Was Stirling accommodation designed by a Swedish prison architect?

4 mins read

While students at St. Andrews try not to step on the ‘PH’ embossed in cobbles on North Street, and philosophy students at Edinburgh touch the toe of the statue of David Hume as they walk up the Royal Mile, students at Stirling don’t have many campus legends or stories to have fun with.

There is, however, one strange story that students have been telling each other for a while now.

You know how all the old accommodation on campus looks blocky and cold? Well, that’s because it was all designed by a Swedish prison architect.

As with most urban legends, it’s almost impossible to find out where this story began. The idea of a prison architect designing university accommodation isn’t exclusive to Stirling, but the addition of the ‘Swedish’ detail appears to be.

Searching for the phrase “Swedish prison architect” on Google brings up a 2011 thread from the Straight Dope message board, where user Cinnamon Imp references the legend and its link to Stirling. No other universities are quite as specific about the nationality.

Does this mean the story is true? Brig decided to investigate.

Stirling campus was originally designed by the practice Robert Matthew Johnston-Marshall, or RMJM. Relatively small at the time, RMJM now describes itself on its website as “one of the largest and most geographically diverse architecture firms in the world”. Architects from the firm were behind the new Scottish Parliament, the Falkirk Wheel, and the extraordinary Capital Gate in Abu Dhabi, which is listed as “the world’s furthest leaning man-made tower” in the Guinness Book of World Records.

According to the Twentieth Century Society, the design of Stirling University campus was overseen by John Richards, who also designed the Royal Commonwealth Pool in Edinburgh.

RMJM’s Paulo Guimarães told Brig that the original campus buildings were designed throughout the 1960’s before being completed in 1971, and they received a Concrete Society Award Commendation – a fact that may surprise those who think they resemble a Swedish prison.

Aerial photographs of the RMJM-designed original campus appear to show Andrew Stewart Hall, H.H. Donnelly House, Fraser of Allander House, Muirhead House and Polwarth House. The rest of the accommodation visible in the photograph, which you can find at the top of the page, has since been demolished.

Guimarães told Brig that he searched for “a Swedish name and reference to Sweden in our database dedicated to the Stirling projects”, but could not find anything relevant. There don’t seem to be any links between the architects who worked on Stirling campus during the 1960’s and Swedish prisons.

So, it appears that this story is simply an urban myth. However, while a direct link can be disproved pretty easily, there’s no record of where Stirling’s accommodation architects got their inspiration from. And the cells in Kumlaanstalten, the largest prison in Sweden, do look a little familiar

Featured Image Credit: RMJM Architecture and Masterplanning

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