There's art in them walls;Scottish Heritage

24th April 1998 at 01:00
You don't have to travel far to discover Scotland's heritage, says John Hume of Historic Scotland. It's all around us - even in school buildings. Julie Morrice reports

In a better climate, it would make a wonderful outdoor theatre. Covered balconies run round three sides of the central courtyard, stretching up for three floors, punctuated with red-brick pillars and girt with black railings. But it is cold and dreich, and the balconies are not part of a spectacular stage set. They are, in fact, the corridors of Hyndland Secondary School in Glasgow.

"It was built between 1928 and 1930 by architects named Denny and Reid," says John Hume of Historic Scotland. Hyndland's open corridors, which make staff and pupils shiver and give pigeons access to the classrooms, are part of a design aimed at allowing as much ventilation as possible. "Tuberculosis was the big scare of the Twenties and Thirties," explains Hume, "and by that time people had realised that fresh air was a way to prevent the spread of disease."

Several of the Hyndland classrooms have panelled walls which were once sliding doors, designed, suggests headteacher Ken Goodwin, to allow access for hospital equipment in case of an emergency.

In the company of someone like Hume who knows how to "read" buildings, history leaps out at you from Hyndland. On the school's other building next door, dating from 1910, he points out the proud classical lettering stretching across the whole frontage: "Govan Parish School Board - 1910 Hyndland Public School 1910."

This was one of the last school board schools to be erected, the end of a huge building programme across the country following the Education Act of 1872, when boards were "throwing up schools to deal with colossal numbers of new pupils". It was designed, smiles Hume, by "a middle-of-the-road architect", H E Clifford. "You can see how he included fashionable ideas of the period without any real concern for what the building was going to be used for," he says, pointing out two heavyweight stone urns balanced incongruously atop a side entrance.

Yet at the turn of the century, even an undistinguished architect and his draughtsmen took trouble to make the most functional building something worth looking at. On the facade, Hume points out the classical tricks which break up what is basically a rectangular box.

The stonework at the foot of the building is rough to make it look as though the building is "growing" out of the ground. Smoother masonry takes over several feet up, and then it changes again to a different pattern of stonework broken up by little grooves. While that takes care of the vertical, the facade is broken up horizontally by baroque pediments and festoons of stone flowers. The result, Hume points out, is aimed as much at giving pleasure to people living around the school as those working in it.

Hume, chief inspector of ancient buildings at Historic Scotland, is keen to spread the word about buildings, ancient and modern. To that end, he decided to publish a teachers' pack on Scotland's historic buildings though, as it was felt the material should start on home ground, it encourages pupils and their teachers to look at their own schools.

"The most mediocre buildings can give a huge amount of enjoyment," says Hume. Buildings surround most of us for most of our waking hours, and Hume wants more of us to take an interest in these inanimate, yet voluble, entities. "I want to encourage people to look at buildings and what they mean: to understand what is involved in their design and why they look as they do."

The pack will be applicable to all Scottish schools, whenever they were built, and will contain Hume's own drawings of schools "from Shetland to Hawick". The oldest covered by the pack, a little 17th century cottage with crowstep gables in Dunlop, Ayrshire, is now used as a Sunday school.

We wander back to 1930s Hyndland. Hume points out the glazed brick on the school's lower levels which, in the days of chalk graffiti, was all that was needed to prevent demotic decoration.

We enter the central courtyard via dark tunnels, like bullfighters entering the arena, and Hume stops in this chilly corner to point out the care that has been taken to make the corridor in front of us pleasant and interesting to walk along.

A pale concrete band splits the brick wall in two, to break up its monotonous stretch. The windows are also divided and the corridor ceiling, with its exposed beams and regular hanging light fittings, gives a feeling of progress as one walks along.

Details like this enrich lives in a small but important way, says Hume, adding that if we want buildings that are worth looking at, we need a visually literate population. The lesson starts here.

The school buildings pack will be available from Historic Scotland later this year. Contact education officer Marion Fry on 0131 668 8600.

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