I accept that Glasgow is not beautiful to everyone. But it is nonetheless beautiful to me. The first city I knew; the first city I loved. Since early childhood I’ve walked the streets straining my neck to look up. Following my mother’s example: ‘People who think Glasgow is ugly, never look up.’ This is a city where there are genuinely angels in the architecture, along with gods, muses and not a few monsters. A bit like the history of the city itself – built on tobacco and slavery, shored up later with steel and shipbuilding.
For once I’m not looking up. There can be few better views of the city than the one offered from the Lighthouse tower – formerly the water tower of the old Herald building. Looking south from it’s sturdy, though shapely, balcony reveals a landscape of jumbled roofing styles – giant insulated pipes and air conditioning ducts, spindly chimneys and incongruous domes – and reveals the baffling fact that in a city that gets as much rain as this one, new flats are still being built with flat roofs. A faded Woolworths sign marks ‘Boots Corner’ though both shops are long gone and now a Poundland wraps Pizza Hut in a retail embrace below.
Looking Westward the architecture is more grandiose, the elegant tower of the Central Hotel, distracting from the functional yet epic beauty of Central station below. I could talk for hours of the architecture – Art Novo, ‘Greek’, Georgian or Gothic – and what it says about the development of the city but to be honest there’s an exhibition in the arts centre below that says it better. Instead imagine the colours, the tarnished copper domes, the thousand different shades of reds and browns and greys that delineate the different building materials from grubby sandstone to steel and glass.
Northwards and close at hand, fences, low walls and planters delineate the roofs. Outhouses and garden huts are dotted around and two soggy looking deckchairs tell their own stories. I wonder if the pleasures of a roof garden on sunny days compensates for the leaks when it rains.
The mix of styles and periods speaks of a city always moving forward yet unafraid to embrace and repurpose the past. The ugly and the beautiful stand side by side and no two people looking out over them would entirely on all the examples, of which is which. Too many people dismiss it as a city with its feet in the gutter, but while this is true it shouldn’t be forgotten that it’s also a city looking firmly at the stars.
(Further away, on the hills beyond, wind turbines continue to drive the city into the future.)