Kirsteen Borland

Born: January 13, 1925;

Died: August 8, 2023

Kirsteen Borland, who has died aged 98, was a pioneering woman whose visionary spirit and unwavering dedication left a lasting mark on the landscape of Scotland. Her remarkable life, marked by transformation, legacy, and profound impact, is a testament to her commitment to shaping the country’s future.

After school in Glasgow, Kirsteen's education began in 1942 as she embarked on architectural studies at the Glasgow School of Art. During a time when higher education opportunities for women were scarce, she stood out as one of the few women who dared to pursue university studies.

The seeds of her interest in planning were sown during her year-out as part of the research team for the Clyde Valley regional plan, collaborating with luminaries like Sir Patrick Abercrombie, Sir Robert Matthew, Sir Robert Grieve, Alan Reiach and others. This experience ignited her passion, prompting her to further her studies at the School of Planning in London.

Town planning became her calling, an enthusiasm she carried with her through her life, intricately linked to her vision for Scotland's transformation.

At the end of war, students who had been in the forces rejoined the architecture course at the GSA and Kirsteen’s path intertwined with Jack Holmes, who would later become a distinguished architect. She moved south for the planning course and stayed on to work in London County Council planning department. Jack soon sought her out again and they were married in London in 1954, after which they returned to Glasgow where they established a partnership rooted in mutual respect and support: Jack Holmes & Partners.

Ever a believer in democracy, welfare and human rights, during the 1950s Kirsteen also took on voluntary social commitments, which included involvement in the WRVS house for former borstal boys, HM Young Offenders Institute in Dumfries and the Children's Panel Advisory Committee for Dunbartonshire.

Through the 1960s and 1970s Kirsteen's role as the driving force behind the Jack Holmes Planning Group took her on a journey across Scotland's hills, towns and villages. She immersed herself in their unique challenges, dedicating the time needed to comprehend their nuances and necessities. The depth of her commitment ensured that her research and reports were nothing short of comprehensive, leaving an enduring impact on community development.

Her influence rippled through development plans for town and county councils, for the Scottish Office and the Highlands and Islands Development Board, in projects such as the development of the Milngavie town centre, the Moray Firth Regional Development Plan and the County of Sutherland Development Plan.

Her careful examination of sites in an advisory capacity for the Department of Energy were crucial contributions in advancing platform construction, as well as private enterprises encompassing industrial, airfield, housing, and recreational projects throughout Scotland. Exhibiting unmatched fortitude and determination, she weathered external pressures always championing the needs of communities. Her legacy, characterised by preparing these areas for a brighter tomorrow, stands as a testament to her remarkable resilience and enthusiasm.

Kirsteen's reluctance to claim the spotlight may have obscured her considerable achievements, leaving her hidden from the gaze of younger generations. However, it's high time her contributions to Scotland's architectural and planning history are recognised and celebrated.

Kirsteen's work ethic for a job well done and her innovative approach to professional activities mirrored her humility, as she placed teamwork and collaboration above all. The planning group always sought the finest minds from across the country, matching the right person for the right task, and her pursuit of excellence became a guiding light that illuminated transformative outcomes for communities on an unprecedented scale.

Her influence radiated throughout architectural circles, as she contributed actively to the Glasgow Institute of Architects (GIA) and the Royal Incorporation of Architects Scotland (RIAS). Her commitment to shaping the built environment was marked by her becoming the second woman to sit on the Council of the RIAS and she was later convener of the Environment Committee for the GIA and was their representative on the Glasgow Crime Prevention Panel. Moreover, a significant part of her legacy involved establishing the Design Awards for the GIA, which continue to thrive to this day. She served on the Royal Fine Art Commission for Scotland in the 1990s.

Kirsteen Holmes was a force to be reckoned with, a woman who defied norms and upheld the principles she believed in. Though she worked closely with her husband, she proudly retained her maiden name for her professional endeavours. However, to those who knew her most intimately - her children, her family, her friends, her husband - she was Kirsteen Holmes.

Balancing her professional achievements, Kirsteen was also a constant presence for her family, radiating warmth and tenderness as well as inspiration and knowledge to her children and then to her grandchildren. She had innumerable interests, from art and travelling to gardens and animals, but above all music, which she continued to enjoy as a concert and opera-goer into her very last years.

The practice that she and Jack initiated continues to thrive, an embodiment of the foundation they laid. Kirsteen's ability to forge connections with people from diverse backgrounds leaves behind a rich tapestry of relationships that will forever be woven into the fabric of Scotland's architectural and planning history.

In the realm of Scotland's architectural landscape, Kirsteen’s legacy remains an enduring tribute to a woman who wielded her vision and resilience to reshape the future. Her pioneering spirit will continue to inspire generations to come, a fitting tribute to a life lived with unwavering purpose and boundless passion.

Personal encounters with Kirsteen revealed a brilliant mind that left an indelible imprint on those fortunate enough to cross her path. We consider ourselves immensely fortunate and honoured to have had the privilege of meeting Kirsteen, whose beauty, along with her lucid recollections, infectious laughter, and natural charm, were the hallmarks of her 98 years of life fully lived.

Isabel and Clara Garriga are architects at Holmes Miller