Fountainbridge Public Library
The Fountainbridge library is a beautiful modern Scottish building with unique Art Deco features. The library and community hall were designed by the architect John A. W. Grant to replace a former library. Its grandeur embodies the aspiration of architects, librarians and social policy makers of the interwar period to provide grand community buildings. The façade features friezes by the sculptor Charles d’Orville Pilkington Jackson. The entrance hall still features the original stairwell along with Art Deco handrails.
Although WWII slowed down the construction process, the building was nonetheless finished in 1940. This was not the case for all governmental buildings, many being suspended. The National Library of Scotland for example had to be interrupted and was only completed in 1956.
University of Edinburgh, Ashworth Building
Between 1926 and 1930, the Scottish architects Sir Robert Lorimer and John Fraser Matthew designed a new group of buildings for the University of Edinburgh, the “King’s Buildings” Campus. The Ashworth building was designed for the zoology department. The front facade of the building is deliberately monumental to express the “dignity of science”. Stylistically the building adopted a classical style, fashionable for public projects, but Lorimer and Matthew added contemporary Art Deco details to the plain classical facade.
The true beauty of the building lies in the seventeen sculptured animal plaques that ornate the exterior walls. The sculptor Phyllis Bone modelled the animals in clay before casting them in artificial stone. The animals represent different geographical regions of the world. You can find sculptures by the same artist on the National War Memorial of Edinburgh Castle.
In the interwar period, going to the cinema was a new popular social activity. Many cinemas were built in a short period of time. Therefore, some architects like T. Bowhill Gibson, specialised themselves in cinema design. Built in 1937-39, the Dominion cinema is Gibson’s last building before World War II. Unfortunately, most of Gibson’s other work has not survived.
Like in many 1930s cinemas, the front facade of the building is trying to convey a sense of luxury. Thus, the original front door is ornate with sun-rays, Indian plumes and flanking panels of stained glass peacocks. The vertical windows (now blocked off) were inspired by engine designs, a common theme in Modernist Architecture.
The Dominion still functions today as an independent cinema house. Inside, the original auditorium has been divided into smaller cinema projection rooms. However, you can still see the original stylised panels on the ceiling and side walls.
The Open Air Schools
In the 1930s, Britain encountered a rise in tuberculosis. To combat the disease, sunshine and fresh air informed the design of hospitals. This practice first emerged in the late 19th century on the European continent. Tuberculosis patients would often be sent into the Alps hoping they would heal thanks to the open fresh air. Quickly, schools started to incorporate air flow into their designs. The first school was built in Germany, in a pine forest near Berlin in 1904. The movement rapidly reached the UK, but only really encountered a rise of popularity in the 1930s. By 1937, 149 “Open Air” schools had opened across the country.
The school design was inspired by hospital architecture. They would traditionally be built around a “pavilion plan” which was also used for sanatoria. Window lined hallways would allow for constant fresh air flow into the classrooms.
In 1936, Reid and Forbes won a competition to design the Niddrie Marischal Intermediate School. Influenced by the Open Air Movement, they prioritized natural ventilation and daylight thanks to an H-plan layout, allowing all classrooms to be both North and South facing, and massive horizontal windows. The Art Deco detailing on the front facade is an homage to Frank Lloyd Wright who would often use similar American Indian inspired motifs.
The building is now owned by the City of Edinburgh Council. It was recently refurbished and transformed as a business centre. As such a large structure, for us it was one of the most unexpected discoveries of Edinburgh Art Deco architecture.
A lot of 1930s architecture is situated a drive away from the city centre. The development of cars in the interwar period meant that architects and planners focussed on suburban architecture. If you would like to discover these buildings but don’t have a car, consider a private tour of Edinburgh Art Deco architecture with our friends at 7 Hills Tours.
For more on Art Deco, read out earlier blogpost Edinburgh Art Deco architecture.
University of Edinburgh Ashworth Building: https://portal.historicenvironment.scot/designation/LB44230
Castlebrae Business Center: https://portal.historicenvironment.scot/designation/LB49459
Fountainbridge Public Library: https://portal.historicenvironment.scot/designation/LB30322
Dominion Cinema: https://portal.historicenvironment.scot/designation/LB27650