Scotland’s New Eco-hotel Recycles Former Red Light District

Click here for a video tour of this Glasgow icon's £25m makeover

By David Henderson

Seaweed baths and solar panels. Underwater heat pumps and rainwater harvesting. It sounds like utopia for eco-campaigners but the green dream is reality. And it’s in Glasgow:  the city’s first eco-hotel. The five star Blythswood Square.

Blythswood Square. Glasgow's New Boutique Hotel
Blythswood Square. Glasgow's New Boutique Hotel

25 million pounds has been invested in transforming the former Royal Scottish Automobile Club building into a splendid boutique hotel and spa where they promise to be kind to mind, body, soul and the environment. 

The spectacular sandstone building, constructed in the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign, has been completely transformed, well, recycled and now re-used an eco-hotel. Even the location and the name have been treated to makeovers. Until recently the name ‘Blythswood Square’ had altogether different connotations for Glaswegians. It was infamous for being the city’s red light district. Now?  The ten feet high fence erected around the perimeter of the Square’s central gardens to keep the prostitutes and punters out, has been torn down. The lawn in the former no-mans land in the middle of the square is now used for lunchtime picnics by financial and media sector workers. Where there was once an eerie silence, there is the buzz of conversation and the sound of laughter.  “Are you interested in any business” has a different meaning in ‘ra Blythswood’ now. Urban recycling.

When BSQ was built in 1823, Glasgow had a population of over one million. The  then Second City of The Empire choked in the smoke and smog created by heavy industry. Dealing with environmental problems in Blythswood Square then meant using a shovel and a bucket to clear up after the horses. How the world had changed by the time Townhouse bought the building in 2006.

“Our vision for Blythswood Square was to retain the essence of this landmark historical building and safeguard architectural features whilst bringing it into the 21st century using the most sustainable methods possible,” says chairman Peter Taylor. 

He’d already designed his own home to be eco friendly by the time work on the hotel started. His carbon footprint doesn’t make an impact; BSQ certainly does: “We felt a responsibility to ensure that this wonderful hotel met the environmental standards for our low carbon future so we closely managed and reduced the carbon emissions and chose to work with suppliers who also had the same commitment to protecting the environment, approaching these kind of large scale projects with a clear sustainability strategy not only benefits the environment but it also creates better business performance”.

The architectural features of Blythswood Square were retained, whilst exploiting the latest in green innovation has helped reduce the carbon footprint by a massive 43 per cent, when compared to buildings of a similar age and size. Green technology has be embedded in the new design: rainwater harvesting (and what a harvest there is to be reaped in Glasgow), renewable energy supply, geothermal grid (solar panels), a percentage of water will be drawn from the ground.

John Stocks, manager of the Carbon Trust in Scotland, congratulated the hotel’s eco-investment: “Blythswood Square is an excellent example of what can be achieved by specifying low carbon. The redevelopment of the building has successfully incorporated low carbon design principles, whilst being able to retain the grandeur of the original building. It will not only bring financial savings through the low carbon design solutions implemented, it will also deliver a more pleasurable environment for guests who will undoubtedly benefit.”

Entering a competitive boutique-break-and-business market in Glasgow, BSQ has its enemies close – main rival, The Malmaison Hotel, is just 500 yards away on West George Street. With 100 rooms, the new hotel is around one third bigger than the long established ‘ Mal’.

Blythswood Square is the fifth addition to the portfolio of The Town House Collection. It is the boutique hotel chain’s first venture outside Edinburgh since being set up in 1990. Existing properties: The Bonham, Channings, The Howard and The Edinburgh Residence are established leaders in the capital’s chic town house hotel culture.

 For Glasgow City Marketing Bureau, BSQ represents a massive expansion of the city centre’s boutique hotel sector; a “trophy” build. The Bureau’s chief executive, Scott Taylor enthuses about how Glasgow has acquired some of Edinburgh’s chic by luring the Town House Collection along the M8 motorway.

“We are delighted to welcome home one of Scotland most celebrated and modest entrepreneurs, who has helped shape the hotel industry beyond recognition. “Peter Taylor’s decision to invest in Scotland’s largest and most vibrant city speaks volumes about where Glasgow is heading, and its competitive position on the global stage. Blythswood Square is unique and will become a landmark trophy hotel for Glasgow, and one of the city’s newest style icons.”

In its former incarnation, The Royal Scottish Automobile Club had to be seen to be believed. In the club’s latter years, my bank had a branch located on the first floor. Passing through the grand Greek-style pillars of its main entrance was like passing through a time portal and being transported back to the days when one third of the globe’s surface was shaded pink. Elderly men with handlebar moustaches snoozing on leather couches. More energetic club members sat awake. Only just. They all wore blazers. Most of those adorned with a row of military decoration. Some had a very long row of medals. Gins all round. Cigars too. Large ones. God forbid if your mobile phone rang. If looks could kill. These were men of a generation which knew how to use a bayonet. Anyway, they’ve gone now. Passed into history with The Empire they served.

Now the smell of mothballs has been replaced by the smell of scented candles. (Oh, and case you were wondering the ladies of the night have been shunted off into a ‘controlled area’ a few blocks away).

Blythswood Square bedroom. Spacious and stylish.

The penthouse has a decadent rooftop hot tub which will raise eyebrows and, you would assume, a chill.  The rooms have a mixture of original features and contemporary bespoke furniture and floorings. White marble bathrooms are a luxury from a bygone era, an era when the Scottish banking system was more solid than stone. This is a place to relax and forget the credit crunch.

The Royal Scottish Automobile Club’s ballroom has been transformed into the hotel’s main 120-cover restaurant and cocktail bar, grand in scale and in detail.  It’s intended to be a relaxed setting – gone is the stuffiness of the previous tenant – a place to enjoy delicious seasonally chosen and locally sourced food from award winning Executive Head Chef, Dan Hall.

It’s an amzing transformation. Bythswood Square has it’s old swagger back…and a style to suit it’s third century of service to Glasgow.

£25 million well spent. The recycled Blythswood isn’t square.