WHERE IS IT? In the city centre, on the corner of Hope Street and West Regent Street
Lion Chambers was built between 1904 and 1907 in a collaboration between two of Glasgow’s most famous architects; third generation architect James Salmon, and John Gaff Gillespie, who was taken into partnership by James’ father, William Forrest Salmon, forming Salmon, Son & Gillespie.
Gillespie had come to William Forrest Salmon’s attention after jointly winning the 1889 Glasgow Institute of Archicture prize with another famous name, Charles Rennie Mackintosh. While Mackintosh found a place under John Honeyman, Salmon took on Gillespie in 1891, giving him design responsibility almost immediately, with Gillespie making partner the same year he joined.
James Salmon, named after his grandfather, the founder of James Salmon & Son, joined the firm a few years later in 1895. He had initially started an apprenticeship under the auspicious eyes of his father, but finished it at William Leiper’s practice, before embarking on a tour across Europe.
These two men shared a similar style and in reflection, lived similar lives. They were both admitted to the Royal Institute of British Architects on the 3rd December 1906. After their acceptance into RIBA, differences in style began to emerge between the two designers. The fracturing in their partnership was widened with the death of William Forrest Salmon in 1911, which left the firm to his wife rather than his son. James could not afford to buy her out, but Gillespie could, and in 1913 the partnership was dissolved. James went on to revive his grandfather’s firm, James Salmon and Son, while Gillespie found a new partnership with William Alexander Kidd and Jack Antonio Coia, founding one of Glasgow’s most famous firms, Gillespie, Kidd & Coia.
Two years before they were accepted by RIBA, the pair were able to explore a shared interest in the building qualities of reinforced concrete when designing Lion Chambers, with William Forrest Salmon overseeing the project. They were also joined by Louis Gustave Mouchel, a structural engineer and representative of François Hennebique, the French engineer who patented the reinforced concrete construction system in 1892.
The building itself was designed for lawyer William G Black as offices for solicitors, although oddly the top floor was designated an artists’ studio. As it was meant to be used by lawyers, the architects decided to decorate the exterior with head casts of serving judges. As a result of the Hennebique Ferro-Concrete method used to maximise space on a small plot of land, the walls of the building were made very thin. Not only that but after a century the concrete started to break down, exposing the steel rods reinforcing the structure, which then began to rust. Despite this, in 1995 the owners were refused permission to demolish it, as it is a category A listed building.
In 2004 the Glasgow Building Preservation Trust wrapped a protective web of wire mesh around the building to prevent chunks of concrete from falling off. At present, the building remains unoccupied, although the Four Acres Charitable Trust has been exploring ways to restore the building.
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