Buchanan Street

Glasgow City Centre
Glasgow, Scotland, UK

Submitted by: Niall Murphy

Scotland's principal shopping street, and the heart of Glasgow.

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Why It Works

With its richly ornamented Victorian and Edwardian commercial buildings as a backdrop, Buchanan Street is Glasgow’s grandest promenade and the true heart of the city. Along its length it contains numerous shops, two arcades, two major shopping centers, a museum and library, and a design centre. The entrance to the city’s main concert hall both terminates the street’s axis and helps turn the corner into Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow other main shopping artery. The street is pedestrianized and attracts numerous visitors. There are several intersecting routes and public spaces, which offer a variety of activities. There are regular displays of street theatre and a monthly farmers market. In 2003 it was voted Scotland’s favorite street in a BBC / CABE poll. In summer 2004 it was awarded a Congress for New Urbanism award for excellence.

What Makes Buchanan Street a Great Place?

Buchanan Street has been Glasgow’s premier street for the past two centuries and is an integral part of the fabric of Glasgow’s historic city centre. It sits at the junction between the Merchants City and Glasgow’s Victorian commercial heart. Two stations on the city’s underground network sit at either end of the street, whilst the city’s two main rail termini are within 5 minutes walk. The River Clyde lies at the southern end of the street.

Buchanan Street was first pedestrianized in 1978. The present day appearance of its public realm is the result of an international competition held in 1997. This was won by a team lead by the British leading design and landscaping practice Gillespies. It is a design of radical simplicity, which emphasizes the identity of the street by removing clutter and revealing the richness and elegance of its architecture. Lighting is integral to the success of the design and unusually the street has been demarked by blue tones. The street has been cited by the authors of the "Good Place Guide" as one of Britain's 10 best places.

The area is popular with both locals and tourists, but it is overwhelmingly a retail street. In retail terms it attracts well in excess of 30 million visits a year. As such it is an integral part of the largest UK retail centre outside the west end of London. Glasgow was once the most densely populated city in northern Europe. It had a large city centre population. Economic depression, comprehensive redevelopment, rigid mortgage lending practices, and the flight to the suburbs from the 1950’s onwards have done much to reverse this. However as part of the drive to regenerate the city centre, Glasgow City Council is promoting the conversion to residential use of disused space in the upper floors of many of the commercial buildings lining the street.

Glaswegians are renowned for their friendliness and sense of humor. Buchanan Street epitomizes this and is a very social place. It is the city's main promenade where people meet up to shop or socialize. The ratio of locals to tourists is well balanced.

History & Background

The streets origins date back to the late 1770’s when Andrew Buchanan, one of Glasgow’s Tobacco merchants, set it out. From the mid 19th century to the start of the First World War, Glasgow was one of the world’s most technologically advanced cities. As the world centre for shipbuilding during this period, it occupied a pivotal role in Victorian Britain. Such was its wealth and economic power that it was commonly referred to as the Second City of the Empire. The architecture of its principal commercial street is a reflection of its then citizen’s wealth and self-confidence. Prominent use is made of architectural sculpture to reveal buildings’ purpose and function. Several of the street’s buildings also demonstrate the shared École des Beaux Arts architectural heritage of Glasgow, New York, and Chicago.

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