Once upon a time, in a faraway land called Scotland, in a sprawling, gritty city known as Glasgow, there lived an eccentric and brilliant architect named Alexander Thomson.
Today, most people, even those with an interest in architecture, think: Who?
When one thinks of Glasgow, Charles Rennie Mackintosh comes to mind, a world-famous architect who died in 1928. I have been a Mackintosh admirer for forty years now, but only learned about Alexander Thomson a decade ago.
Thomson was a generation before Mackintosh, and while the latter architect is revered today, Thomson was eclipsed by time.
But Thomson was as brilliant and creative as Mackintosh, and his work has, since the 1980s, garnered some renewed appreciation.
One of his works was the Caledonia Road Church, built in 1856.
A POST-WWII MADNESS
After WWII, a collective madness ensued across the land, and entire neighborhoods were demolished in the name of Urban Renewal. Dense, low-rise, humane places were replaced with tall tower blocks set within huge grassy plots of land. In short order, these new developments, no matter their location, Glasgow or Detroit, almost immediately proved to be utter failures as places people wanted to live.
The Caledonia Church was built on the south bank of the River Clyde, and in an area which included the Gorbals. By the early 20th-century, the Gorbals had become one of the most notorious slums in the world, as had the surrounding neighborhoods.
However, looking at the archival images shows streetscapes which would today be treasured.
INSIDE CALEDONIA ROAD CHURCH
RESURRECTING CALEDONIA ROAD CHURCH
During the last fifty years, the neighborhood surrounding the Caledonia Road Church has been through not one, but, incredibly, two almost total renewals. During all this upheaval the church went from being active, to abandoned, to burned, and to a lonely survivor — a silent witness to the madness surrounding it.
There has been debate and plans to relocate the roads surrounding the church, so that it is no longer isolated on an island.
Numerous proposals have been put forth since the 1990s to create a use for the church.
But no proposal suggests what I think should be done: A meticulous rebuild.
I repeat: A meticulous rebuild.
Much of the structure exists.
The lost interior has ample photographic documentation.
Other Thomson-designed structures exist which would be invaluable aids for Thomson details and coloring.
The restored structure could serve as a community meeting house, performing arts center, and, why, even a church on Sundays.
To the north of the church I would like to see the original type apartment blocks recreated.
I know, I know, people will shout: IT CAN’T BE DONE.
But it can be.
IT CAN BE DONE
While money was found to buy up vast swaths of the neighborhood surrounding the Caledonia Road Church, and money was found to demolish 95% of the neighborhood, and money was found to build all new housing, and money was found to later demolish much of this housing, and money was found to, yet again, build new housing, people will nonetheless shout: THERE ISN’T THE MONEY TO RESTORE THE CHURCH.
Sorry, I don’t buy it.
The Caledonia Road Church is a great work of art. It can, and should be, fully restored, and returned to active use.