Joseph Black Building


The School of Chemistry was originally housed in an isolated octagonal structure located outside the south-east corner of the Main Building. The building was designed by George Gilbert Scott in 1865-1866 and called the Abbot's Kitchen after the 14th-century original at Glastonbury. In 1902 Chemistry was provided with what was meant to be a temporary cheap brick engineering shed designed by John James Burnet and built around the old Abbot’s Kitchen. These ‘temporary’ structures remained in use until the construction of a new Chemistry building.

In March 1934 the University Court applied to the Bellahouston Trustees to assist with urgent accommodation needs for the Chemistry department. Plans designed by T. Harold Hughes were chosen from a competition and the building was built between 1936 and 1939. Hughes's design comprised a large 'Chemistry Institute' complex of four new specialist departmental buildings for Organic Chemistry, Medical Chemistry, Physical Chemistry and Inorganic Chemistry to be built on the old recreation ground to the north of Zoology, now the Graham Kerr Building. Demands on materials and labour for the national rearmament programme of 1936 caused the price of general construction to rise 20% from original estimates and as a result the University decided to drop the most expensive of the buildings - the Inorganic Chemistry department.

Only two of the planned three blocks were completed before the outbreak of the Second World War. The south-eastern block housed the Organic Chemistry department and the central block was occupied by Medical and Physical Chemistry. Inorganic Chemistry was also housed in the central block until the completion of its own north-western block between 1946 and 1954 by David Stark Reid Waugh. Waugh had joined Hughes in his private practice from 1937 and continued Hughes's projects after ill-health had forced his retirement in 1942. The design firm followed Hughes original overall style and layout and prepared a new perspective, drawings and site plan in December 1946. Although the first two blocks were largely complete in 1939 the official opening ceremony was abandoned following the declaration of war with Germany on 3 September. The entire Chemistry building was finally officially opened on 19 March 1954.

The design is a hybrid of contemporary styles part monumental classicism, with its near-symmetrical layout, stylised classical details and special slim 'Roman' bricks and part 'Art Moderne' in its horizontal emphasis, flat roofs, butterfly plan, reinforced concrete structure, lying-pane metal windows, projecting glazed staircases, and zig-zag jazz railings. The manufacturers of the Buckingham Palace gates of 1911, Bromsgrove Guild Ltd, produced the distinctive bronze lettering over the entrances. An incised frieze depicting animals runs along the southern range, which was reputedly added to placate Edward Hindle, Professor of Zoology, who had lost his open views to the north due to the construction of the Chemistry Institute.

Extensions were added to the building from 1960-1966 with Alexander Wright & Kay designing the two additional top-storey laboratories, a basement mycology unit and accommodation for the University's second computer, the KDF9. In 1982 a further extension was undertaken to turn the library into a reading room. The building was given A-listed building status by Historic Scotland in 1985, and the year after a refurbishment scheme began that lasted until 1993.

From 2004 to 2006 a further refurbishment scheme modernised the lecture rooms, laboratories and other interior rooms, and the Inorganic Chemistry lecture theatre was subdivided by Aedas Architects into specialist research laboratories in 2009.

A low-relief portrait memorial of Joseph Black was sculpted by Benno Schotz in 1953 and incorporated into the north wall. The building was renamed the Joseph Black Building in 1997. A pioneering Chemist and University lecturer from 1756-1766, he first identified carbon dioxide and carried out pioneering research on latent and specific heat.


Joseph Black Building
University Avenue
G12 8QQ
Record last updated: 14th May 2015

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