History in Structure

1-108 Marischal Court, Aberdeen

A Category A Listed Building in Aberdeen, Aberdeen

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Latitude: 57.1487 / 57°8'55"N

Longitude: -2.09 / 2°5'23"W

OS Eastings: 394654

OS Northings: 806428

OS Grid: NJ946064

Mapcode National: GBR SDL.YG

Mapcode Global: WH9QQ.VLY2

Plus Code: 9C9V4WX6+F2

Entry Name: 1-108 Marischal Court, Aberdeen

Listing Name: 1-48 Virginia Court, 1-108 Marischal Court, Castlehill, Aberdeen excluding the internal areas within individual residential units

Listing Date: 18 January 2021

Last Amended: 22 February 2022

Category: A

Source: Historic Scotland

Source ID: 407291

Historic Scotland Designation Reference: LB52523

Building Class: Cultural

ID on this website: 200407291

Location: Aberdeen

County: Aberdeen

Town: Aberdeen

Electoral Ward: George St/Harbour

Traditional County: Aberdeenshire


19 and nine-storey modern Brutalist multi-storey 'slab' blocks of flats designed by Aberdeen City Architects Department, under the supervision of George McIntosh Keith (Chief Architect) 1959 (completed 1966) for the Aberdeen Housing Committee. The building contractor was the Aberdeen firm, W J Anderson. The buildings are oriented on a north-south and east-west axes and connected by a pair of enclosed glazed linking footbridges. They are in a built up inner urban area next to a ring road. Virginia Court contains 48 maisonette flats laid out on a crossover section: the flats are entered on the ground floor at either the bedroom or living area and cross up an over to the bedroom or living area providing a dual aspect on two levels. Marischal Court has 108 maisonette flats.

The buildings are constructed with a reinforced concrete frame and have smooth-finished precast concrete cladding panels and poured concrete tapered columns. The long slab elevations have shallow continuous fire-escape balconies. Marischal Court is terminated by single storey flats that also have escape balconies facing east. Facing panels have large aggregate granite faced finish at the end elevations have been painted over in light grey. There is a partially open undercroft with building facilities including laundry room, community room and substations which are set back from the building line at the ground floor.

The interiors of the common areas largely retain their 1960s layout with some original finishes, fixtures and fittings. Most of the windows, doors and fixtures and fittings to the exterior and interior have been replaced.

Historical development

These buildings were designed and built in a selected redevelopment area and were part of a comprehensive building programme that was initiated by the City of Aberdeen Housing Committee to re-house residents into modern, healthy homes throughout the city centre. This development, completed in 1966, is the third of a total of five inner city housing developments ranging in date from 1959 to 1978. The site was the location of a former 18th century infantry barracks which itself was built on the remains of a Cromwellian fort which is listed at category C (LB20604). Part of the bastion remains forms the lower boundary of the 1960s multi-storey housing development.

The post-Second World War improvement of Aberdeen City Centre city was inspired by the seminal planning tome 'Granite City A Plan for Aberdeen' of 1952 by W Dobson Chapman and Charles F Riley, two of the UK's most highly regarded architects and town planners. Their proposals, which broadly followed the prevalent thinking in the 1950s, was to recommend selective redevelopment (slum-clearance) in order to provide for public health, amenity and convenience which had been lacking in interwar housing schemes. In building terms their recommendations were for high density multi-storey blocks in the immediate periphery of the city centre and for neighbourhood units in outlying sub-urban areas (such as Kincorth and Kaimhill) with a mix of low- and high-rise housing and small scale commercial and public amenities such as shops and schools. Echoing contemporary planning theory of comprehensive redevelopment, their bias was towards flats as the most appropriate housing type, in contrast to 'monotonous' inadvertent urban sprawl.

Town planning was a relatively new discipline and after the upheaval of the Second World War, was of primary importance in driving housing and health reform forward. Soon after the establishment of the Town and County Planning Act of 1947, large cities and county councils across the UK embarked on the major reorganisation of their urban areas. They were committed to improving infrastructure and in providing housing which was integrated to well-planned commercial and industrial activity.

