practice is going to apply but we probably won’t be considered. We’ll see. It would be nice to go back. I recently did that for the job we did for University College Dublin. We did a strategic plan for changing its whole basis. And we are doing them for Heriot Watt and for the National Library’s new strategic planning.
It’s a continuing thing. The NLS has a new librarian and has produced a report “Breaking through the Walls”, to try and make it more inviting and accessible to children and all sorts of people who have not used it before.
Towards the end of the Edinburgh University Library project we entered an international competition for the Dublin Library, which was my design. Of all the buildings I have ever done, Dublin is my building because I designed it, built it and I was in charge of the team all the way through. That very seldom happens. You are either working for somebody or somebody else is working for you. On that building, I did everything.
CBF Of course, Basil used to move people on and off of jobs. I seem to recall that Dublin had the same design team as Edinburgh, including the librarian.
AM We worked very closely with Arup’s, Fraser Anderson, the Edinburgh partner, and with Jack Torrence, of Steensen Varming; both very creative designer engineers. Also Peter Dickson of Gibson & Simpson, the surveyors. We thought it was important to have a local surveyor. But Steenson & Varming and Arup both had offices in Dublin. At tender stage their Dublin office took over from them. That was a great job.
CBF It looks very similar to Edinburgh
AM I’m not surprised.
CBF Presumably the services are in the core.
AM No. This was a 3-storey building, which had to be expanded backwards to become a 6-storey building. So, in fact, we put all the services in a roof void. If you can imagine taking all the suspended ceilings away, collapsing the building and putting them all on top. In my arithmetical way I decided we needed the columns all of a certain dimension to fit in with the book stacks. I found that you could get 3 wholes of that dimension into each column, one for each floor – that’s for the air conditioning. And then Jack Torrence worked out how far it could throw the air, which gave me a spacing, and then the coffers were designed to fit the old 4-foot fluorescent lighting. So it was all modular co-ordination. When phase 2 was built, which I did after I left Spence, this floor carried on at that level and became a sandwich for 3 floors below to 3 floors above, with the same principle for the columns. And more recently I have been doing a scheme for the complete re-organisation of the library. The library is at a point in the campus between the arts and science faculties and this is the meeting place. So I have designed this concourse, which is really a street, which is called the philosophers’ alley, where the artists and scientists meet.
CBF Very Geddesian.
AM Yes I’m steeped in that. It’s actually suspended at a high level and underneath is an open garden a la Montpelier. So they can meet outside if the weather is good. And it’s linked to a series of libraries – I have a model of that.
Spence’s influence was not simply the Edinburgh office and the London office. There was always this philosophy that there was a limited number of people who could be involved as architects, with all the supporting staff. And if people came up to a certain level, where they should be associates or partners, but here was no room, we always told them that they would be better going off and setting up their own practice. There were a number of offshoots: Stuart Brown, of Simpson and Brown, Derek Patience. This includes myself, because in 1985 Hardie had retired and he was the last of the first generation of partners, Peter Ferguson and Basil were dead by then too. The partners were Jimmy Beveridge, John Legge and myself and, although I was very friendly with them, I had not chosen them as partners. This was a big problem. The earlier generation had chosen them as partners and really when Hardie disappeared the architectural matrix that had held us together was gone. I was getting into computers and decided that we should be getting involved in computing and organising. I used to go to University to do classes with Pat Nuttgens.
CBF Do you mean CAAD programmes?
AM Yes. In its early form. I did try to organise the Edinburgh office to be computer-ready, or computer orientated. All the procedures organised so that we would be able to go onto that. – although nobody would get involved. Also, I felt that I was getting so far up the tree that I was not really being an architect, I was just managing people and, of course, I was 50, my kids had all been educated. I suppose it was a menopause or something. I took myself off to America for a sabbatical for 3 months and decided then that I wanted to do my own thing and decided I had worked out that in architectural practice at that time any one person could look after, or employ, only 4 or 5 other people and still be an architect. Once that number went up, you stopped being an architect. So I decided that my practice would never go above six. And it seldom did from then on. Almost selecting the projects that one wanted to do and not do more than 2 or 3 big projects at any one time.
There are lots of offshoots of the Spence practice. After he retired, Hardie was still a consultant for a while but I used to meet him every month for lunch and we would discus things as we had always done although I was in this other practice. He used to say that I was carrying on in the Spence spirit. My whole outlook was formed by Basil Spence & Partners, Hardie Glover and, I have to say, to a large extent by Patrick Geddes.
CBF Is this because of your town planning course?
