Fife and Dundee:
from Scots cottages to starchitecture

For those architecture lovers who venture outside of Edinburgh, Fife coastal route offers an exciting day out, checking off a potent blend of historical and cutting edge contemporary “starchitecture”.

The Forth Bridge

Unesco Forth Bridge Fife Architecture Tour

A highlight on any journey to heading to Fife, is the 1890s mammoth railway bridge over the Forth. A UNESCO world heritage site, it marked the milestone in major bridge engineering innovations in the wake of long distance train travel. The famous red industrial aesthetics of its structural members of varying scale lends this building elegance and grace as it leaps across the estuary on the granite shoes.

Baronial architecture

Fife Scottish Baronial Architecture Fife Tour

Further north, coastal villages such as St Monans and Crail offer a charming wonder through picturesque streets and captivating harbours.

The majority of Crail’s buildings are listed, so it is no surprise that one really feels taken back to the 17th century. 21st century has hardly marked its narrow streets punctuated with traditional Scottish Baronial white harled cottages with steep crow stepped gables.

As evident in Crail, this rough texture of traditional Scottish plaster was removed from the majority of buildings, leaving the sandstone rubble exposed. Where preserved, or reapplied, the white harling brings out the three-dimensionality of Scottish forms as the sun strikes the forms that cast shadows.

A fine example of this is found at grade A listed 4 High street Golf Hotel, where the function of a stair tower is expressed through a corbelled volume above the street. More expensive ashlar dressings were traditionally used to frame the openings and at quoins. In some buildings, especially in St Monans, eager-for-colour owners painted these details in bright colours, perhaps adding to the picturesque character if not to historical accuracy.

At Monans and Crail, look out for other traditional elements like corner turrets with cone shaped roofs, date stones, and ornate skewputs.

PS while in Crail, check out the Reilly Shelfish lobster shack by the harbour!

Crail Harbour and Reilly Shelfish lobster on a Fife Architecture Tour

Maggie’s Centres

Driving past Kirkcaldy, it is easy to check off  Zaha Hadid’s Maggie’s Centre that hunches under the trees beside the giant hospital. The unassuming dark surface of the building’s exterior continues from the asphalt of the car park as if it were to wrap around the sensitive and light core of the pavilion. The walls fold to become roofs, all in that motion of the asphalt envelope.

The experience of the hospital environment is emphasised by sharp planes of the exterior, to create a powerful feeling of contrast as one enters a completely different world of sensuous white interior of tall spaces that inspire a feeling of hope and warmth. Friendly staff are happy to show the occasional visitor around the interiors.

As distinctive of most Maggie’s Centres, the views are directed to a green garden, which improves the mental well-being of the patients and their family. “Spatial experiences can elevate spirits”, as said Zaha.

Frank Gehry Dundee Maggie's Centre Fife Architecture Tour
Zaha Hadid Maggie's Centre Kirkaldy Fife Architecture Tour

Maggie's Dundee

As opposed to Maggie’s in Kirkcaldy, the Dundee pavilion sits alone in the landscape. By a personal request from landscape architect and architectural critic Charles Jencks, a husband of late Maggie Jencks, the architect Frank Gehry designed his first building in the UK. This was the first new build Maggie’s Centre, and a structure that attracted worldwide attention to Maggie’s and started a sequence of “starchitect” projects.

The tower, almost reminiscent of the doocot, marks the landscape. A tempered example of Gehry’s baroque modernism, the pavilion is calmer than buildings Gehry is famous for, all intentionally organised to create a friendly environment.  

Inside the white cottage-like pavilion, the scale is kept very domestic under the engaging timber beams constantly changing their angle under the wavy roof. As in all Maggie’s Centres, the space is centered around the kitchen table, where comforting social interactions take place with a cup of tea. The views are directed to a labyrinth garden designed by Arabella Lennox Boyd, with a labyrinth inspired by Chartres Cathedral and Anthony Gormley’s sculpture Another Time X.

From the garden, Gehry’s intent to design the building after the Scots traditional but’n’ben dwelling is obvious.

Read more about Maggie’s Centres here, or if you are feeling lazy, here is a short video.  

V&A Dundee

V&A museum by Kengo Kuma in Dundee Scotland

Part of Dundee’s waterfront regeneration scheme, Scotland’s first design museum reconnects the city with River Tay by stretching out its twisting and folding forms over the water. The void between the two building volumes allows the Tay riverside promenade through underneath the building, becoming one of the favourite moments of exploring museum exterior.

Inclined walls shaped by the concrete cast in situ invite and embrace the public.

Inspired by the cliffs of Orkney Islands, the facades are made of precast concrete slabs stacked in layers at varying angles. Indeed, one gets the feeling of approaching the cliff face while heading towards the entrance. In the foyer, the timber panels create relaxed space expanding upwards enfolding what Kuma calls “the living room for the city”. The museum holds both permanent and touring design exhibitions.

Listen to Kengo Kuma talk about his design process here.

Electric Car for your Fife Architecture Tour

With such an array of destinations, this day out to Fife and Dundee is best experienced on a  car. Better yet with a driver, as did we with E-City Chauffeur, on a fantastic electric vehicle.

For more fife destinations visit


We’ve done architectural tours in a number of cities and this ranks among the top!” 

Lynn, Edinburgh

Subscribe to our newsletter