Competition designs for Paisley Technical School

M106 Competition designs for Paisley Technical School

Address: George Street, Paisley
Date: 1895–6
Client: Board of directors of Paisley Technical School
Authorship: Authorship category 3 (Office with Mackintosh) (Office with Mackintosh)

In 1895 John Honeyman & Keppie were invited to participate in the competition for Paisley Technical School by its newly established board of directors. The new building was to house three departments – art; chemistry and physics; and science (naval architecture, engineering and trades) – and a hall for 300 students. It was expected to cost £17,000. A site and £3,000 towards the construction of the building were donated by Paisley thread manufacturers and philanthropists, J. & P. Coats. A further £14,000 had already been accumulated by two existing educational organisations involved in founding the School. Specifications for the building were drawn up in consultation with the Department of Science and Art in South Kensington, London, which oversaw the construction of new buildings such as this. 1

The practice entered two designs in the competition. These were awarded second and third prize. Paisley architect Thomas Graham Abercrombie won the competition and secured the job. 2 His building stands (2012) on George Street, Paisley, just W. of the junction with Storie Street. Honeyman & Keppie's second-placed design was a symmetrical Scots-Renaissance-style building with striking central apsidal feature embellished with a processional figurative relief frieze, elaborate 16th–17th-century style Scottish doorways on the wings and corbelled string-course on the principal elevation. No drawings by the practice of their two designs survive. However, a perspective of the design placed second was prepared by the editor of the British Architect, Thomas Raffles Davison.

The authorship of the design as evidenced from Raffles Davison's drawing is unclear. The form of the design and the use of conventional historical details, such as the heavy, baroque-inspired open pediment, pinnacles, and columns surrounding the doors on the wings, may suggest Keppie's work, as for example at Anderson's College Medical School. More abstract, apparently functional details may suggest the work of Mackintosh. A similar corbelled shelf-like string-course can be found later in his perspective of the Daily Record Building. 3 A similar treatment of window sills as a deep shelf – here as a continuation on the side elevation of the shelf-like string-course – can be found at the Glasgow Herald building and at Martyrs School, and in his unsuccessful competition design for the the Royal Insurance Company building. A processional frieze can be found on buildings by architects Mackintosh is known to have admired, such as John Belcher and Leonard Stokes, and he appears to have planned a similar frieze for the museum in the Glasgow School of Art. 4 Attenuated columns with broad, flattened cyma-recta profile capitals between the first-floor windows suggest his sensibilities; comparable capital-like projections without columns situated above the frieze can be found above the stair-tower windows at Ruchill Free Church Halls.

Thomas Raffles Davison's perspective of Honeyman & Keppie's design was published in the British Architect. The journal, a keen supporter of the practice, described the design as 'clever and original', and continued, 'one cannot help feeling a little curious to know why the selecting committee did not honour themselves by giving it first place.' 5

The following year the perspective drawing was exhibited at the Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts (322). The Glasgow Herald critic praised Raffles Davison's 'beautiful drawing' of Honeyman & Keppie's design, commenting that it 'shows their work at its best'. Like the British Architect, the critic was dissatisfied with the result of the competition: 'The design is admirable, and would have formed an important addition to the architecture of the town, though, doubtless such considerations are among the last which appeal to the powers responsible for civic art.' 6

In 1898 Raffles Davison's perspective was exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy (592). The Glasgow Herald critic's only comment on this occasion was that the drawing has been 'noticed elsewhere'. 7 The project was also exhibition by the practice at the Glasgow International Exhibition 1901 (290).

Colour photograph of perspective of design for Paisley Technical School, 'British Architect', 29 May 1896, p. 380



1: Evelyn Hood, Forward by Degrees. The University of Paisley 1897–1997, Paisley: University of Paisley, 1997, p. 24–6; Magazine of Art, January 1895, p. 199; Building Industries, 15 April 1896, p. 5.

2: British Architect, 45, 27 March 1896, p. 215.

3: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow: GLAHA 52400 (M182-015).

4: The proposed frieze can be seen on the September 1897 section drawing. Glasgow City Archives Collection: Glasgow Dean of Guild plans, TD1309/A/123.

5: British Architect, 45, 29 May 1896, pp. 380, 384.

6: Glasgow Herald, 13 March 1897, p. 8. The British Architect deemed the Glasgow Herald critic 'evidently competent to speak with authority' and reprinted the review of the Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts exhibition rather than providing their own: British Architect, 47, 19 March 1897, p. 201.

7: Glasgow Herald, 12 March 1898, p. 4.