Archibald Simpson, 1819-1822. 4-storey and attic, 11 x 5 bay, impressive classical former reading room and tenement building with shops with round-arched openings to ground, altered following a fire in 1973. Prominently positioned at crossroads with distinctive ionic columns to former reading room rising through 1st and 2nd floors of 5-bay section. Smooth granite ashlar. Base course, band course, cill course to 3rd storey. Blocking course. Rounded corner with bowed glazing to NW.
To E: symmetrical elevation with slightly advanced central 3-bay section with central timber door and with 4 tall Ionic columns with attic above, separating 3 large windows. Decorated wallhead panel above. To N, slightly advanced central 5-bay section with swagged wallhead panel.
Multi-pane round-arched timber windows to ground with fanlight glazing pattern. Predominantly 12-pane timber sash and case windows to upper floors. Some plate glass to shop fronts. No 17, former tobacconists, with round-arched timber mouldings. Grey slate. Mansard roof.
INTERIOR: comprehensively altered (2006), see Notes.
Statement of Special Interest
One of the early classical buildings to be built on Union Street this large and impressive building was designed by the renowned local architect Archibald Simpson and is situated at a particularly important junction in the city. Its Ionic columned elevation provides a dominant terminating vista to the West of the Castlegate. The grand Ionic columns on the East elevation originally indicated the position of the former library. The simple classical style is typical of granite buildings of this period before sophisticated cutting techniques were developed. Planned as the major thoroughfare in an increasingly wealthy and confident city, Union Street was a bold and confident project which required major engineering to complete.
The 3-bay section to the West (nos 17-21) was the first to be built in 1819, followed by the rest in 1822.
Originally called Union Buildings, and then The Athenaeum, the Eastern section of the building was known for its large and sumptuously decorated Reading Room, positioned behind the Ionic columns. Converted into 'Jimmy Hay's' restaurant in 1888, it remained as such until a fire gutted the building in 1973. The building was restored in 1979-80.
Union Street developed after 1794, when a town council meeting asked the engineer Charles Abercrombie to find a way to connect the original steep, muddled Medieval streets of Aberdeen to the surrounding countryside. His plan was for two streets, one of which would run from Castlegate to the Denburn and the other which would run from the Castlegate to the North of the town. The former became Union Street. This was a particularly difficult project to complete as the street had to cut through St Katherine's Hill at the East end and be built on a series of arches culminating with a large bridge at the Denburn. The street was to be lined with classical buildings, but the initial idea of having a long, uniform classical design that each new house would have to conform to was abandoned, as it was realised that different purchasers would require some control over the design Some variety was therefore conceded to. This variety had, however, to conform to the 'uniformity and regularity of the street' and that between each crossroads, the houses had to be the same height, the same number of storeys (4) and have the same pitch of roof.
Archibald Simpson (1790-1847), along with John Smith, was one of the major architects involved in designing the expanding nineteenth century city of Aberdeen. A native of Aberdeen, he practised predominately with the North East of Scotland. He designed many of the important works in the city including St Andrews Cathedral, The Music Hall and 29 King Street (see separate listings).
Part of B Group with Nos 5-53, 67-89, 95-139, 143-153 (odd nos) Union Street, Nos 26-42, 46-62, 78-106, 114-144 (even nos) Union Street and St Nicholas Churchyard.
Previous list description used references: Chapman and Riley p 148. G.M.Fraser, Archibald Simpson and his Times. Elevation dated 26th January 1822 and plan for E. part of building (undated). Aberdeen Public Library.
Category changed from A to B, 2007.