An Ode to the Boyd Orr


Image Couresty of the Do Not Elect Milo Yiannopoulos – Save Our Boyd Orr Facebook Group. 

The rector elections are all done and dusted, but one particular manifesto worried me so much that I had to refute it – Milo Yiannopoulos’. The ‘ten commandments’ of his manifesto were particularly disturbing – threatening to ban the university’s feminist societies, and promising to visit campus on a regular basis. However, there was one point from his manifesto which stood out as particularly worrying; his promise to petition the council to demolish the ‘truly ghastly’ Boyd Orr building, in order to ‘Make Glasgow University Beautiful Again’.

The Boyd Orr building is the marmite of Glasgow Uni – you either love it, or you hate it. Typically, students tend to complain about having classes there; complaints accompanied by criticisms of how ‘ugly’ it is in comparison to the University’s more opulent structures. But regardless of what you think of the brutalist beauty, I would argue that it is just as much a part of the University’s architectural heritage as the Hogwarts-esque Gilbert Scott building, or the celestial Charles Wilson lecture theatre.

The Boyd Orr was designed in 1964, then officially opened in 1972 by Sir Eric Ashby. The multi-purpose concrete tower was named after Lord Boyd Orr of Brechin, who was a pretty impressive character. Not only was he a Nobel Peace Laureate; he was also a veteran of the First World War, a pioneer in the field of nutrition, and a qualified pathologist. He was even Rector of the University from 1945 to 1947, and Chancellor of the University from 1946 to 1971.

This legacy alone is undoubtedly inspiring, but if the extensive qualifications of the Boyd Orr’s namesake aren’t enough to convince you of the building’s greatness, maybe some of its architectural commendations will be. The Boyd Orr is the perfect example of Brutalist architecture; a style which became increasingly popular in Britain during the 1950s and 60s. The Royal Institute of British Architects describes Brutalism as ‘a style with an emphasis on materials, textures and construction, producing highly expressive forms’, characterised by unusual shapes, heavy materials, and rough, unfinished surfaces. Clad in two different colours of rough concrete panels and topped with exposed ventilation units, the Boyd Orr ticks all of these boxes, perfectly capturing the popular styles and aesthetics of the period in which it was built.

The Boyd Orr is currently considered to be of ‘negative significance’ by the University’s Estates and Buildings department, alongside other brutal forms such as the neighbouring Mathematics Building and the Gregory Building. Maybe it isn’t as luxurious as the Bute Hall or as glossy as the Wolfson Medical School, but surely a building with such a strong cultural legacy and architectural significance should be celebrated and preserved?

[Katie Fannin @katfnan]

RIBA info on Brutalism: https://www.architecture.com/Explore/ArchitecturalStyles/Brutalism.aspx

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