Comprehensive housing reform was first introduced after the First World War with the Housing and Town Planning (Addison) Act 1919 to provide decent housing for the working class and address inner city slums. This act marked a turn towards state-sponsored housing that was characterised by the development of planned council schemes and would dominate the housing supply in Scotland and the rest of the UK until the late 1970s. By the end of the Second World War, Scotland and other UK cities were embarking on unprecedented restructuring. In Scotland, the debate was centred on Glasgow and its overcrowding and sub-standard housing problem. Building within the city boundary or decanting the population to new settlements outside of the city into 'new towns' was the principle point of discussion. The type of housing to build, from cottages to 'four-in-a-block' flats, tenements to high rises, was also intensely deliberated.

While national housing policies and funding strategies were drawn up by central government, local authorities were responsible for deciding on the direction they would take to improve their housing stock. An important factor was the availability of land and how this affected housing density. With the rising cost of land as well as building materials, building high rises was an attractive alternative to low density housing schemes planned along earlier garden-city principles.

The establishment of new high-rise developments was largely aimed at re-housing people who had previously lived in sub-standard accommodation into modern healthy homes. Aberdeen's main housing problem after 1945, however, was not primarily its slums or its shortage of land, but rather a long waiting list for houses. Its ambitious plans for reconstruction was also not principally related to war-damage. Rather than an extensive slum clearance programme, the city of Aberdeen, which was identified by government officials as an area of potential economic growth, embarked on a highly ambitious plan of civic enhancement and regeneration. In this context, the inner-city multi-storey slab blocks planned from in the late 1950s to the late 1970s were unusual for their high-quality individual design by the city's own architects' department. They were exceptional for the period because they were not like the increasingly ubiquitous factory-made system-built schemes that were erected in all of Scotland's major urban centres, also including Aberdeen.

Statement of Interest

This multi-storey housing development meets the criteria of special architectural or historic interest for the following reasons:

• It is of significant architectural interest as an outstanding example in Scotland of the modernist New Brutalism style in multi-storey housing. The exceptional architectural design is represented externally by the monumental side wall frames, the massive concrete piers at ground level and overall sculptural concrete detailing. The cross-slab in situ concrete frame construction is further expressed in the arrangement of shallow balconies to the long elevations and the concrete panelled framing which is noticeable throughout the exterior of the building.

• The design is of special interest for its innovative use of the crossover plan arrangement of maisonettes not often applied to housing of this type in Scotland or the rest of the UK. This plan form was chosen to create a greater sense of space in a flatted dwelling and usefully provided cross-ventilation.

• The contextual and regional design element of large granite aggregate incorporated into concrete panels directly references the North-East vernacular and is unusual for modernist blocks of this type. This motif is uniquely applied in these buildings and the six other blocks which were built as part of a group of inner-city multis in Aberdeen. While the grain of the aggregate panelling is still visible, the intended effect of the granite facing has been affected by the later overpainting at Porthill Court and Seamount Court.

• The overall relative lack of alteration throughout the scheme has contributed to a high level of authenticity.

• The immediate setting of the blocks, which is largely unaltered was designed as a modernist set piece, within a contemporary hard landscaping scheme. The juxtaposition of the two slab blocks at right angles to each other and linked by footbridges add to the special interest of this architectural composition.

• As high as 19-storeys, the buildings are a prominent landmark to the east of the city centre and have been integrated visually into Aberdeen's inner-city road infrastructure which was also conceived in the mid-twentieth century. Virginia Court is aligned with Union Street as a terminating vista at the end of Castlegate.

• The building forms part of historic city-wide group of eight inner-city multi-storey housing developments (listed at category A) which were planned as part of the post-war regeneration of Aberdeen.

• The buildings are among a very small number of surviving multi-storey public housing schemes in Scotland that are of exceptional architectural interest and have survived largely unaltered. Within the group of eight buildings erected in Aberdeen the Castlehill scheme was the third built.

• This multi-storey housing scheme informs our understanding of the most architecturally ambitious and successful public housing programmes of the post-war period in Scotland, representing the huge changes which were taking place in town planning, housing and society in our towns and cities. The buildings are directly illustrative of a period on Scotland's modern history which was focused on the improvement of social welfare led by major state-sponsored commissions. Within this period, Aberdeen's town council and city architects are recognised as being innovators and amongst the leading providers of high-quality social housing in Scotland.

