Scottish National Portrait Gallery Out of Their Heads - Building Portraits of Scottish Architects Review 9th June 2016


Out of Their Heads – Building Portraits of Scottish Architects is a new exhibition at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery running from 11th June 2016 to 5th February 2017 as part of the “Festival of Architecture 2016” programme.   The exhibition is organised by the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) and The Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

This small but instructive exhibition focuses on 12 architects who over a time span of over 300 years have left their mark on not only Edinburgh and Scottish architecture but throughout the world.  Our earliest architect represented here is Sir William Bruce (1625 to 1710) – charged with the rebuilding of the Palace of Holyroodhouse, with Kathryn Findlay (1953 – 2014) who, with her husband formed the influential Ushida Findlay partnership in 1986, being our last.  Sadly, Kathryn was never aware that on the day of her death she had been awarded the prestigious Jane Drew Prize.

Many of the architects here will be well known to many people in Edinburgh such as the designer of the New Town plan James Craig and of course Charles Rennie Mackintosh.  Mackintosh is represented in the exhibition in a splendid period painting by his friend and head of Glasgow School of Art - Francis H Newbery.

This exhibition covers a wide time period and a huge range of architectural styles from classical to modernist and although architects such as  PeterWomersley, Margaret Brodie, Sir Basil Spence  and Sir Robert Matthew are represented here, choosing the final twelve for this exhibition must have been an enormous task.  Although born in London, one of the obvious omissions for me is William Henry Playfair as we have here in Edinburgh so many of his important buildings.

An interesting addition to this exhibition is that the twelve architects here are displayed on special constructions based on the profiles of key buildings drawn by contemporary Edinburgh artist Ian Stuart Campbell.  The twelve architects here are also featured in various media – paintings, sculpture, cartoon and photography.

This exhibition puts faces to the people behind buildings that we sometimes take for granted, and sometimes forget came into being out of the imagination of an architect.

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Review by Tom King

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