Sir James Black Building


Located to the south west of the Gilbert Scott Building, the James Black Building was designed by Scottish architect James Miller to house the departments of Physiology, Materia Medica (Pharmacology), and Forensic Medicine and Public Health. Formerly known as the West Medical Building, it was renamed in 2018 in honour of Pharmacologist and Nobel Laureate, Sir James Black. Built between 1903 and 1906, it was formally opened by the Prince and Princess of Wales on 23 April 1907.

The building, along with the The Kelvin Building, was funded through the quinquennial grant programme of the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland, which awarded £20,000 to each building. The remainder of the funding came from the University's Ninth Jubilee Appeal of 1901.

The James Black Building, as well as The Kelvin Building, was constructed of Giffnock sandstone to match the main buildings and roofed with blue Westmoreland slates. Internally, the fittings were made of high-quality exotic timbers, such as Kauri pine from New Zealand, teak and mahogany. A novel feature of both buildings was the 'Nuvacuumette' vacuum steam heating system supplied by Ashwell & Nesbit of Leicester. The company advertised that the benefits of the system were its controllability, efficiency, economy; and that 'rooms warmed by it do not become stuffy, the heat given off being mild and pleasant.'

Stylistically, the building is a free mixture of Baronial, Renaissance and Baroque details, drawing on motifs in the existing Gilmorehill buildings by George Gilbert Scott, John Oldrid Scott, and Sir John James Burnet. The influence of the Old College buildings can be seen in the strapwork pediments to the entrances and gateway to the Materia Medica Department. The main building maintained the tradition of subject 'silos' so that the three medical departments had their own separate entrances and there were no shared or connecting spaces within. The departments were originally divided so that Forensic Medicine occupied the top two floors, Materia Medica took up much of the first floor, and Physiology inhabited the remaining lion's share of the building - Physiology had the magnificent horseshoe-plan lecture theatre with the domed cupola at the extreme west of the building.

The building has undergone various alterations and additions particularly after the Second World War when the departments of Public Health and Forensic Medicine left the building. Most of the windows on the south side of the James Black Building were damaged during the Clydebank bombing raids of 13 March 1941. These were repaired at the end of 1946 by the firm of T. Harold Hughes and D.S.R. Waugh.

Jack Coia made an initial investigation into increasing the seating in the Physiology lecture theatre in 1948 and the addition of another storey to the histology laboratory in 1949, and he converted a brick animal house to a new human metabolism laboratory in 1953. In 1968, Keppie, Henderson & Partners were responsible for more thorough refurbishment and recasting of the building. During the 1980s the main lecture theatre was refurbished. The original east elevation survives, and is now one wall of the atrium for the Wolfson Link Building, designed by the Holmes Partnership and completed in 1996.

In 2009, the University authorised the refurbishment of the then vacant James Black Building Lecture Theatre to develop a research laboratory for the Faculty of Biomedical and Life Sciences and associated renovation of the lead roof covering and dome, which was carried out in partnership with Glasgow City Council (Development and Regeneration Services - Heritage and Design) and Bluestone Building Surveyors.


Sir James Black Building
University of Glasgow
1H Gilmorehill
Glasgow G12 8QQ
Record last updated: 23rd Nov 2018