Basic Biographical Details

Name: Michael Donald Laird
Designation: Architect
Born: 22 March 1928
Died: 11 March 1999
Bio Notes: Michael Donald Laird was born in Glasgow on 22 March 1928, the son of George Donald Struthers Laird, export agent and his wife Catherine Brown Tennent or Dibley. He was educated at Loretto School where he showed an early interest in designing buildings. He studied at Edinburgh College of Art and was admitted ARIBA in 1952 and ARIAS in 1953. He established his practice in 1954 with an office at 11 Randolph Place, Edinburgh from 1957. He returned to the College of Art as a lecturer in the Department of Architecture and also in the same capacity in the Department in the University of Edinburgh. He was an inspiring teacher.

In 1957 he won a McLaren Travelling Fellowship from the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland. He spent some time abroad accompanied by his wife, the artist and art teacher Kirsty Noel-Paton. Later that same year, 1957, Sir Alastair Dunnett, then Editor of the Scotsman, commissioned Laird to draw up a scheme for a Festival Centre for Edinburgh. This was done in association with Alan Reiach who had earlier drawn up a scheme for adding an opera house adjacent to the Usher Hall and Lyceum Theatre. Laird and Reiach prepared a model to be exhibited at the Centenary Exhibition of the Edinburgh Architectural Association. The scheme envisaged the Usher Hall and Lyceum as nuclei and proposed that the Usher Hall was converted into an opera house, as, according to Laird, ‘a building of this period and style already has the slightly romantic flavour people associate with opera’.

In 1959 he became an assessor for the Civic Trust Awards, an appointment which continued for twenty years. During the 1950s Laird compered BBC Television's weekly 'Compass' Programme.

He moved to firstly to North Castle Street, where he had a house above the practice. Laird’s twin son and daughter, Simon and Nicola, were born about this time; they were joined later by their brother, Magnus. In 1960 the practice moved to 22 Moray Place. This had been a nursing home and was converted by Laird into an impressive office with family residence above. The large lift was retained and converted into a mobile cloakroom and art gallery.

The Music School at George Watson’s College, dating from the mid-1960s, with its distinctive parabolic roof, was an important building from the early days of the practice. The auditorium achieved excellent acoustics. The Children’s Unit at the Astley Ainslie Hospital, completed in 1965, is one of the best examples of a carefully detailed precast form building. It managed to incorporate a variety of services and at the same time provided open bright wards, the external blinds giving the exterior a sculptural quality. Laird was elected FRIAS in 1964.

Laird saw his work on historic buildings and his ‘modern’ buildings as separate categories. In the former category he worked on Maxwelton, Dumfriesshire, Blairqhan, Ayrshire, and Easter Elchies. His work at Maxwelton entailed a reconstruction and extension based on original 17th century building and was probably one of the most comprehensive schemes of rebuilding of a Scottish country house in the post-war period.

In 1967 Ian Rogers was taken in partnership, the practice title changing to Michael Laird & Partners. The office moved to 5 Forres Street in 1974. In bout 1971 James Latimer was assumed into partnership followed in 1977 by Alan Black. Several other partners joined in the 1980s.

From the mid-1960s Standard Life became an important client for the practice. Laird’s refurbishment of the Head Office at the east end of George Street began in 1964. This was part of a comprehensive expansion plan, the site being bounded by George Street, St Andrew Square and Thistle Lane and was intended to provide consistent high quality office space. It was divided into several phases, the first and second being carried out in association with Robert Matthew. The second large commission from Standard Life was the new headquarters at Canonmills. The site was divided by the Water of Leith and sensitively incorporated the former warehouse at Tanfield. An extensive roof garden was provided for the benefit of employees and for neighbours who overlook the low-lying site. It was one of Laird’s characteristics that he researched buildings to ensure the quality of the working environment and this was no exception. Standard Life House on a prominent site at the corner of Lothian Road and the West Approach Road, followed in the later 1980s. The head office was moved here from the George Street building in 1996.

The Royal Bank of Scotland was another important client. From them he designed the Computer Centre, Fettes Row, which reused the energy from the computers which ran continuously to heat the offices. Drummond House, South Gyle, also for the Bank, is heated in similar fashion. In his buildings for the Bank and for Standard Life he was keen to incorporate the work of artists, successfully working with Gerald Laing on the Standard Life buildings and with Eduardo Paolozzi at the Bank building at South Gyle. John Bellamy painted a mural in the building of the White Fish Authority.

