The 1938 Empire Exhibition was the fourth of five Great Exhibitions to be hosted by Glasgow between 1888 and 1988. It was planned as ‘the most extravagant exhibition ever held in Britain’. The venue chosen was Bellahouston Park, which at 178 acres was more than 100 acres larger than Kelvingrove Park which had hosted the previous exhibitions.
Spence was given three separate commissions. The first commission was to design the North and South Scottish Pavilions, as assistant to architect-in-chief, Thomas Tait. These were a pair of blue-painted, flat roofed, geometric forms with 120-foot entrance towers. The North Pavilion was dedicated to public services in Scotland and the South to Scotland’s past and future. The interiors included the work of artists and sculptors such as Thomas Whalen, Archibald Dawson and William Semple.
“I found this work interesting, exciting and lucrative”
- Sir Basil Spence in his book Phoenix at Coventry
Spence’s second commission was for Imperial Chemical Industries. ICI were the largest chemical producers in the Empire and Spence’s pavilion had to reflect this. The result was a striking modernist building with three triangular, embossed pylons that represented earth, air and water. In the centre was a 200-foot beam of light representing fire and a fountain coloured with light that represented the company’s dyestuffs.
The third commission was for the Council of Art and Industry. Spence’s remit was to design an ideal Scottish house and to promote contemporary Scottish manufacturing and craftsmanship.