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An Architectural Tour of St Andrews

Join me as I wander (or run, squinting) through rainy St Andrews and travel back to the 12th century right here on the east coast of Scotland. Right now, the north-easterly sea breeze is chilling my hands and some ocean spray is dotting my cheeks as I look at some oddly shaped rock formations. If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m standing by the St Andrews castle ruins. In fact, practically none of the original, 1100s castle remains, but what we do have is Bishop Trail’s 1400 building. It then served as his place of residence to which he welcomed many guests before it became a prison, the site of multiple attacks, a mine site, and inevitably, the ruins before us today.

I’ll make a short walk away from the fence looking over Castle Sands now to the cathedral. Made of sandstone as part of first-generation gothic architecture by 1318, the cathedral shows off both transition and first pointed styles, or so the internet and an art history friend tells me. Acting as the church of the priory of Canons Regular of St. Augustine, much of the cathedral’s foundational walls, and even a few windows, still survive. By 1649, so many stones had been taken from it for use in buildings throughout town that the cathedral, like the castle, turned into ruins. Let’s continue on, battling the wind and rain with the knowledge that shelter, in the form of the arches surrounding St Salvator’s quadrangle, is only a quick jog away. Finally, after a few fights with my umbrella, I make a right into Sally’s quad and take in the late Scottish-gothic architecture of the chapel. Made of rubble masonry with a now wood and slate roof, the tower portion of St Salvator’s chapel is, perhaps, the most memorable piece of design that the town offers and one of the few structures that boasts the same degree of attractiveness inside as it does outside (if you know you know).

St Andrews is also home to brutalist architecture, in the form of Andrew Melville Hall. Built in 1967 following designs from architect James Sterling, Andrew Melville hall’s concrete, geometric and modular exterior provides a sort of segue from the more historic constructions of the scores into the much more contemporary David Russell Apartments, just down the road. In their article titled “What Your Halls Say About You”(St Andrews edition), the Tab not-so-lovingly, if painfully accurately, refers to the aesthetics of Andrew Melville as a “1960s eyesore.” I’ll admit, standing under the grey sky a few yards back from the building, there’s not much diversity to catch the eye, especially coming from the history-ridden, rich array of detail back in town. However, stand further back, or better yet look up a drone picture of the buildings, and you too will start to believe that they look like two passing ships, per the architect’s intention.

Speaking of DRA, I’ll make my way past Madras College now, if you’ve been lucky enough not to have had to make the trek to DRA and back this year, the construction has finished and the clean, window-abundant, modern design of a new Madras College can be seen. While it looks nice, I can’t say it was a welcome change to stride into the approximately 150 uninformed individuals walking ten abreast the path to my final location...not my favorite three minutes but certainly my most horror-struck.

But, as I pass the Dover building, that view disappears, and to my right, left, north, south—you name it— the monotonous, white and brown buildings overwhelm my vision. The clouds are clearing slightly now to reveal a purple-pink beginning of sunset despite my phone telling me it’s 4:05, but this area feels rather tranquil. Maybe my heart rate is returning to normal after some college boy told me my shoelaces were untied, and I fell headfirst into his trick by gullibly looking down to find I was wearing vans...that didn’t even have shoelaces, or perhaps it’s the intentional abundance of greenery and life surrounding David Russell Apartments that adds warmth to the more modern design and allows one to take a breath and soak up some stillness. Redone in 2006, DRA is clean, updated and surrounded by ecosystems, all of which are in keeping with its location 20 minutes outside of the gothic town.

Such an amalgamation of architectural design seems to reflect the long history of St Andrews, but also serves to let us know that the town does not shy away from change and progression. These structures, both connected to the university and entirely independent from it, are what allow this small town to burst with character and charm as well as a twinge of updated, more modern attitude. Surely even the completely inexperienced architectural observer, such as myself, can see the beauty that surrounds us really anywhere we go in St Andrews.

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