As with matters pertaining to his professional life, Laird approached his leisure activities with gusto. He was keen on cars and even in his student days owned an Austin 7 which could be seen parked outside the College of Art. He later graduated to a Lotus Elan, one of the first in Scotland after Jim Clark. He led the University Air Squadron, won the Aerobatics Cup at the Edinburgh Air Show and became a fully trained reserve Fleet Air Arm pilot. He travelled over Switzerland in a hot air balloon and was a good skier. He kept a Drascombe sailing craft on the Forth and enjoyed summer evening excursions. He also sailed in the waters around Tiree where he had a house. He founded his own society, with its characteristically humorous name, ‘SMA’, Society of Master Architects, the motto of which ‘Keep it simple sensible and stylish’ was later adopted by the practice.

As a campaigner for high standards in design he served in the Council for Industrial Design for many years. He contributed numerous articles to the specialist and general press. He gave a home in his office to the young Scottish Georgian Society. His espousal of causes was legendary and was passionate even if his views did not accord with majority opinion. Laird was made OBE in 1983 for his services to architecture. He was awarded the RSA Gold Medal in 1968 for his work on the Standard Life Headquarters in George Street and his work had won a number of awards from the Civic Trust and Saltire Society, among others.

Robert Steedman describes Laird: ‘He was prominent among the postwar generation of young architects in Scotland, with an overwhelming ambition to look at buildings afresh and translate his concepts into a new vocabulary of forms and materials appropriate to the Scottish situation. He regarded innovation as a challenge’.

Laird was forced to retire from ill-health in 1992. He died in the Western General Hospital on 11 March 1998. He was survived by his wife, his two sons and daughter and four grandchildren.

Private and Business Addresses

The following private or business addresses are associated with this architect:
 AddressTypeDate fromDate toNotes
Item 1 of 4The Ingle/1, Beech Avenue, Cambuslang, Lanarkshire, ScotlandPrivatec. 1950After 1953 
Item 2 of 411, Randolph Place, Edinburgh, ScotlandBusiness1954  
Item 3 of 422, Moray Place, Edinburgh, ScotlandPrivate/business1960After 1987 
Item 4 of 45, Forres Street, Edinburgh, ScotlandBusiness1974  

Employment and Training


The following individuals or organisations employed or trained this architect (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate fromDate toPositionNotes
Item 1 of 1Michael Laird & Partners19541992Partner 

