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Dissertation Medal Winner 1999

The Sacred and Aesthetic Principles of Alexander 'Greek' Thomson's Architecture

Part 1 Dissertation 1999
Edward J. Taylor
Mackintosh School of Architecture Glasgow UK
Widespread recognition of Alexander "Greek" Thomson's world-class contribution to architecture is at last helping to safe-guard the remaining works for the appreciation of future generations. Thomson was indisputably one of the towering intellects and visionaries of the nineteenth century, and yet little has been written on the theoretical underpinnings of his work.

Thomson's work is readily acknowledged as stylistically anomalous in appraisals of nineteenth century architecture but as this dissertation hopes to demonstrate, Thomson also stands out with the more widely and fashionably held nineteenth century philosophies of art and architecture, adhering instead to theories held only by a very few others in his day. Thomson's powerful, assimilative Presbyterian faith enabled him to view other ancient cultures such as the Greeks as being essential forerunners to Christianity. He saw a divine archetype common in the most perfect edifices of the past.

The primary sources for this dissertation have been the transcriptions available of lectures delivered by Thomson as well as study of the surviving work- particularly St Vincent Street Church, the greatest of his extant buildings that is still functioning. In addition considerable effort has been made to uncover relevant though often obscure writing of the nineteenth century, as well as exploring the realms of sacred geometry and numerology, biblical architecture- from Noah's Ark to the New Jerusalem- as well as other ancient sources upon which Thomson's genius may have fed.

Thomson's artistic grail was the key which would enable modern works to possess the same power and originality as the ancient works and thus to transcend temporal trivialities. It is in this intellectual and spiritual quest and in Thomson's evident success in realising the fruits of his enquiry that his deeply held theories on architecture have made such a rewarding and relevant subject for a dissertation.



Edward J. Taylor


I consider this dissertation a first class piece of work which is a genuine contribution to knowledge and to our understanding of the mind of 'Greek' Thomson. It combines serious historical research with a subtle architectural understanding informed by an interest in proportional systems. This dissertation was awarded a distinction by our External Examiner, Margaret Richardson, Curator of the Soane Museum. I have the highest regard for this student, who is as interested in sculpture as he is in architecture. I should add that Mr Taylor, together with a friend, won this years Alexander Thomson Travelling Studentship competition, now administered by the Glasgow Institute of Architects, the suject being a monument to go on the unmarked grave of Thomson in the Southern Necropolis.
Gavin Stamp

1999
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