It was supposed to be the future of air travel in Scotland, but Renfrew Municipal Airport was only operational for 12 years – and there is no trace left of the Modernist building that made it one of the airports the most remarkable in Britain – or the world. .
“The Glasgow Renfrew Municipal Airport terminal is a lost beauty,” says transport blogger Daniel Wright, who compares it to Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Glasgow School of Art, “currently only available through photos. It was a design years ahead of its time, yet seemingly almost forgotten today.
Designed by William Kininmonth in 1954, who had previously worked with famed Scottish architect Basil Spence, it sported an eye-catching satellite dish at the terminal entrance – but the interior was just as spellbinding. The curved roof, sculptural walls and pillars were all white and flooded with daylight through large windows, and the staircase that might have been practical looks like something of a stately home in a sci-fi movie.
Even the concept of an aesthetically pleasing airport was new – and it would take a while for it to fall into place.
In 1991, decades after the Kininmonth building was demolished, author Douglas Adams joked, “It can’t be a coincidence that no language on earth has ever produced the phrase ‘As pretty as it is.’ an airport’. Airports are ugly. Some are very ugly. Some reach a degree of ugliness which can only be the result of special effort.
Obviously he hadn’t seen the Renfrew Airport. But then, relatively few people have.
The sleek, state-of-the-art building was designed just before the boom in popularity of air travel in the 1960s – and, striking as it was, Renfrew simply wasn’t big enough to accommodate the number of people and planes that would be needed.
It closed in 1966 and Glasgow Airport, which replaced it, is nowhere near the size or pioneering design of Renfrew. The site where the terminal once stood is now a supermarket, and the surrounding area has been developed for housing.
Only a handful of images remain of what was once Scotland’s most innovative transport building. But if you want a taste of what people saw they flew to Renfrew Airport,
filmed at the time and now available on YouTube allows you to pretend for a moment that he is still standing.