Glasgow’s abandoned concrete “skyscraper” – the mysterious Lion Chambers
In the heart of Glasgow is the Lion Chambers, a building which was completed in 1907 – and which has stood virtually empty since 1995.
A combination of Scottish baronial design and ancient skyscrapers, the Lion Chambers have towered over one of Glasgow’s busiest streets for over a hundred years. Built at the turn of the century, the magnificent white tower was revolutionary for its time.
James Salmon and John Gaff Gillespie were commissioned by William George Black, a successful Glasgow lawyer and writer, to construct the building. Black was an established member of the Glasgow Art Club and included plans for artists’ studios on the upper floors of the Lion Chambers – with law firms below, as well as retail space on the ground floor .
James Salmon, commenting on the construction the following year, said: “The Scottish style, I mean especially that of the old roughcast castle, is eminently suited to a layout suitable for reinforced concrete construction. Simple corbels, small cornices, straight lines, the rarity of arches and other details are difficult to build: especially the freedom to do what you want.
Glasgow City Council were known to have a good relationship with the club Black was part of, and it has been suggested that approval for the building may have come from this. The now A-rated building was constructed with the patented “Hennebique Ferro-Concrete” system, which uses iron encased in concrete to construct the structure.
This process, which helped the building stand out at the time, is a main factor in preventing any restoration – the estimated cost of £1.5m far exceeding the revenue that restoration of the building would bring. In 1991, the co-owners of the building received a notice of dangerous construction.
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In April 1991 the effects of water accumulation, cracking and spalling were reported – and the co-owners decided to proceed with demolition, although permission for demolition was quickly refused due to listing of the building in category A. The building has retained over the years its exterior stone work, showing a lion’s head, as well as the upper bodies of some court judges.
In 1995, it was reported that the cost of the restorations would only extend the life of the House of the Lion by another 20 years. The Glasgow Building Preservation Trust announced plans in 1997 to develop a center for young designers, including studios and training spaces, although these plans never materialized.
The upper floors of the building were all deemed unfit for use in the mid-1990s, although the retail space and basement were in use until 2010. It is possible that the Lion Chambers are destined to disintegrate, but they might survive – for a price.
Glasgow City Council, Historic Scotland and Glasgow Building Preservation Trust have all been involved in attempts to move the project forward – although with high restoration costs it proved difficult to find a buyer. In 2000, the scaffolding surrounding the rooms was replaced with wire mesh.
Reports said Glasgow City Council had offered the property to sellers for £1 to enable restoration, but the deal fell through. In 2019, a visit to Historic Environment Scotland’s Lion Chambers revealed the dilapidated state of the interior.
With collapsing walls, water damage, boarded up windows and leaky ceilings, it’s hard to see how the structure could return to its original state.