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Treasure 42: Marischal College Ground floor Architectural Plan by Archibald Simpson
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Treasure 42: Marischal College Ground floor Architectural Plan by Archibald Simpson

Historic Documents
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Treasure 42: Marischal College Ground floor Architectural Plan by Archibald Simpson
Historic Documents
Treasure 42: Marischal College Ground floor Architectural Plan by Archibald Simpson
The highly-respected architect Archibald Simpson (1790 - 1847) designed many of our city's well-known landmarks and, along with architect John Smith (1781-1852), is widely regarded as transforming Aberdeen into the Granite City in the 19th Century.

At Aberdeen City Libraries, we hold a collection of Archibald Simpson's architectural plans. Many of the originals were destroyed by a fire in his house in 1826 but the copies we hold demonstrate his initial thoughts and first sketches of some of Aberdeen's most famous buildings.

An architectural plan is usually a drawing or a sketch used by an architect to develop a design idea. The document also includes a scale and precise measurements.

Marischal College, as it stands today, was designed by Simpson in the 19th Century and this image shows a floor plan he drew when working on the project in the 1820s.

The plan depicts the ground floor which occupied three sides of a courtyard opening towards Broad Street. The building proposed by Archibald Simpson formed a U-shaped quadrangle with symmetrical rooms. The exterior granite façade, the second largest granite faced construction in the world and enclosing the quadrangle, was built by Alexander Marshall Mackenzie between 1893 and 1905 which is why it is not represented on the plan. Originally, the entrance to the courtyard was by Guild's College gateway.

Tiny lines were drawn to represent the walls between each room and the often curving stairways can be clearly seen. The rooms dedicated to classes of divinity, mathematics, moral philosophy or Greek and Latin were constructed like semi-circular amphitheatres. To the top of the plan, we can see classrooms connected by the science department, including the Anatomical Museum and Dissecting Rooms.

The building contained sixteen classrooms in addition to lodgings for porters and sacrists, the museum, the chemical laboratory and rooms for the professors. Other sources from the period suggest that the public hall, the museum and the library were spacious and magnificent rooms.

The small entrance via an archway, called 'Vestibule' on the plan, is represented at the courtyard side of the building. It is surrounded by two octagonal towers. A grand staircase, contained in the tower, rose to a height of nearly 100 feet.

The architect added the measurements for each room. As suggested by the scale, the unit of measurement is the foot. More information is given by the city librarian G. M Fraser in his 1918 study into Aberdeen's architecture:

"A centre building, 150 feet long, 50 feet wide, 60 feet high. 450,000 cubic feet at 6d: £11,250

Two side buildings, each 80 feet by 40, and 40 feet high. 128,000 cubic feet at 6d: 6,400

Medical class-rooms at end of garden: 1,500

Allowance for porticoes: 2,000



[From G. M. Fraser. Archibald Simpson, Architect and his times. A study in the making of Aberdeen. Published in the Aberdeen Weekly Journal between April and October 1918]

Architectural plans are a fascinating insight into days gone by. Although at first glance appearing fairly basic, on closer inspection the plan allows us to view one of the Granite City's best loved landmarks through the eyes of the students learning in amphitheatre-style lecture rooms, anatomical museums and dissecting rooms in 19th Century Aberdeen.
Architectural plan
Aberdeen Local Studies
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