Marischal College is a large granite building on Broad Street in the centre of Aberdeen in north-east Scotland, and since 2011 has acted as the headquarters of Aberdeen City Council. However, the building was constructed for and is on long-term lease from the University of Aberdeen, which still uses parts of the building to house a museum. Today, it provides corporate office space and public access to council services, adjacent to the Town House, the city's historic seat of local government. Many Aberdonians consider Marischal College to be an icon of the "Granite City" and to symbolise the zenith of Aberdeen's granite-working industry.
|Architectural style||Gothic Revival architecture|
|Address||Broad Street, Aberdeen, AB10 1AB|
|Town or city||Aberdeen|
|Current tenants||Aberdeen City Council |
University of Aberdeen
|Client||Aberdeen City Council|
|Owner||University of Aberdeen|
|Landlord||University of Aberdeen|
|Floor area||188,400 sq ft (17,500 m2)|
|Design and construction|
|Architect||Archibald Simpson (1837–44)|
Robert Mathieson (1873)
W W Robertson (1888–89)
Alexander Marshall Mackenzie(1893–1906)
|Architect||Holmes Partnership (2009–2011)|
|Renovating firm||Safe Dem|
Sir Robert McAlpine
Laing Traditional Masonry
|Structural engineer||Arup Scotland|
|Services engineer||Wallace Whittle|
|Designated||12 January 1967|
The construction of the modern college building began in 1835, following the demolition of previous buildings on the site, and was completed in its present form in the early 1900s. It is the second largest granite building in the world. Formerly the seat of the Marischal College and University of Aberdeen founded in 1593, the building was retained by the unified University of Aberdeen which was created in 1860 by the merger of Marischal College and King's College. The buildings of Marischal College continued to be used for academic purposes until the mid-20th century and less and less until the early 2000s. During this period they were frequently rebuilt and expanded upon.
In the mid-to-late 20th century, teaching and academic activities at the university began to move to King's College or Foresterhill (for students of medicine) and by the early 21st century a new purpose for Marischal College was required. After a number of unsuccessful proposals, the majority of the building was leased to Aberdeen City Council to be restored and refurbished as office accommodation. The extensive renovation was completed on schedule and significantly under budget and the building opened to the public in June 2011. The university has retained the Mitchell Hall and a number of other significant parts of the building for its own use, in addition to the Marischal Museum.
Marischal College and University of Aberdeen was the formal name of the former university which occupied the present Marischal College site. The College was founded in 1593 by George Keith, 5th Earl Marischal of Scotland. The original charter of the university was lost by the early 18th century, but two near-contemporary copies exist – one of which was accepted by the courts in 1756 as being authentic. In this charter, Marischal College is described variously as a gymnasium, collegium (college), academia (academy) and universitas (university).
Marischal was the second of Scotland's post-mediaeval 'civic universities', following the University of Edinburgh, created without Papal bull and with a more modern structure and a greater resemblance to the Protestant arts colleges of continental Europe. As such, both Edinburgh and Marischal came to be known as the 'Town Colleges' of their respective cities. The university was founded with the expressed aim of training clergy for the post-Reformation Kirk.
The College was constructed on the site of a medieval Franciscan Friary, disused after the Reformation. This building was later replaced by a William Adam designed building in the mid-18th century, however this, together with the Friary remains, were demolished entirely for the construction of the present building between 1835 and 1906. The college's Greek motto translates as "virtue is self-sufficient".
James Clerk Maxwell FRS, FRSE (1831-1879), described as "the most famous and influential professor Aberdeen has ever had" was appointed as Professor of Natural Philosophy in 1856 and continued in that post until the merger of Marischal College with Kings College.
The Mitchell Hall, where University of Aberdeen graduations previously took place, was built in the early 20th century. It is named for Dr Charles Mitchell, an alumnus of the university and a Tyneside shipbuilder. A large stained-glass window dominates the hall, executed by TR Spence of London and representing the university's history.
The building was commended by poet John Betjeman following a visit to Aberdeen in 1947:
There is an urban legend that Marischal College was Adolf Hitler's favourite building in the United Kingdom and that he would have liked to use it as a residence if the outcome of the Second World War had been different.
The following extract refers to this merger:
The building standing today, which replaced a number of older structures, was constructed between 1837 and 1844 by Aberdeen architect Archibald Simpson. This 1837 building formed a U-shaped quadrangle, with a small entrance via an archway amidst unrelated housing on the west side. The building was substantially extended between 1893 and 1905 by Alexander Marshall Mackenzie, and with its new "granite cage" front, enclosing the quadrangle, it became the second-largest granite building in the world (exceeded only by the Escorial Palace near Madrid).
For many years, much of the building was derelict as university departments had moved to King's College or Foresterhill years or decades before. Up to 2009, the only parts of the college building chiefly used by the university were the Mitchell Hall (for graduations, concerts and other events), the Marischal Museum, and the Anatomy department, which was used for 1st year medical students until March 2009. It was also home to the University's debating chamber.
In 2006 plans were announced for the renovation of the college as new administrative headquarters for the Council to replace the ageing St. Nicholas House across the street. The University leased the Marischal College site to Aberdeen City Council for 175 years in exchange for £4.7 million. Work began in 2009 and the newly refurbished Marischal College was opened in summer 2011. The derelict internal spaces were completely demolished and replaced with a new internal structure which matched exactly to the existing walls and windows. The renovations restored the granite exterior, ornamentation and detailing to their original glory, and provided new public space for citizens accessing council services and state-of-the-art offices for council workers. The Council Chamber and democratic processes continue to be located at the Town House next door. The university retained the north wing comprising the Mitchell Hall, debating chamber and associated rooms, although as of May 2012 these are not yet open for use. In Spring 2011, the city erected outside Marischal College a statue of King Robert the Bruce on horseback, holding up a charter. Outside the College there is a large modern fountain, known as the "dancing fountain" for its alternating patterns. The fountain was briefly shut in 2019 due to high levels of bromine, but has since been turned back on.
Amongst the buildings demolished to make way for the new frontage of Marischal College at the turn of the 20th century, was the Greyfriars collegiate church, built in 1532 and incorporated as part of the College in 1593. Following a dispute regarding the conservation of this church, a new church building was constructed within the Marischal College complex. It is incorporated into the College frontage, which includes the southern tower, notable for being surmounted with a spire.
Following a merger, this church was later to become known as Greyfriars John Knox Church. The building is currently unused and is being offered for sale by the Church of Scotland for commercial or residential use.