The iconic architecture of Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson

When you think of Glasgow, who’s the first architect that springs to mind? For most people, it’s Charles Rennie MacIntosh, which is completely understandable because he was a truly remarkable talent. However, one important Scottish architect who is often overlooked by many is Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson. Responsible for some of Glasgow’s most impressive buildings, including a number of Presbyterian churches, shopping arcades, villas and grand terraces, Thomson helped to shape the fabric of the city through his distinctive Classical style of architecture.


Born just over 200 years ago – on the 9th April 1817, to be exact – Thomson’s Grecian language of expression was his signature trait. Routed in a deep yet subtle understanding of Classical architecture and its principles, he adopted and developed ancient styles to meet the challenges of a progressive and enlightened Victorian society. At a time when Gothic Revival was dominant, Thomson’s commitment to his neo-Greek vision was unwavering, unapologetically forgoing all other influences from the mid-1850s.

Through pioneering techniques and extensive use of new materials, such as cast iron and plate glass, Thomson produced some of the most astounding buildings in the city, many of which we’re still blessed with to this day. Ionic columns and ornamental stonework; the strong rectilinear form of sculpted cornices and pilasters; large expanses of uniform windows that sink into blonde sandstone facades – his unique interpretation of idealised ancient sources enabled Thomson to impart such strength and mystical elegance to the form and structure of his buildings, all the while searching for the ‘eternal laws’ of architectural design.

Three iconic Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson buildings in Glasgow

Holmwood House, Cathcart

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Whilst a number of Thomson’s buildings were destroyed in the early 20th century, most of his villas still remain. His most exquisite and elaborate is Holmwood House in Cathcart, which was built in 1858. With rich and detailed interiors, including an ornate cupola, elaborate decorative schemes and intricately carved doors and woodwork, the strong architectural composition of the villa’s exterior is unique and striking. Varied and distinctive roofs areas, featuring overhanding eaves and feature finials; a striking colonnaded bay window; an overall asymmetry resulting from a complex series of symmetrical design elements – it’s one of the finest examples of Thomson’s visionary interpretation of Classical architecture.

Holmwood House is now owned by the National Trust for Scotland and is open to the public. We highly recommend visiting and exploring this spectacular villa to fully appreciate Thomson’s incredible imagination and architectural brilliance.

Great Western Terrace, Glasgow West End

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Of all the terraces designed by Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson, Great Western Terrace in the West End of Glasgow is the grandest and most monumental. Built between 1867-77, the exterior of the blond-sandstone building is uncharacteristically restrained in terms of decoration. However, this in no way diminishes the imposing presence and powerful proportions of the building.

Towering over its neighbours and commanding adoration from its elevated platform, the long, classical colonnaded terrace features a striking three-storey pavilion at either side. What’s unusual is the placement of these pavilions, which are set six bays in, rather than bookending the building. With uniform expanses of deep-set windows, Ionic pillared porches, and decorative iron railings and lamps, Great Western Terrace is undeniably Classical and a fine example of Thomson’s unique talent.

Moray Place, Strathbungo

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Built in 1859-60, Moray Place is a two-storey terrace of ten residential houses close to Queen’s Park and is considered to be ‘the finest of all nineteenth-century terraces… and one of the world’s most superb pieces of design based on Greek precedent’. Originally constructed with a symmetrical style, the later addition of a projected extension broke the buildings horizontal uniformity. Nevertheless, Thomson’s principle of repetition is evident in the design of this terrace, in which the architect himself lived until his death in 1875. The carved stonework, the colonnade on the upper storey, the striking pediment above each pavilion bay, the towering lotus-shaped chimneys, the sculptural treatment of deep-set windows that look as if they have been carefully stamped into the smooth facade – all of these details hold true to Thomson’s neo-Greek style.

We’ve just had an offer accepted on a stunning four-bedroom property on Moray Place – take a look inside. Though you may be start kicking yourself now that it’s off the market! Marketed at offers over £330,000, we were inundated with enquiries and viewings, and it didn’t take long to get snapped up!

For sales and lettings in Glasgow and beyond, contact our friendly Vanilla Square team. Whether selling or letting property, you will always be liaising with one of our business partners, which makes our service that much more responsible and approachable. When you instruct us, your property will reach a wider audience as we are one of the few agents who are present on all the major property portals to offer sellers and landlords maximum exposure. If you’re looking to buy, sell, rent or lease your property, or you’re simply considering the idea, contact us by calling 0141 229 0210 or pop into our new office at 711 Great Western Road. One of our partners will be delighted to help and provide you with impartial, expert advice.