AM I did town planning with Tommy Lyon in Glasgow and he was a Geddes freak, a fanatic, and I spent 18 months having Geddes rammed down my throat. I learned more about architecture in that 18 months than I did in the previous 5 years at the School of Architecture. I learned about context and that nothing exists in isolation.
CBF Did you still work in the office during this time?
CBF Did you do any town planning per se?
AM I never did my TPI, or became a member of the institute. That’s not why I did it in the first place. I did it because I wanted to be a better architect, broaden my views. In terms of my education, that was the best course of all. Tommy was so good. He would not teach you but tell you what you had to do and leave you to it. You could contact him for help and advice, but you had to organise it yourself and get on with it. And I have to say another disgraceful reason was because I was supposed to be doing National Service so I thought I would carry on studying instead. That was more a bonus than a reason. But to salve my conscience I was in the TA for 4 years, and did my wee bit, so I don’t feel so bad about it.
CBF I have been looking at some drawings and I take it that your initials are AMER.
AM The reason for that is that I worked for a chap called Alan Murray, whose initials were AM. I still initial all my letters and things AMER. I do a lot of painting and I often think I should have used that rather than signing them Merrylees.
CBF I recently showed someone a drawing of yours of the concrete structure of the Laverockbank flats with all the elements exploded, presumably to explain to the planning dept how it all fitted together.
AM I used to be very proud of my drawings. To me the drawing was obviously a method of communicating, but also it was to be something in itself. I would spend hours drawing hospital radiators etc. And it was all pencil drawing, 4H or F, on tracing paper. They have probably all crumpled up and died by this time. I did a lot of drawings for the staff club in Chambers Street. That was a good job. I did a lot of the detailing there. I would come in for the summer and do such bits and pieces. There was all the stuff I did before Edinburgh University Library and, on the other hand, there was the stuff I did after it. I became an architect then, not just a draughtsman.
CBF You seem to have concentrated on libraries.
AM Yes, but it’s like most things, if you do one you’re pretty competent. If you do two you become an expert, a specialist, and therefore everybody wants to have that.
CBF Does this include the medical library on north George Square?
AM Just the inside. It was the Erskine medical library. Some old dear in Australia died and left some money. I heard that there was some condition that Basil had to do it. That’s certainly a story that went around.
CBF It was Walter Ramsay’s building wasn’t it?
AM Yes but we had to put this thing into the ground floor of an existing design.
We also did the Heriot Watt library on the site of the old Hermiston House, which I subsequently enlarged. And later I did most of the buildings down the south side of Riccarton. The new entrance building with the stained glass window and the exhibition hall. I’ve done a central area redevelopment plan for the University and I’m doing this library thing and one or two other things, such as the Hugh Nisbett building, which is the central bridge link between the north and south. It’s a flat roof building that they need to expand so I designed a building which will be suspended over the existing one. It touches, but doesn’t rest on, it. I have a model of that.
CBF Something like that happened at the Western General didn’t it.
AM That’s right, the operating theatre. That was Jimmy Beveridge and Peter Ferguson. There were two streams in the office; Hardie’s lot and Peter’s lot. Peter did the airport and Glasgow Royal Infirmary and so on. Hardie did the university stuff and some other things.
Shortly before I left Spence, Glover & Ferguson, there was the Nottingham Place job for the BBC, the site under Dougald Stewart’s monument.
We were just about to start doing production drawings. We had done a model and got planning approval.2 This was intended to be the new BBC headquarters at the time Scotland got its independence. And then the vote went against devolution. In Geddes fashion, I didn’t just look at the building site. I looked at the triangular site across the way and decided that John Lewis store should expand into that and become a stop for Leith walk. In fact John Lewis did come to us for this extension. John Legge did that one. I would dearly have loved to have done it, but I was too involved with other things at the time. It was meant to be complementary to the new Scottish Parliament on Calton Hill.
CBF Does the design still exist?
AM I think I still have photographs of it. There was a theatre with a Geddesian Outlook Tower for cameras from which you would have been able to see right across to the Firth of Forth and to the Castle from up there. There were also piazzas for doing outdoor shows.
I was also influenced by Geddes when I did the Motherwell heritage centre and designed an Outlook Tower for that as well. I remember hiring a cherry-picker and going up in that and taking photographs of what could be seen – Chatelherault, Ravenscraig. This was to have a spiral staircase with an exhibition at every level. The bottom floor was the most ancient phase of history and every platform above that was more up to date. The top floor was an open platform to look out on the present and there was a beacon with a camera in it for the schoolkids could play with. That must have been ten or 12 years ago. Above the entrance there is a sculpture I got Jake Harvey to do. It’s based on a Geddes thinking machine of 9 squares: folk, work, place etc. He designed 9 elements, or symbols, that related to the past history of Motherwell: mining, weaving, steel, etc.
