David Leslie

Born: May 15, 1932;

Died: August 12, 2023

David James Leslie, who has died aged 91, was an architect who had a profound effect on the architecture, design, and public access to the arts in Glasgow. His major projects included the Queen Margaret Union building at the University of Glasgow; he was also a former chairman of the Glasgow School of Art and was a leading figure in the success of The House for an Art Lover in Bellahouston Park.

David graduated as an architect in 1957 from the Glasgow School of Art and at that time was serving an apprenticeship with Wylie Shanks & Wylie. In 1960 he moved to the newly formed Walter Underwood and Partners, where he became a partner in 1966, and continued working for 30 years. When his partners retired, David set up The David Leslie Partnership, taking Roderick McCallum into partnership in the new firm. David continued as senior partner until his retirement in May 2000.

David’s interests in the profession’s institutions started in 1964 when he attended his first AGM of the Glasgow Institute of Architects (GIA) “associate section”: a group of younger, dynamic, forward-thinking architects happy to challenge the “white haired council” (David’s words!) the inactions of whom, and deference to the national RIBA body, was a source of frustration.

David was instantly voted on to the committee and stayed heavily involved with the GIA, becoming president in 1983, and by virtue, a vice president of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS). In 1987 he was elected president of the RIAS and served until 1989. Throughout his involvement his passion was to encourage young architects and preserve the autonomy of the RIAS.

From 1986 to 2006, David was involved in the professional education of young architects: he was an examiner at the University of Strathclyde for four years then at Edinburgh University for four years. He was then invited to become chairman of the Part 3 Examiners Board and served 12 years before retiring from this role in 2006. Twenty years directly involved in the education of young architects is a testament to his belief in the power of education and his willingness to give up his time to help aspiring architects.

Whilst president of the GIA, David was elected to the board of governors of GSA in 1985. He served for 12 years, the last five as chairman. This was a period when art schools were being amalgamated into universities primarily for the comfort of funding, and with due loss of autonomy, and David led the governors to declare that the GSA would remain and has remained, independent. Towards the end of his chairmanship, the GSA agreed to take on the running of the House for an Art Lover in Bellahouston Park. A company was set up and David was appointed chairman to operate the company.

David was on the board of directors from 1996 to 2021 and was chairman for the majority of this time. The House for an Art Lover (HAL) is a charitable company which operates the visitor centre and according to the articles of agreement highlights the role of HAL in the “stimulation of public interest in art, design, and architecture”. Under David’s stewardship, HAL has become a huge success and hosts weddings, music recitals, school proms, and a plethora of other art-focussed events, exhibitions, and activities. He and Garry Sanderson, the chief executive, led a formidable team focussed on promoting arts and providing a memorable experience for all visitors and contributors.

Hundreds of thousands of people will be unwittingly familiar with David’s architectural work across the central belt of Scotland. One of his first major projects was in 1968, the Queen Margaret Union building at the University of Glasgow. This building now causes some discussion as many people, including me, have been ambivalent about the design.

However, while researching for this article, I have discovered that it is characteristic of the genre of “brutalist” architecture very fashionable in the late 1960s and is one of several buildings at Glasgow University in this style. In a recent book called Braw Concrete (Halliday & Stewart, 2022) the QMU is featured, and the book describes Glasgow “as home to some of the most audacious and courageous architecture of the mid-century era”.

Other key works include the award-winning Barony Hall for the University of Strathclyde, The Malls for the first phase of the Thistle Centre, Stirling and the competition-winning design for The High Street at the 1988 Glasgow Garden Festival. David also contributed to Glasgow Revealed, a book revealing hidden architectural features in the city.

For someone so committed to his profession, you would be forgiven for thinking that he had time for nothing else… you would be wrong. He was a Church of Scotland elder for 59 years, originally at Stevenson Memorial and then at Netherlee Parish Church where he was also property convenor for 18 years, then session clerk.

David had many passions: music (specifically singing), painting, Scotland and its history, heritage and countryside, and a strange connection to a small mirror dinghy he built in the 1970s called Peek-a-Boo. Family holidays would inevitably be enjoyed in the Scottish Highlands with Peek-a-Boo bouncing around on the back of a trailer.

However, the thing he took most pleasure in was his family. He was immensely proud of his children Anne, David, and Alan, his nine grandchildren, and recently welcomed his first great-grandchild to the Leslie family. He enjoyed sharing stories, history lessons, and talking music and sport. He was immensely proud that all his grandchildren are university graduates, with too many masters degrees to count.

Throughout his life a constant has been Olive - nee Dick - his wife of 65 years (although they met and courted for nine years before they married). For 74 years Olive has been his loyal and loving companion, supporting him through the last years of his failing health.

Trevor Joice