Architectural interest


The vision and skill of George McIntosh Keith (1907-1971), city architect from 1954 to 1970, combined with the financial expertise of the city's housing convener and treasurer, Councillor Robert Lennox (later Lord Provost), led to a well-conceived and well-supported programme of public housing across the city of Aberdeen in the post-war period. Keith and Lennox were fully committed to a major multi-storey drive which was directly inspired by their visits in 1959 to innovative multi-storey housing sites at Roehampton Alton Estate near London and at Hutchesontown in the Gorbals, Glasgow. It was highly unusual for a building programme of this scale to be produced almost exclusively by the local authority architects' department which continued in the same ambitious manner under the direction of Thomas Campbell Watson (1914-c.1994) from 1970 to 1975.

In this context, the inner-city multi-storey slab blocks planned from in the late 1950s to the late 1970s were unusual for their high-quality individual design by the city's own architects' department. The Castlehill scheme was the third of the five schemes built as part of this group multi-storeys. These buildings were exceptional for the period because they were not like the increasingly ubiquitous factory-made system-built schemes that were erected in all of Scotland's major urban centres, also including Aberdeen.

The result of this leadership in planning and architecture was a consistently high design quality across all the Aberdeen inner-city schemes which are very similar in plan, elevation and material. In their consistency and quality, these multi-storey buildings are among the most coherent and architecturally distinguished group of Brutalist flats in Scotland. The quality construction associated with the inner-city multi-storey blocks in Aberdeen are also due in part to the high standards used by the local contracting industry to the almost complete exclusion of national house building contractors.

The design of the Aberdeen inner-city blocks is an outstanding example of the modernist architecture of the period represented externally by the monumental side wall frames, the massive concrete piers at ground level and overall sculptural concrete detailing. This is further expressed by the cross-slab in situ concrete frame construction which is seen in the arrangement of shallow balconies to the long elevations and the concrete framing which is noticeable throughout the exterior of the building.

In addition to their structural expression, they are notable for their contextual design elements directly referencing the North-East vernacular by incorporating large granite aggregate into concrete panels, a device normally associated with smaller scale housing and uniquely applied in Aberdeen. In practical terms, the large aggregate, although a more expensive finish, would attempt to mitigate the effects of fierce weather and north-easterly winds which were a known challenge for buildings of this height in the city.

The Aberdeen multi-storey group of flats were clearly inspired by Le Corbusier's Unité d'Habitation slab blocks (from 1947) and his socialist ideal of 'cities in the sky' that set the standard for avant-garde architects who were designing multi-storeys building schemes in the following two decades in Scotland and the rest of the UK.

Internally, these multi-storey blocks also have innovative plan. More unusually applied in Scotland was the use of the crossover section plan of maisonette arrangement. Stemming directly from the Unité d'Habitation's 'internal street', it cleverly eliminated the need for the more common space-consuming external deck access plan, it allowed for more light penetration as well as ventilation and it provided a consistent design to the slab's long elevations. The crossover plan layout was a more expensive design but was promoted by the city architect to ensure that the flats felt like houses when experienced from the inside but also crucially, this higher specification plan form would allow better ventilation, an important consideration for multi-storey living.

The inventiveness of the arrangement of the blocks at the Castlehill scheme, is also found in its wider site plan. A combination of hard and soft landscaping, the buildings' orientation and the relationship with the sightlines and road network, as well as the archaeology and plan of the former Cromwellian fort, all considered the wider townscape. This careful attention to town planning and integration into the city is directly illustrative of the concepts of the Townscape movement which was prevalent during this period.

As well as the usual and essential amenities of rubbish shoots and storage areas, the Castlehill scheme has a well-appointed laundry room and a community room which also illustrates the design quality of the buildings.

The Castlehill scheme is remarkable not only for its avant-garde modernist architecture, but also for its relative lack of later alteration. There has been little change overall to the original design, plan form and materials except for wide scale uniform change to windows and doors leading to external balconies, some reglazing to the ground floor service areas. The exposed granite aggregate panels at Porthill Court and Seamount Court has been overpainted in grey which has affected the original character of the panelling. However, the overall relative lack of later alteration contributes to the authenticity of the blocks which retains their historic character on their own and within the wider townscape.


