A Glasgow-based firm called Structured House has put in an application to demolish the Old College Bar and build a 12-storey flat development to house 426 students. Developers claim they want to incorporate the building into the housing, with only bits and pieces retained. It is an iconic building and parts of it have been an integral part of Glasgow’s landscape since the 16th Century. The pub has been labelled the oldest in Glasgow, running continuously from the same site on High Street since 1810.
The building was witness to when our University of Glasgow was still situated on High Street, as well as when the campus was demolished to make space for a railway goods yard. Glaswegians in the 19th Century already recognized such decisions as ‘cultural vandalism’. Now, as a site of history, it is itself being consumed by the historic trend of destroying cultural heritage for short-term economic purposes.
Ironically, the main reason why student apartments are such a sound investment is because students are drawn to Glasgow for its rich history and thriving culture. Many cities have a lively cultural scene, but the reason Glasgow is unique is precisely because all of these spaces have been a hub of life for such a long time. By removing the pub, the city is losing a small part of its essence. With spaces such as Otago Lane also under threat, it seems a continuation of the trend where investment opportunities for the elite of society are being prioritized over Glaswegian culture. A culture marked by its people, with the hustle and bustle of all parts of society joining together on its historic streets, shops and pubs.
The tragedy is that the all but demolition of the Old College Bar is not just part of a historic pattern of demolition. It also symbolises the rising trend of destruction to make space for investment opportunities starting in Glasgow. The demolition of historic – and structurally sound – buildings in Glasgow is nothing new, but it seems to have been hyped up by the market for “investment opportunities”, as has been witnessed in the catastrophic/deplorable housing markets of London. Now, it seems Glasgow is falling into the same trap. What is surprising is that in a city known for its activism, nobody is making a sound about the slow disintegration of the places that make Glasgow.