St Andrew’s House, Regent Road, Calton Hill, Edinburgh Thomas Tait of Burnet, Tait & Lorne 1935-39
St Andrew’s House is placed at the foot of Calton Hill, a focal point in the city of Edinburgh, and at one end of the main shopping street, Princes Street. It sits in a key and central location therefore. The building is a government one and has always been. It was commissioned by the Office of Works in the 1930’s, to be built on the site of a former prison. Thomas Tait was appointed in 1934 after a series of rejected proposals.
The building has been described as, “…one of the finest thirties buildings in Scotland” (The Scottish Thirties)
Built smack bang in the Art Deco period the complex features the square central building. The wings are set back from this central hub and these are certainly inspired by the American Classicism style of architecture as are the columns and large figures.
The stair towers have a moment in Art Deco architectural styles, inspired by German modernistic styles of the early part of the century and certainly evidence in the architecture in Berlin.
The lightning pylons towards the front of the building echo the work that Tait did at the Glasgow Empire Exhibition in 1938. These were changed to flat poles in 1939.
A number of sources, (The Scottish Thirties and ScotStyle) cite that Frank Lloyd Wright inspired the flat overhanging roofs of the stair towers. Tait had spent time studying in America where he had met Lloyd Wright.
My favourite description of the building, and one I whole-heartedly endorse was given by Charles McKean in his book, Edinburgh, An Illustrated Architectural Guide.
“…brooding, authoritarian characteristics of the secure headquarters of an occupying power”.
I absolutely concur. The gates, the stone, the stair towers, the huge doors made me feel like the building was the workplace of Winston in George Orwell’s 1984.
This is a beautiful building in an amazingly accessible part of the city and therefore the country. Sadly as it is a government building there is no public access. I am hopeful that one day I will get in there and see those stair cases and partitions between the rooms that sink into the floors to create bigger rooms.
Other buildings designed by Tait:-
Royal Masonic Hospital in Hammersmith
Hawkshead hospital in Paisley
Adelaide House, King William Street, City of London
Peterborough House (Daily Telegraph) Fleet Street, London