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17-29 St Vincent Place
Glasgow, Scotland
associated engineer
Albert Richard Brown
Thomas Aitken
John Strain
date  1906
era  Modern  |  category  Workplace  |  reference  NS591655
A 1906 office block, built for the Scottish Provident Institution in a style described as French Second Empire Rennaissance, that housed the offices of three Scottish engineers who were pioneers of epoch-changing technologies in the 20th century.
National and international technical standards, long-distance motorways and the industrialisation of the Far East were all influenced by them.
In the early 1900s Glasgow was described as the "second city of the British Empire" after London. Its importance was based on its significance as a commercial and engineering centre. Here the requirements for the heavy engineering of the Empire were converted from concepts to finished goods. To make this possible, Glasgow had the highest concentration of Consulting Engineers outside London.
The centre of the city's commercial district was St. Vincent Street. It was envisaged that horse-drawn vehicles from outside the city would wait in a short widened stretch that runs two city blocks — St. Vincent Place.
Here were the headquarters of companies associated with one of Scotland's most formidable engineering entrepreneurs, John Strain (1845-1931), during the second phase of his career, centred on the Lanarkshire Steel Company (Flemington, Motherwell). His enduring heritage was the British Standards movement and the subsequent development of the International Standards Organisation.
Here also was the office of the Aitken Taroads Syndicate, one of the diverse company interests of Thomas Aitken, whose knowledge of road construction was a big influence on pioneering US motor-road building before World War I, which in turn initiated large-scale world-wide motorway building during the rest of the century.
Perhaps the most significant engineer at this address was Albert Richard Brown. He was one of the pioneering Europeans, acting as an intermediary and guide for the industrialisation of Japan.
He began working in Japan under Henry Brunton from 1868 — the same time as lighthouses were being installed by the Stevenson family — and was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun after an audience with the Emperor in 1889.
In the 1890s, Brown supervised the construction of Japanese ships on the Clyde, notably by the Denny firm in Dumbarton. He was the Consul for Japan in Glasgow. His network included many of the main westernising champions in Japan — Thomas Glover, Henry Dyer and Admiral Togo.
Brown's influence was such that many Japanese parents chose to send their sons to be apprentices or students in Glasgow. He probably had more influence over the westernisation of industry in Japan, and thus of the whole Far East, than any other individual.
Architect: John More Dick Peddie (1853-1921), Edinburgh
Research: RM
"The Life & Times of the Illustrious Captain Brown: a chronicle of the sea and and Japan's emergence as a world power"
by Lewis Bush
Tuttle, Tokyo, 1969
"Architecture of Glasgow"
by Gomme, Andor and Walker
Lund Humphries, London, 1968

17-29 St Vincent Place