In 2016 The Alexander Thomson Society launched an international ideas competition open to architects and students of architecture to celebrate the work of Alexander Thomson, one of Glasgow’s greatest nineteenth century architects. It was launched to coincide with the 2016 Festival of Architecture and culminated in 2017 with an exhibition of the entries to mark the bicentenary of the architect’s birth.
The objective of the competition was to invite designs for a contemporary interpretation of Thomson’s ‘Double Villa’, otherwise known as the Maria Villa; an extraordinary building wherein two houses are identified as one. Designed and built between 1856 and 1857 in the then outlying district of Langside in the south of Glasgow, this modest building is one of the architect’s most intriguing and significant designs.
The results of the competition were as follows:
Winner: Thomas Woodcock
Commendation: Ben Weir
Commendation: Matt Iliffe & Cameron McCue
Samuel Penn with Peter Boardman
Gordon David McGregor
The judging panel was led by Charlie Hussey of Sutherland Hussey Harris, Architects, John Gerard, architect and instigator of the idea for the competition, Evelyn Silber, former Director of the Hunterian Museum, Niall Murphy of Pollokshields Heritage and Glasgow City Heritage Trust, and Mark Baines, tutor and lecturer at the Mackintosh School of Architecture and Chair of the Alexander Thomson Society.
The exhibition of entries runs in The Lighthouse until 26th April on Level 5. The exhibition has been generously supported by Sutton Services International, Hobs Reprographics and The Lighthouse.
The winning project was simple in its internal arrangements and its rotational contextual dialogue with its surroundings, principally by the disposition of the pair of free standing chimneys which were the original inspiration for Woodcock’s design on the extremely challenging triangular site. The project integrated a café and a gallery at ground level which supported private terraces on the upper level. It was considered by all the judges to be a highly liveable and intelligent urban response.
Matt Iliffe and Cameron McCue
Samuel Penn with Peter Boardman
Gordon David McGregor
The objective of the competition is to invite designs for a contemporary interpretation of Thomson’s ‘Double Villa’, otherwise known as the Villa Maria. Accommodation should be equivalent to that of the semi-detached pair of the original design, and comprise arrangements for sleeping, eating, dining, washing and relaxing which reflect upon a twenty first century lifestyle.
• Two houses must be accommodated on the site
• They must interact or have a relationship with one another
• The two houses must incorporate a minimum of two bedrooms
• Minimum size per house: 80m2
• Minimum percentage of site area to remain as open space: 25%
The site selected is located in the district of Pollokshields in the south side of Glasgow. It is a level, triangular piece of land at the junction of Nithsdale Road and Darnley Road. The site is unique in that it is overlooked by the presence of three of Thomson’s buildings, as well as a magnificent semi-circular corner tenement obviously inspired by the architect.
Lorne Terrace and Nithsdale Street tenement ranges are complemented by Moray Place, the terrace in which Thomson developed and in which he and his family lived at number one.
The Double Villa
The Maria Villa, or ‘Double Villa’ is a paradox. It is an extraordinary, if not a wholly unique building wherein two houses are identified as one. Designed and built between 1856 and 1857 in the then outlying district of Langside in the south of Glasgow, this modest building is one of the architect’s most intriguing and significant designs. The building heralded the emergence of Thomson’s mature architectural language which first appeared in Tor House, Rothesay in 1855 and coincided with the monumental Caledonia Road Church, Hutchesontown, Glasgow, also in 1856.
Located on a narrow plateau on a plot situated between Mansionhouse Road and a steep slope down to Millbrae Road, the ‘Double Villa’ consists of two identical, semi-detached houses, one rotated about the other which imparts to each house the appearance of a large single villa, a quiet conceit or illusion surely not lost on their respective owners nor the architect.
The sandstone façades are composed around local symmetries of widow and wall creating an asymmetrical composition which is then symmetrically buttressed by two single storey service wings arranged around concealed courts.
Masonry colonnades, unfettered by the innovative continuous glass and timber screens running behind, announce the two storey arrangement of the living and dining rooms, assemblies which counterpoint the more reticent arrangement of the windows to the bedrooms and kitchen of the adjoining house.
In detail the houses are surmounted by bespoke chimney stacks and low pitched roofs with concealed wall head gutters and extended slate eaves supported on elaborate cast iron brackets of abstract floral design. Masonry decoration is either incised or indented and is derived from Greek geometrical sources and formal patterns.
The idea is simple but ingenious. Two pairs of identical facades, the plain façade of one acting as a foil to the elaboration of the principle façade of the other, evidence of Thomson’s ingenuity and the sense of a mischievously creative and inventive mind.
The judges will be analysing each entry based on the following criteria:
• Overall design
• Level of detail
• Concept and understanding of the precedent
• Quality of submission
Terms & Conditions
• The registration fee is non-refundable
• The submissions must be anonymous and only identified by the unique code issued on registration
• Contacting the jury regarding the competition is prohibited
• The official language of the competition is English
This is an ideas competition; there are no plans for the winning design to be constructed.
The Society would like to acknowledge and thank John Gerard, architect and Alexander Thomson Society member, as the originator of the idea for this competition.