Global Influence

Many of the architects and engineers of the north east of Scotland were at the forefront of their fields and have been influential on a global scale. Below are a select few of these pioneers who have made significant contributions to world architecture and design. 


Audsley & Audsley Richard Henry Brunton  Colen Campbell Sir (John) Ninian Comper Sir Patrick Geddes James Gibbs William Hay Peter Kerr Robert Kerr James Avon Smith


Audsley & Audsley

William James Audsley

B. 1833, Elgin. D. 1910, New York.

George Ashdown Audsley

B. 1838, Elgin. D. 1925, New Jersey.

Architects, designers, artists and authors, the Elgin-born Audsley brothers both began their varied careers under renowned Moray architects A. & W. Reid. Having moved to the Liverpool area, they went into practice together in 1863 designing numerous buildings in and around the city, including the YMCA at Mount Pleasant and a Synagogue on Princes Road. During this period they also began writing and publishing books on architecture and design, many of which contained chromolithograph plates – pioneering for the time. In 1881, they opened an office in London, and their work included churches and public buildings.

Considered to be leading lights of the ornamentalist style, in 1868 they published “Cottage, Lodge and Villa Architecture”, followed in 1881 by “Outlines of Ornament in the Leading Styles”. This latter work led them to visit New York, where a second edition was published in 1882, which resulted in their first American commission, a gallery for Milwaukee art collector Frederick Layton. The brothers subsequently relocated to New York, with an early commission being the sixteen-storey Bowling Green Building at 3-11 Broadway (1895). They are best known by many, however, for their designs of concert organs; latterly, George was to dedicate himself solely to their design and building, his most famous being the Wanamaker Organ in Philadelphia.


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Richard Henry Brunton

B. 1841, Muchalls. D. 1901, London.

Known as the “Father of Japanese lighthouses”, Muchalls-born Brunton designed and built 26 western-style lighthouses across Japan over a 7-year period from 1868. He surveyed and mapped Yokohama and its infrastructure, advised on earthquake-proof design for bridges and buildings, and went on to help found Japan’s first school of civil engineering. Brunton began his training and career in Aberdeen, under John Willet, employed in the construction of the Denburn Valley and Deeside railways. In 1864, he continued in the field of railway engineering in London, and is thought to have worked under the “lighthouse” Stevensons. It was they who recommended him to the Japanese government. He returned to the UK in 1876, first to Glasgow and then to London where he co-founded a business manufacturing architectural plasterwork; he also continued to practice as an architect and engineer.


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Colen Campbell

B. 1676, Brodie Castle. D. 1729, London

Although he began his working life as a lawyer, switching interest to the field of architecture in the early 18th Century, Colen Campbell is considered by many to have played a key role in the growth in popularity of Palladian architecture in England. This pioneering architect and writer was born and brought up at Brodie Castle, and became one of the most sought after architects of his period for his designs of country houses for the nobility, such as Stourhead and Burlington House. He was also appointed Architect to the Prince of Wales in 1719; he was not called upon by the Prince to produce any designs, however the position exposed him to a new audience of wealthy clients in the court. A great rival of fellow Scots architect James Gibbs, Campbell is similarly famed for his architectural publication “Vitruvius Britannicus” (the British Architect), a guide to architecture published in three volumes between 1715 and 1725 which soon became an essential reference for architects and craftsmen. Campbell died in London in 1729, and is buried at Westminster Abbey.


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Sir (John) Ninian Comper

B. 1864, Aberdeen. D. 1960, London.

Considered by many to be the foremost church designer of the 20th Century, Aberdeen-born Ninian Comper was a highly skilled architect and stained glass designer who focussed almost exclusively on ecclesiastical projects in England and Scotland (with the exception of Welsh National War Memorial, Cardiff), yet many have never heard of him. Comper began his schooling in Aberdeen, but his first design training was in the London studio of Charles Eamer Kempe at the age of 18; he later moved on to Bodley & Garner in London, during which time he also continued his studies at South Kensington and the Ruskin School of Art, Oxford. Comper went into partnership with William Bucknall in 1888. The practice embraced a whole-design approach which saw not only architectural work for the built structure but also the design of internal components such as furnishings, stained glass and fabrics. A great exponent of the Gothic Revival style, his works included several stained glass windows in Westminster Abbey, St Margaret’s Episcopal Church, Braemar (chapel, glass, rood screen), St Margaret's Convent Chapel, Aberdeen, and Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Boston (USA). He is noted for his ornate altar screens, inspired by the medieval period, as can be seen at St Margaret’s, Braemar, as well as being credited with the reintroduction of the English Altar. He died in London, and is buried in Westminster Abbey.


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Sir Patrick Geddes

B. 1854, Ballater. D. 1932, Montpellier.

Born in Ballater, Patrick Geddes could be described as something of a Renaissance Man – an innovative thinker, he was a noted biologist, sociologist, geographer and philanthropist but is perhaps best known to modern audiences as a forward thinking town planner. He sought to improve environmental and living conditions by understanding the relationship of people in their natural, built and social environments. In order to achieve this, in the mid-19th Century he and his family moved into a slum area of Edinburgh. He was able to engage and inspire the residents to improve their own surroundings and living conditions. In the late 19th Century, he designed an exhibition, the “Cities Exhibition”, to illustrate his theories on town planning and toured the exhibition to Edinburgh, London, Dublin, Belfast and Ghent. Geddes’ ideas were sought at an international level - he advised on the re-planning of towns in India in the early 20th Century, and in 1919 was invited to suggest improvements for the city of Jerusalem.  He spent his later years in the South of France, where in 1924 he founded the Collège des Écossais (Scots College) in Montpellier. Geddes’ influence can still be seen today, and the Geddes Institute for Urban Research at the University of Dundee continues to research a Geddesian approach to urban planning.


