The foundation stone of the University’s Tower Building was laid 60 years ago on the 28th April 1959. To commemorate the diamond anniversary of our 140 foot Tower, Caroline Brown, University Archivist, shares the story of its beginnings.

Campus before construction, circa 1950s.

When Mary Ann Baxter founded University College Dundee in 1881 she had already identified the site on which the College was to develop.

Four detached houses on Nethergate between Park Place and Small’s Wynd were acquired and a corridor constructed linking the properties. It was in these four buildings that the early University blossomed, where D’Arcy Thompson’s growing zoology collection jostled for space with Patrick Geddes’ botany specimens.

In the very early years, most classes were taught out of these buildings with the only additional space being the purpose-built Carnelley Chemistry Building, the converted Free Kirk of St John (where the Old Medical School building is today) and an adjacent shed which operated as an engineering laboratory.

The original four buildings.

Although nearly 140 years have passed and the campus has expanded and changed, the heart of the University has remained. Those four buildings survived little altered until the 1950s.

Plans had been mooted to shift the focus of the campus a little north and west, but this would have meant diluting the dominance of the south-facing Nethergate site.

Sir Thomas Malcolm Knox, then Principal of St Andrew’s (of which the then Queen’s College was part), successfully argued for keeping the position of his ‘shop window’ and in the 1950s an agreement was reached to build a tower block on the position of two of the original houses to be used for administration, teaching and a library.

The foundation stone was laid 60 years ago on 28th April 1959 and the building officially opened by the Queen Mother in 1961. The remaining two buildings were demolished later to make way for the 1968 Tower Extension.

Designed by Sir Robert Matthew, the Tower stands 140 foot tall and was the tallest building to be built in Dundee since the medieval Old Steeple and one of the first multi-storey towers in Scotland.

Today it stands as an early example of Scottish Modernism and vernacular elements of rubble and timber cladding being adapted to multi-storey design. It is a category B listed building still used for admissions, teaching and other Professional Services including housing the University’s Archives in its basement.

– Caroline Brown, University Archivist.