The Castlehill scheme is in an inner urban area and because of the buildings' height and location on rising high ground, the blocks are prominent both in their immediate and wider surroundings. The urban realm immediately surrounding the 1960s scheme is a visibly designed hard and soft landscaping with patterned footpaths and structured planting and playpark to the west.

The overall character is of a multi-period and mixed residential and commercial use urban streetscape ranging predominantly from the 18th and 19th centuries and punctuated by the Brutalist multi-storey blocks terminating the area of rising higher ground. These blocks literally tower over the site which itself is made more imposing by the lower southern boundary which is the remains of the substantial bastion of the Cromwellian fort dating to 1651-2.

Immediately to the north and east of the 1960s is the boundary of the Union Street conservation area which includes an unlisted terrace of early 20th century tenements (unlisted) and the late 19th century Salvation Army Citadel building (listed category B, LB19996).

These buildings were designed as a set piece, integrated into the wider inner-city plan and is now familiar landmark in Aberdeen, along with the other similar blocks, contributing to the city's wider urban character. Virginia Court is aligned with Union Street as a terminating vista at the end of Castlegate. As high as 19-storeys, they are a prominent landmark on the east of the city and have also been integrated visually into the road infrastructure of the city which was also conceived in the mid-twentieth century. The inner-ring road plays an important part in the setting and plan form of the buildings, especially in the arrangement of the blocks and in particular the car park which give is directly connected to the road.

These multi-storey blocks and associated shops and car park also have a distinct architectural identity as part of carefully planned series of building groups within the city centre. When siting the blocks, the architect-planners were conscious of their landmark status and the potential for dramatic effect within and outwith the townscape.

Historic interest

Age and rarity

Erected in their high hundreds (863 in total) in the years mainly between 1960 and 1980, multi-storey blocks of flats are a common building type in Scotland and are not rare. Architecturally innovative schemes were more expensive to build and fewer of these were erected with system-built, prefabricated structures predominating. Few multi-storey blocks of all types and quality now survive in close to their original form, with many having been demolished completely. There are now only a very small number of architecturally exceptional multi-storey buildings which survive which are not extensively altered.

The Castlehill scheme was erected as part of the earliest phase of the inner-city redevelopment of Aberdeen and with Gilcomstoun Land and Gallowgate are among the earliest Brutalist blocks of flats in Scotland planned as early as 1959. The Castlehill scheme was the third site to be built. Erected in the 1970s, Thistle Court, Hutcheon Court and Greig Court are slightly later but were built in a similar style and to the same plan and design as the earlier blocks – externally they differ in that they have larger granite aggregate applied to the concrete panels.

The first multi-storey public housing development erected in Aberdeen was at Ashgrove in 1959-61, a point block of ten storeys (40 flats). The block at Ashgrove is of standard design and forms part of a mixed-density (high and low rise) peripheral urban development. Earlier, innovation in modern public housing in the inner city was realised at Rosemount Square (1936-46 – listed category A) a courtyard development of Viennese-style modernist flats which anticipated the ambitious housing programme led by the City Architects' Department in the post-war period in Aberdeen.

Many of the first high rise buildings in Scotland being erected were provided by contractors in collaboration with local authority architects' departments, and some early experiments in Scotland include Crathie Court, Glasgow (1946, listed category B – LB51966) and Westfield Court, Edinburgh (1949). By the late 1950s, some of the more architecturally innovative schemes were by architects in private practice.

Around this time, the functionalist concepts of the early modernist period of imposed and comprehensive architectural order on society prevalent in the 1930s and '40s and typified by 'all-flats' schemes, was shifting towards socially inclusive architectural solutions and community planning, and by contrast was exemplified by the new mixed-development scheme. The garden city model was not favoured nor practical in urban areas, but neither was the model of high-flats only.