CBF You were quite unusual in the office having studied in Glasgow whereas most were from ECA.
AM It was an arbitrary decision I thought I might like to be in Edinburgh for the summer. “This guy Spence has just won the Coventry cathedral competition he must be good, I will go and work for him”, says I. The permanent staff were mostly Edinburgh but there were a lot of people who came in for 6 months or a year. I remember we had Brazilians, Danes, people from all over who enlivened the whole place and gave it a different feel.
CBF It’s difficult to find out who all these people were now.
AM There must be a record.
CBF Sadly we don’t have the papers and job files from Moray Place, although a number of drawings and photographs were deposited with the RIAS when the office closed in 1992.
AM I had left by then and took nothing but the jobs I happened to be working on. I have all those records. I do remember that library drawings were deposited with the libraries, Edinburgh, Dublin, Liverpool, National Library. They love keeping those things and are better at it than we are. Betty Innes would probably know most of the staff because she ran the office. I was a partner, but she held the purse strings. I would go to her with my expenses and she would question whether I really had to take someone for dinner to such an expensive place. I’d say “But Betty, this is my money”. But she did her job well. I’m sure she could dredge her memory for names and I’ll try and remember who the others are.
Another of Hardie’s secretaries was Diana, who became Lady Philipson when she married Sir Robin. Bill Jamieson was another. He was a gopher, organised cleaners and our printing etc. and was also secretary of the Murrayfield ice hockey club. Alan Ward, who came from England, Douglas Laird, Frank White, Allan Murray, and Peter Caird. He was the person I worked under on my first day. He showed me how to fold drawings. There was a stick with marks for the folds, 1, 2, 3. He was a very good friend of Hardie’s. He lives in Edinburgh somewhere. Hardie’s wife Laura died recently. She lived in the coach house beside the sports club at Belford Road.
Hardie’s daughter has a house near there, which he built. He also had a cottage at Drumbeg. He was a great fisherman. It was an A-framed thing, which he designed himself. He used to spend hours out on the loch fishing. He seldom caught anything, but when he did he smoked it. He used to go to all the joiners and get oak shavings. He was a wonderful character. I don’t remember him drawing anything. He did everything by proxy. He used to phone down and say, “Andrew would you like to come up and have some coffee”, which would be brought in, and he would speak from then until lunchtime about jobs and ask questions. He had an uncanny knack of asking the one question to which you did not know the answer. He would go right for the jugular, but was a perfect gentleman. I don’t remember him ever putting pencil to paper. He had been with the Council of Industrial Design. I think he met Basil on a train coming back from Glasgow when he was doing all these exhibitions, but it was before my time.3 He could make things happen and he charmed every client. I used to go to meetings with him and he would pontificate while I wondered what he was saying. He was charming them all the time and I had to keep prodding him with facts and figures. He was very gentlemanly person and very persuasive.
CBF He always attended university committee meetings.
AM Absolutely! He was up at the front. We had to furnish him with names and what we did before he arrived - he would make sure your tie was straight etc. He had been in the army in India and he had a moustache and was like something from the Raj. He liked painting but didn’t do it. I remember him getting an Ann Redpath tapestry for the Scottish Widows at St. Andrews Square and he got me to design the boardroom around this tapestry. It was all in padded leather. I got a nice letter from Basil about that. I also designed the spiral staircase, with a circular lift, which was unheard of at that time.4 It only went to the first floor. One of the directors was in a wheel chair and he had to be got to the first floor and we had this grand staircase and circular lift with, would you believe, a suspended limestone ceiling.
CBF I believe it was the first building in Edinburgh to have double-glazing.
AM Also, it was designed so the ground floor would support the superstructure if it collapsed in the event of atomic bombs.
CBF So we would all be burnt to a cinder but our insurance policies would survive.
AM I remember doing a magnificent drawing of the plumbing of that building, which was an isometric showing all the drainage in different colours because it was the first building that was done on a one-pipe system. The whole plumbing scheme was changed with the new building regulations and I got the job of boning up on the new regulations and designing the drainage. I wish I could find that drawing because I was quite proud of it. It was just a series of lines but even hung upside down it would still look nice. I don’t know if I did quite understand it, but it was a nice drawing.
