City Square


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Anna: We’re approaching the Caird Hall. In its time it’s hosted The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Iron Maiden and currently has an annual Cat Show.

Kevy: The Dundee Cat Show is incredibly popular.

Anna: It does take a lot out of the city cleaning budget to get all the hair swept up. On the right hand side you’ll see a balcony. Again we see the markers of the nine trades.

Kevy: The design of the balcony was inspired by the balcony of the Palazzo Venezia, a Renaissance palace built in the 15th century by Pope Paul II. The balcony is famous for Mussolini addressing his Black Shirt followers with a declaration of war on Britain and France on June 10, 1940. It is 20% smaller than the one in Rome.

Kevy: Turn your back on the Caird Hall for a minute and look back at the building that rises from the top of the Overgate. This is City House, built in the 1960s as part of the old overgate, not the new 2001 Mall that is currently in Situ. This is one of my favourite buildings in Dundee, and one that is currently victim to a smear campaign that seeks to have it demolished. It has been described as being “monolithic” as if that’s a negative! City House is a fine example of Brutalist architecture, the style that flourished in the mid 20th century in Britain. A lot of people think that the term Brutalist is interchangeable with “brutal” as if the buildings were deliberately designed with ‘brutish’ intention. The term originates from the French word for “raw”, Le Corbusier described his choice of material as béton brut: raw concrete. British architectural critic and close friend of my grandfather, Reyner Banham adapted the term into “brutalism” – originally “New Brutalism” – to identify the emerging style. City House won a number of awards after its erection in 1963, most of which went to recognise the foresight of the then town planner Jim Travesty, who also masterminded the now demolished Tayside House, which was a forty story work of art on the Waterfront. Ignoring and destroying the rich heritage of the 1960s for the current trend for huge glass plated boxes will be seen in future generations as a terrible mistake.

Anna: Jim Travesty, sometimes Jimmy, was town planner from the 40s through to the 1980s, following in his father and grandfather’s footsteps, both named James and both holding the same post. A long line of Travestys have been at the very heart of how Dundee looks and feels now.

Kevy: City House is nicknamed “Colditz” locally, mainly due to the formation of the gridded windows that make it reminiscent of Colditz Castle in Leipzig, and that it’s very difficult to exit once inside due to a confusing internal layout.

Anna: In the middle decades of the 20th century, on a sunday in Dundee, everyone would get dressed up in their finest and spend a couple of hours in the afternoon walking from the Overgate down the Murraygate to the Wellgate and back again.

Kevy: “Gate” means to walk, of course, rather than a hinged entry to a space which is enclosed by walls or fences.

Anna: This was known as the ‘Monkey Parade’, it would be very busy, people would stop and socialise, catch up, chat. They would meet people, meet a boyfriend or a girlfriend, it was very romantic after a hard week working in the mills or factories. The H Samuel clock was the most common meeting point, you’d arrange to meet someone under the clock, and you’d pick a clock face for the time you’d meet them at. It was sometimes nicknamed Lonely Corner, as inevitably arrangements would be broken and you’d see the hopeful yet alone singletons, waiting, having been stood up, clinging on for a sweetheart who would never show, hoping that it was just a delayed tram.