Le Corbusier's Unité d'Habitation (1947-52) at Marseille, France, is widely recognised as the initial inspiration to this change in philosophy and his large slab block of flats located in a parkland setting, which included shops, leisure and other social amenities as part of the development, was the architectural embodiment of a utopian concept of city living known as the ville radieuse or the vertical city. It proved enormously influential and is often cited as the initial inspiration of the Brutalist architectural style and philosophy, which at Marseille (and at the other Unité schemes found in France and elsewhere) applied a raw concrete aesthetic (béton brut) to maximise the possibilities of new materials and building technologies to achieve its theoretical aims.

Early adopters of the new thinking in Britain were found in London and other large cities such as the housing complexes at the Golden Lane Estate, 1953-63 (listed Grade II*), the Alton West Estate in Roehampton, London, (1955-8 – listed Grade II*) 5 long 10-storey slab blocks of maisonettes in a parkland setting, and Park Hill in Sheffield (1957-60 – listed Grade II*). Other expressions of the Unité concept include the Barbican Estate (completed 1963-1982 – listed Grade II), Balfron Tower (1965-7 – listed Grade II), and Trellick Tower (1968-73 – listed Grade II), all in London.

Scotland's cities also responded with ambitious schemes in Glasgow, Dundee and Aberdeen, mostly with a focus on the ever-pressing need for slum-clearance with the help of forward-thinking city planners, engineers and housing chiefs, such as Robert Bruce and David Gibson in Glasgow. The Gorbals area of Glasgow, a notorious slum in the south of the city, plagued by overcrowding, saw the erection of multi-storey housing by architects in private practice, including Basil Spence's renowned Hutchesontown C scheme (1961-6 – demolished) and Hutchesontown B in 1958 (altered) by Robert Matthew who was leading Scotland in social housing reform, establishing the Housing Research Unit at the University of Edinburgh in 1959. One of the most distinguished of the tower block schemes in Glasgow was Anniesland Court, Glasgow (1966 – listed category A, LB43034), itself a megastructure with integrated shops. Similarly, in Leith, Edinburgh, the ambitious Kirkgate redevelopment included the largest and among the most architecturally accomplished multi-storey blocks of flats at Cables Wind House (1963-5 – listed category A, LB52403) and Linksview House (1964-7 – listed category A, LB52403). As of 2020, there are four multi-storey public housing buildings listed outside of Aberdeen.

Alongside the listed Brutalist blocks at Anniesland and Leith, the contemporary group of eight inner-city multi-storey blocks in Aberdeen is among a small number of Scotland's high-rise schemes which exemplify the advanced national and international interest in modern community planning combined with the latest architectural expression of the 'New Brutalism' style. Of these few surviving innovative schemes, there are fewer remaining which are not largely altered.

Also particular to Aberdeen and unique in Scotland is that these blocks were part of a comprehensive development plan which envisioned eight buildings from the beginning. It was not possible to build all eight multi-storeys at the same time and building work was staggered to meet capacity. This resulted in building taking place over a period from 1959 to 1977, however the buildings are part of the same scheme and are clearly associated with each other in their design and materials. Their importance as a group tells us much about social and city planning changes in post-war Scotland.

Social historical interest

The interest and widespread acceptance of modern multi-storey housing can be traced to Scotland's long tradition of tenement living. With the advent of 'right to buy' policies and the transfer of public housing stock to private ownership in the early 1980s, Aberdeen's inner-city multi-storeys form part of a historic movement in social housing in which Scotland's local authorities took a leading role.

The Castlehill scheme and the group of contemporary inner-city multi-storeys represent a period of great social and economic regeneration in Scotland's cities in the post-war era and tell us about changes taking place in town planning and housing. This state-sponsored town planning that was conceived in the immediate post-war years and peaked in the late 1960s, was the climax of concerted and unprecedented campaign to transform housing tenure in Scotland. Incredibly, by 1964, 79% of new housing built in Scotland was built by local authorities and was by a long way the highest proportionally in Europe with the average local authority owned housing ranging from 2-6% in this period (M Glendinning, 2003: p.122).

Association with people or events of national importance

There is no association with a person or event of national importance.

Statutory address revised in February 2022. Previously listed as '1-48 Virginia Court, 1-108 Marischal Court, Castlehill, Aberdeen'.

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