Buildings and Designs

This architect was involved with the following buildings or structures from the date specified (click on an item to view details):
 Date startedBuilding nameTown, district or villageIslandCity or countyCountryNotes
Item 1 of 56 Goretex Factory & Offices, Kirkton CampusLivingston West LothianScotland 
Item 2 of 56 Merchiston Castle School, Creative Arts Centre  EdinburghScotland 
Item 3 of 56April 1957Hauptstadt Berlin competition (Robert Matthew's entry)  BerlinGermanyIncluded Robert Matthew's supporting team
Item 4 of 56After 1958Astley Ainslie, children's wards and therapy unit  EdinburghScotland 
Item 5 of 56After 1958Chamber of Commerce building  BelfastNorthern Ireland 
Item 6 of 56After 1958Inde Coope BreweryAlloa ClackmannanshireScotland 
Item 7 of 56After 1958Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries officesEskgrove/Lasswade EdinburghScotland 
Item 8 of 56After 1958Ministry of Public Buildings and Works, Scottish Headquarters  EdinburghScotland 
Item 9 of 56After 1958Phillips Electrical Offices  GlasgowScotland 
Item 10 of 56After 1958United Wire Rope Company's factory  EdinburghScotlandExtension
Item 11 of 561961Gayfield Square police headquarters  EdinburghScotland 
Item 12 of 561961Private House  Edinburgh, MidlothianScotland 
Item 13 of 561963Warehouses and offices, 43-53 Jeffrey Street  Edinburgh, MidlothianScotland 
Item 14 of 56Before 1963Raith, housingKirkcaldy FifeScotland 
Item 15 of 56c. 1963Raith HouseKirkcaldy FifeScotlandRestoration?
Item 16 of 561964George Watson's College, Music School and Auditorium  EdinburghScotland 
Item 17 of 561964Standard Life Assurance Co  EdinburghScotlandExtension Phase I - with R H Matthew
Item 18 of 561967Blairquhan CastleStraiton AyrshireScotlandRepairs and restoration. Kitchen court partly converted into estate offices.
Item 19 of 561967Chesser House  EdinburghScotland 
Item 20 of 561967Uig HotelUigSkyeInverness-shireScotlandRestoration
Item 21 of 561968Argyle House  EdinburghScotland 
Item 22 of 561968Ethicon Factory and laboratoriesSighthill EdinburghScotland 
Item 23 of 561968Standard Life Assurance Co  EdinburghScotlandExtension Phase 2 - with R H Matthew. Extension phase 2 has elevation to St Andrew Square.
Item 24 of 561968Wine Company Premises, 14 George Street  EdinburghScotlandRebuilding within envelope of existing historic building
Item 25 of 561969Maxwellton House  DumfriesshireScotlandRestoration
Item 26 of 56Before 1969Devro FactoryCumbernauld LanarkshireScotland 
Item 27 of 561970sHousing, Cheyne StreetStockbridge EdinburghScotland 
Item 28 of 561970Standard Life Assurance  EdinburghScotland 
Item 29 of 561970University of Edinburgh, King's Buildings, central facilities complex, including boiler house  EdinburghScotland 
Item 30 of 56c. 1970Exhibition stands for Euclid (Great Britain) and others     
Item 31 of 561971Factory for John Kelly & SonBonnyrigg MidlothianScotland 
Item 32 of 561971University of Edinburgh, King's Buildings, refectory  EdinburghScotland 
Item 33 of 561972India Place redevelopment  EdinburghScotland 
Item 34 of 561974Marks & Spencer Store  EdinburghScotlandActing for Jenners in association with Monro & Partners
Item 35 of 561975Standard Life Assurance Co  EdinburghScotlandExtension Phase 3.
Item 36 of 561975Teachers whisky offices  GlasgowScotlandOffice retstoration.
Item 37 of 56Before 1975Moulin HotelPitlochry PerthshireScotlandReconstruction and extension
Item 38 of 56Before 1975Royal BankPort Seton East LothianScotland 
Item 39 of 56Before 1975Royal BankEyemouth BerwickshireScotland 
Item 40 of 56Before 1975St Mary's Street development, Ben Line Building  EdinburghScotlandOffice interiors
Item 41 of 561976Standard Life Assurance Co premises, Hanover Street  EdinburghScotlandRestoration
Item 42 of 561976Standard Life office  EdinburghScotland 
Item 43 of 561976The Manor HouseInveresk MidlothianScotlandRestoration
Item 44 of 561977Rosebery HouseHaymarket EdinburghScotland 
Item 45 of 561977Royal Bank Data Centre  EdinburghScotland 
Item 46 of 561978Arbrook Products Ltd FactoryLivingston West LothianScotland 
Item 47 of 561979Haymarket Station  EdinburghScotlandRedevelopment of station
Item 48 of 561979Jenners Workshop and Abbotsford Arms  EdinburghScotlandChange of use from disused furniture factory to shops and goods handling area. Job architect and Principal.
Item 49 of 561981Hospital or health centre for Cheshire Homes   Scotland 
Item 50 of 561981The Mercat shopping developmentKirkcaldy Fife  
Item 51 of 56Before 1981Johnson & Johnson (USA) FactoryLivingston West LothianScotland 
Item 52 of 56Before 1981Office development for Bovis  EdinburghScotland 
Item 53 of 56Before 1981Office development for Livingston Development CorporationLivingston West LothianScotland 
Item 54 of 561982Cameron Toll Centre  EdinburghScotland 
Item 55 of 561985Blervie House  MorayshireScotlandHouse gutted and restored
Item 56 of 561985Easter Elchies House  MorayshireScotlandOctagonal office pod


Bibliographic References

The following books contain references to this architect:
Item 1 of 3Bailey, Rebecca M1996Scottish architects' papers: a source book Edinburgh: The Rutland Pressp128
Item 2 of 3RIBA1964The RIBA Kalendar 1963-64   
Item 3 of 3Willis, Peter1977New architecture in Scotland  p44-5 University of Edinburgh, King's Buildings

Periodical References

The following periodicals contain references to this architect:
 Periodical NameDateEditionPublisherNotes
Item 1 of 3Builder1 May 1964  p915-916
Item 2 of 3RIAS NewsletterApril 1999v10, no3 Death note
Item 3 of 3Scotsman19 March 1999  Obituary by Robert Steedman.

Archive References

The following archives hold material relating to this architect:
 SourceArchive NameSource Catalogue No.Notes
Item 1 of 2H M Register HouseDeath Register  
Item 2 of 2RIAS, Rutland SquareRecords of membership