The Why?s Man

"My art is place specific and people specific." George Wyllie

Back to Boats


By 2003, George Wyllie had already been developing a concept to bring the River Clyde back to life for some four years at least, the Crystal Ship.

In his early notes, he explained that a crystal ship would be ideal, because 'the world had been explored by ships, and crystal is about vision'. His idea was that a crystal ship would be unmissable on the Clyde and would help to stimulate innovation and re-invention. Originally, he wanted to site it in Govan, saying that it would re-generate knowledge already existing there, before it disappeared.

Wyllie argued that the latest technology meant that such a ship could be created out of glass, making it spectacular, particularly at night. He also suggested that glass technology had been used in the past, for example, Glasgow's People's Palace, and that this would be just like that, but upside down.

His was an ambitious plan, a glass ship some 100m long, 50m high and 25m wide, erected on a dock area and reached by a bridge, to become Glasgow's equivalent of the Eiffel Tower. This ship was not exactly to float itself but to be a ship in dock, with water and plants around it,from which ideas floated, the dock area being re-generated.

Within the hull of the ship, he envisaged 'exhibitions, presentations, corporate and civic events, entertainment... everything'.

On the deck, he imagined a 'forward looking heritage deck, encapsulating a great past - of engineering, shipbuilding, commerce and innovation', as well as being a 'starting block for the future'.

In the superstructure above the deck, there was to be 'much to talk about and think about' in lecture and theatre spaces, as well as a lounge and bar, a computer and communications deck, and at the very top, a crow's nest 'observation deck', high in the sky.

Interestingly, he also outlined what the Crystal Ship was definitely not about. It was...

* most definitely not about cheap and opportunistic development in the areas surrounding it;

* most definitely not about an over-emphasis on the commercial;

* most definitely not about tedious ideas which would not exercise anyone;

* most definitely not about architectural ego-trips;

* most definitely not about an over-emphasis on the past

Later, as the concept was developed, a site on the north of the river near the Kelvin, facing Govan was suggested, moving it from a dry dock area in Govan to the Glasgow Harbour area, and a smaller scale project.

Sadly, the financial backing required to make the Crystal Ship a reality was never secured, although George Wyllie campaigned long and hard for it, including making a film to promote the idea, and so, the ship was not created, and Glasgow did not become the 'Venice of the north'. The idea of creating a visual focal point for Glasgow was lost.


*Scottish Schools GW Archive

George Wyllie Education Initiative

Managed by Media Matters Education Consultancy