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James Gibbs

B. 1682, Aberdeen. D. 1754, London.

Aberdeen-born James Gibbs is considered to be one of Britain’s most influential architects. He studied at the University of Aberdeen, and in Rome as a pupil of the renowned Italian architect Carlo Fontana. On his return to London in 1709, his newfound knowledge of the Baroque-style was met by an audience whose tastes were changing as the Palladian style gained precedence. He received a commission for the building of 50 churches, with the support of his mentor Christopher Wren, but a change in regime saw him removed from his post (his religion and political views proving an obstacle). However, he did receive a number of commissions from the nobility for stately homes and tomb monuments. Amongst his works are the churches of St-Mary-le-Strand and St Martin-in-the-Fields in London, the Radcliffe Library in Oxford and New Building, King’s College, Cambridge. In 1728, Gibbs published “A Book of Architecture”, an architectural guide used by generations of craftsmen and architects. Through this work, Gibbs became one of Britain’s most influential architects of the 18th Century.


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William Hay

B. 1818, Peterhead. D. 1888, Portobello.

William Hay began his career as a joiner, but, after an accident, was encouraged by his doctor to study architecture. This he did to great effect, with his first project being St James Episcopal Church, Cruden Bay, in 1842. He continued his studies in Edinburgh, under John Henderson, before moving to London in 1846 to study under renowned architect George Gilbert Scott. Under Scott, he was tasked with overseeing the building of St John’s Cathedral in Newfoundland, Canada (1847-50), at the same time amending designs (at the behest of Bishop Reid) for the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Hamilton, Bermuda.

On his return to the UK, Hay continued to work in the Peterhead area, before returning to Canada, settling in Toronto c.1853. During his time in Canada, he designed various ecclesiastical, commercial, public and institutional buildings, as well as serving as Vice-President of the Mechanics Institute and Secretary of the Association of Architects Civil Engineers and Provincial Surveyors of Canada. In 1864, Hay returned to Scotland, working in both the Edinburgh and Peterhead areas designing ecclesiastical, commercial, public and institutional buildings in both regions, including the restoration of the iconic St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh.

Amongst Hay’s last, and possibly most famous, works were a replacement for the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Hamilton, Bermuda, the first having been destroyed by fire in 1884, and a new Government House, also in Hamilton. Hay died in his home in Portobello in 1888.


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Peter Kerr

B. 1820, Aberdeen. D. 1912, South Melbourne, Australia.

Beginning his studies under Archibald Simpson at the age of 14, Peter Kerr is little known is his home town but is considered to have designed some of the finest classical public buildings in Australia during his time working in Melbourne. After his time with Simpson, Kerr moved to England to further his studies culminating in assisting Sir Charles Barry with works at the Palace of Westminster during which time he encountered Augustus Pugin whose influence can be seen in the Gothic Revival style that Kerr favoured.

Kerr emigrated to Melbourne in 1852, where he worked with the firm of Kemp & Knight; he was made a partner in 1855 after Kemp’s death, the firm being renamed Knight & Kerr. During his career he was responsible for various government and public buildings in Melbourne, and was principal designer of the Parliament House of Victoria in Melbourne (1858-59). Between 1866 and 1892 Kerr served in the Public Works Department as an architect, taking charge of the principal Metropolitan Buildings. Kerr was also a founding member of the Victorian Institute of Architects, and was made an honorary fellow when it received its Royal Charter in 1889.    


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Robert Kerr

B. 1823, Aberdeen. D. 1904, London.

Aberdeen-born Robert Kerr first trained under fellow Aberdeen architect John Smith before emigrating to New York, where he set up in practice. On his return to the UK in 1844, he set up practice in London, and began writing the first of his architectural treatise. In 1847, with fellow architect Charles Gray, Kerr founded the Architectural Association (AA), becoming its first President. Offering an alternative education to architects through student training rather than the traditional practice of being articled to an established architect, the AA was revolutionary in its approach. Throughout his career, which focussed on designing country houses, Kerr was a prolific writer and lecturer on architecture, and in 1861 was appointed Professor of the Arts of Construction at King's College. Kerr also acted as District Surveyor of St James between 1862 and 1902. He contributed numerous articles to "The Builder" and the "Transactions of the RIBA", and his own publications include “The Gentleman’s House” (1864) and “'The Consulting Architect: Practical Notes on Administrative Difficulties” (1886).


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James Avon Smith, R.C.A.

B. 1832, Macduff. D. 1918, Toronto.

Originally from the Macduff area, James Avon Smith emigrated to Canada c.1851 and went on to become one of Toronto’s most prominent architects as well as helping to found the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. It is not known if he began his training in Scotland, but on his arrival in Toronto he became an apprentice to architect William Thomas, before setting up in practice from around 1858 – briefly in partnership with John Bailey, then on his own and later with John Gemmel.

Smith was prolific throughout his career, responsible for more than 90 churches across Toronto and the Province of Ontario, including the Church of the Redeemer and St. James' Square Presbyterian Church, along with commercial, industrial, residential and institutional buildings, including the old Knox College in Toronto. As well as being a co-founder of the Royal Canadian Academy, he acted as its secretary-treasurer for many years, and was a leading light in the Ontario Society of Artists.



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