Sometimes, change is what we need, and the same goes for buildings. There are many iconic buildings in Scotland that have stood the test of time. These buildings often become integrated with the very heart of the city or town they serve and have a long history to share with visitors. Some of these buildings have a particularly noteworthy status as being ‘shapeshifters’. That is, they have been used for very different purposes than their original builders and designers intended.
From a place of worship to a place of spirit: Òran Mór
Whether you’re visiting Glasgow or living there, it’s difficult to avoid the neon lights of the Òran Mór. Situated at the head of Byres Road, this famous whisky bar — offering over 280 malts and an events venue – doesn’t hide its original purpose at all.
Built in 1862, the Òran Mór was built to serve the local residents as a much-needed place of worship. The church building to this day features 11 carved heads within the arches of the main hall. The hall now serves as an auditorium. The heads are symbols of prominent church figures from the time of the building’s creation.
From costumes to fine dining: Timberyard
With a name like ‘Timberyard’, assuming this now-restaurant building in Edinburgh started as a timber work yard would be forgivable. The restaurant does make use of the timber-theme, with chopped-log décor throughout. Indeed, the site has been used by timber company, Lawson’s, in the past. But this was its second purpose along the road. It was originally built to be a props and costumes warehouse back in the 19th century.
Nowadays, the site consists of two spaces: the main restaurant, Timberyard, and a smaller-capacity, bare-brick outhouse to cater up to 10 guests. The restaurant serves up fresh food made with foraged ingredients and home-grown herbs. It also has its own filtered, bottled water.
From a church to a centre of arts: St Andrews in the Square
This former 18th century church began life in 1754 as a place of worship in Glasgow. It stayed that way until as recently as 1990, until it was hampered by increasingly expensive maintenance costs. Due to this, the category-A listed building was sold for just £1 in 1993 to the Glasgow Building Preservation Trust.
In order to keep the building useful for future generations to come, the church was given a new lease of life as a performing arts centre. The building now boasts a café, dressing rooms, toilets, and plenty of space as an events venue, able to serve up to 250 guests at a time.
From private townhouse to a hotel: Cairn Hotel Edinburgh
Designed by William H. Playfair in 1822, the building that now serves as an Edinburgh hotel was originally envisioned as a set of private townhouses along all of Windsor Street. The houses formed Playfair’s Eastern New Town scheme. So the Cairn Hotel in Edinburgh has some fantastic examples of the architect’s style in a rare domestic setting.
Playfair, famous for designing the National Monument and the National Gallery, embedded a number of his trademark features within the townhouses, like wrought iron balconies with a trellis pattern and Greek key border. Playfair was well-known as a catalyst for the Grecian-style revival throughout Edinburgh in his day. Hence Edinburgh’s nickname as the ‘Athens in the North’.
Instead of letting old building fall into disrepair, we clearly have a lot to gain by re-purposing them to fit modern lifestyle needs. Not only does this add more facilities for people to enjoy, but it also helps towards maintaining and enjoying these historic constructions that serve as the most iconic buildings in Scotland.