The Post Office Sorting Office in Edinburgh was a nice job. That was before 1984 - I left in 1985 (I got the National Library commission in 1979, so it was round about 1980, I would think. That was the original scheme). We extended it as well. It’s a wriggly tin shed and has 3 bright red chimneys. It has a nice mural. I went round all the post office yards collecting the scrap doors from pillar boxes, went up to ECA and got one of the students to design me a mural. Which she did, using these bits of pillar boxes and delivery plates. That was Debbie Gliori – she now writes children’s books – she did it for £300. I got the contractor to paint them and screw them on the wall in her pattern. We got the Art and Architecture award for that year. I have that in the office – I think it was 1983. Have a look at it! It’s a nice thing. I still have drawings of that. The building was profiled aluminium i.e. “wriggly tin” which is two directional for bending and so on you cant just go any way. That characteristic generated the whole theme for the building because it’s very directional with the cladding structure and all that. I remember sitting and drawing every single “wriggle”, it’s an axonometric, which could probably now be done in about 5 minutes on a computer. It took me about 2 weeks. I’ve still got that drawing.
What I also have is a print of one of Basil’s Coventry drawings, with some pastel on it, which I keep in my study. It’s the only thing that I got away with me from Spence’s office. I was given that. I have very mixed feelings about Coventry. I always had. It’s a wonderful collection of bits: the Gethsemane Chapel, the baptistery, the tapestry. But to me it does not add up to a Durham or something like that. It’s pretty bitty. On the other hand, when I saw the drawings and photographs of Sussex I didn’t particularly like them. But when I went I was totally won over. Coventry was the opposite. I loved the drawings and it was a disappointment. Which so often happens in real life, doesn’t it? So beware of illustrations!
CBF Spence was very particular about what illustrations went out.
AM I remember Henk Snoek, the photographer, who used to do all the stuff. He would come up and stay at the George Hotel and would wait there until the weather conditions and the time of the day were right and the people had taken away their washing, dustbins or whatever, and then he would take his photograph. But he was good. Then Alastair Hunter took over from him. He died sadly.
When I went to Heriot Row and then to Leith, four of us bought an office between us. There was another architect, Derek Patience, plus David Gerard, the interior designer, Alastair Hunter and myself. We are still there. There’s a communal reception area and meeting rooms and that works quite well. Alastair was there for a while.
Oh yes, we also did the Department of Psychology, Edinburgh University.
CBF The conversion of the old George Watson’s Ladies College building in George Square.
AM Yes I did that. They were weird people in the Psychology Department. We used to go to meetings and they would all be scribbling away. I’m sure they were not taking notes about what I was saying but rather how I was saying it. They would spend hours looking at fish in tanks or monkeys. They even had a one-way mirror in the Wendy house in the nursery so they could watch the kids. Weird! I was partner in charge. Alan Robertson, the job architect for Psychology, who is now in charge of my Edinburgh office, came to me on that job in Spence’s. I took my three right hand men with me when I went away. Paul Grierson, Alan Robertson and Jeanette Philips, now Jeanette Paul. I also took my secretary Hilary.
I remember the Liverpool University Library job that I did with Humphrey Sharpe as job architect. He went to the Scottish Office to do building regulations for a while after that. And there were 2 jobs in Aston in Birmingham, with Tom Moran. He was from Ireland and sadly died with an aneurism after quite a long illness. He was in the City Hospital here for a while, where he took up painting and did some wonderful stuff…It would have been 1987. He worked for me in Ireland. I had an office in Dublin for a while because I did the second phase of the Library and a lot of refurbishment and I was the Consultant at UCD for a good number of years. I’m still working there now on the Library plan.
I didn’t take very much with me when I left Moray Place except for one or two mementos. We used to have little postcards with a passport photograph taken at the time of graduation. They gave me that when I left.
I designed an office brochure with photographs of the then 3 partners and with Hardie as consultant. It was based on Patrick Geddes thinking machine and included Mackintosh’s principles of Utility Stability Delight. It features some of the jobs that were going on at the time, like Glasgow Royal Infirmary and so on – they’ve put another block up since then.
I was marginally involved with GRI. I designed the section of the external walls it was my idea to have these triple strip windows. My idea was that there are 3 positions in a hospital: lying, sitting and standing. But usually if lying and sitting you wouldn’t be able to look out. I thought that elevation could accommodate almost any sort of planning, because with these things the plans almost came last.
1 Keyes Metcalf (1889-93) was Librarian at Harvard and consultant to the Library of Congress and many other universities.
2 There is no record of a planning application in the City Archive, so the approval must have been an interim acceptance of proposals. The referendum was 1979.
3 The meeting on a train is unlikely to have been the first meeting between Glover and Spence. The architects probably knew.
4 The motif of the cylindrical lift and spiral stair famously appeared at the Gourmenia Restaurant, Berlin, in the late 1920s.