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Ornaments in Architecture and Wealth: The case of the Glasgow Stock Exchange

Updated: Jun 1, 2022

Structure Review

The Glasgow Stock Exchange building is situated at the corner of Buchanan Street and of Nelson Mandela Place (known as St George’s Place before 1986). It’s a 4-story building of Venetian Gothic style constructed in 1875-77 by architect John Burnet and later expanded by his son John James Burnet. It is said that the architect was inspired by the London Law Courts, “this design exploits themes from Burge’s competition design for the London Law Courts” [1]. Through studying this building I’m trying to see how the wealth and economic growth of Glasgow were exhibited through architecture and if it is of the right nature to do so.

The Glasgow Stock Exchange, which was founded in 1884, was one of five exchanges in Scotland, others being in Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Dundee, and Greenock that would later become part of the Glasgow Stock Exchange which, later on, merged with the Scottish Stock Exchange and then into the London Stock Exchange. At its time Glasgow was the focus for the UK’s moneymakers, as being the financial center of the country.

One glancing at this building can realize it is of a Gothic ethos, but it’s not of a simple Gothic style, is one of extravagance that displays wealth. Through its lancet and oculus windows, its ornamental details, and pinnacles. This style of Venetian Gothic originates from the climax of the Venetian republic, one of political and economic power. A period of expansion of trade, territorial expansion, industrial growth, and population growth. A rapid rise of prosperity for Venice in the 14th century.

Quite similarly translated into a period of Glasgow, that you can see through the Glasgow Stock Exchange building in the 19th century. Glasgow experienced a population and economic growth, from a population of a quarter-million growing to over three quarters due to migration from the Highlands, Ireland, Italy, and Eastern Europe. As well as the Industrial Revolution, ranking Glasgow as one of the richest and finest cities in Europe as well as clamming the name as the Second City of the Empire, after London.

Making this comparison of the Venetian Gothic style, which represents the pinnacle of Venetian wealth and influence in its time and seeing how this translation of Venetian Gothic in Glasgow shows the exact same in its own respectable time period.

The ornaments of the building’s façade can tell us a lot about the status, purpose, and wealth of the building itself but also in a greater sense of the city in that time period. Ornaments in architecture have been seen, throughout history, as the key to the foundations of architecture [2]. Except for being an aesthetically beautiful detail to look at from a passer-by perspective, it also conveys vital political information of the purpose, the rank of the owner, or of the institution the building hosted. But also seen as operators and social communicators, creating signs of social distinction and wealth [3], mirroring societies structure and precious metals permanence.

[1] Doak, A. M, Andrew McLaren Young, and David Walker. 1983. Glasgow At A Glance. London: Hale. [2] Picon, Antoine. 2013. Ornament. Chichester: Wiley. [3] Picon, Antoine. 2013. Ornament. Chichester: Wiley.