The story behind these iconic buildings in Scotland

Sometimes, we just need to reinvent ourselves. This could be in the form of a new wardrobe, a dramatic haircut, or even an entirely new lifestyle choice.

The same can be said for buildings too! There are so many buildings in Scotland that have stood tall for centuries, so it’s hardly surprising that some of them have supported various different uses over the years. What might surprise you is just what those uses have been. In this article, we’re exploring iconic Scottish buildings to uncover their original purpose compared to their current use.

St Andrews in the Square

This category-A listed building in Glasgow was originally built as a place of worship. The 18th century former church was built around 1754 and maintained its original purpose as a church up until 1990. But rising costs for its maintenance saw the building sold to the Glasgow Building Preservation Trust for £1 in 1993.

The building needed a new lease of life, one that would not threaten the need to preserve it for future generations. Now, it is Glasgow’s leading performing arts centre, hosting facilities such as a café, toilets, and dressing rooms. It was reopened with its new purpose as a centre for Scottish culture on St Andrew’s Day in 2000.

St Andrews in the Square is also a popular choice of venue for weddings, events, concerts, formal dinners, awards ceremonies, and parties thanks to its gorgeous architecture steeped in history, as well as its 250 guest capacity.

Cairn Hotel Edinburgh

The building now used by this Edinburgh Hotel near Waverley Station was designed in 1822 by William H. Playfair. You may recognise Playfair’s name, as he also designed the stunning National Monument in the capital city, as well as the National Gallery.

The hotel, as well as other buildings along Windsor Street, were built originally to serve as private townhouses. Playfair designed the street to form part of his Eastern New Town scheme, and so the Cairn Hotel Edinburgh is a great example of one of the few domestic commissions done by the leading 19th century Scottish architects.

The hotel has a number of features that were classic hallmarks of Playfair’s townhouses, including a wrought iron balcony designed with a trellis pattern and Greek key border, and distinctive railings. In fact, Playfair himself was a primary driving force behind the Greek Revival in Edinburgh during his time, with his work earning Edinburgh the reputation of being the ‘Athens in the North’!

Òran Mór

Standing at the top of Byres Road in Glasgow, you’d be hard pressed to miss the Òran Mór (which is Gaelic for “big song”, for those wondering). With its brightly-lit neon hoop suspended around the former church’s spire, and equally colourfully-lit windows, this one really is a unique whisky bar and events venue.

Originally built in 1862, the church was created from a need to supply the residents with a local place of worship. A notable feature of the church building is the 11 carved heads that decorated the arches of the main hall of the church, now the auditorium of the Òran Mór. Each head represents a prominent figure of the church.

Now, those heads watch over performances, gigs, weddings, club nights, and patrons at the whisky bar and restaurant. The venue is particularly noted for its wide range of whiskies on offer, with over 280 malts to choose from.

Timberyard

Locals may remember when the Timberyard restaurant in Edinburgh was used as a site for Lawson’s Timber. But that wasn’t how life started for this warehouse building. In fact, the brick warehouse started out in the 19th century as a props and costume store!

Timberyard also has a space separate from the main restaurant, called ‘The Shed’. This bare brick outhouse has a wood burning stove (of course) and now caters for up to 10 guests.

With chopped logs featuring in the décor, the name and appearance heavily nods to the site’s most recent use, and less so to its origins. As for the food, this one is certainly as intricate and unique as the building’s history, with fresh, foraged ingredients on offer. The Timberyard also grows its own herbs and ingredients, as well as filtering and bottling its own water.

With so many old buildings often falling into disuse, should we see more of these types of structures being reused for modern purposes? A new lease of life would add to the rich history of such structures after all.

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