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Thomas Smith Tait (1882 – 1954) was a prominent Scottishmarker Modernist architect. He designed a number of buildings around the world in Art Deco and Streamline Moderne styles, notably the Scottish Office Buildings on Calton Hill, Edinburgh, and the pylons for Sydney Harbour Bridge.


Born in 1882 in Paisleymarker, the son of a master stonemason, he was educated at the John Neilson Institution, following which he entered apprenticeship as an architect with James Donald in Paisley. Tait went on to Glasgow School of Artmarker where he studied under the Beaux Arts teacher Eugene Bourdon. He travelled extensively in Europe between 1904 and 1905, before settling in Londonmarker where he joined the prestigious architectural practice of Sir John James Burnet.

In 1910 he married Constance Hardy, the daughter of a London stationmaster, and they set up home at 26 Holyoake Walk in Ealingmarker. Together they had three sons; the eldest, Gordon, born in 1912, later became an architect himself, and worked with his father on the designs for the Glasgow Empire Exhibition of 1938.

In June 1913 Tait sat and passed the RIBA's qualifying exam and was admitted ARIBA in September 1913, with the influential backing of Burnet, Theodore Fyfe and Herbert Vaughan Lanchester as proposers.

His former dwelling at Gates House, Wyldes Close, London NW11 has been marked with a Blue Plaque by English Heritage.

John Burnet & Sons

In 1902, Tait was recruited by the architecture firm John Burnet & Son and worked under the founder's son, John James Burnet.

In 1905, Burnet was appointed to design new galleries at the British Museummarker in London. Burnet opened a London office at 1 Montague Place, calling it simply John J Burnet, and took Tait with him as his personal assistant.

By 1910, Tait was a leading member of Burnet's staff, and played an important part in the design of the Kodak Building in London, considered to be among the first examples of modern architecture in the United Kingdommarker and which was highly influential on the design of many commercial buildings of the time.

Following his marriage in 1910, Tait took on extra work at a rival practice, Trehearne and Norman, assisting in the facade design of several commercial buildings on Kingsway and Aldwych. He took this work without the knowledge of Burnet, and when Burnet learned of Tait's moonlighting in 1914, the two fell out. Tait suddenly left London for New York, leaving his wife and son Gordon at home, to work as an assistant with Donn Barber.

Tait soon returned to London and took a job as chief draughtsman to Trehearne & Norman on further Kingsway buildings. Between 1915 and 1918, Tait and Burnet became reconciled and collaborated on a number of projects, culminating in Tait's return to Burnet's practice in 1918 as a partner. The firm was renamed Sir John Burnet & Partners.

Due to ill health, Burnet himself grew less active in the partnership, and Tait's role increased. In 1925 Tait was made a fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). Tait’s growing reputation resulted in many new commissions both in the UK and internationally, including work in London, South Africa, Australia and Egypt. In 1927-8 he was employed by the Crittall window factory to build their works village Silver Endmarker in Essex in the Art Deco style.

In 1930, the American architect Francis Lorne became a partner in the firm, and under the name Burnet, Tait and Lorne, the practice became one of the most influential architects' firms in Britain.

Tait and Lorne began to pursue a more Modernist architectural direction, and their work on the Royal Masonic Hospital at Ravenscourt (1930-3) won the RIBA Gold Medal for the best building of 1933. While the commissions slowed down during economic downturn of the early 1930s, they used the available time to publish a highly influential book, The Information Book of Sir John Burnet, Tait & Lorne (1933).

Later years

The outbreak of the Second World War cut Tait’s career prematurely short. From 1940 to 1942 he worked as Director of Standardisation at the Ministry of Works. He retired from the partnership in 1952, and the practice was taken on by his eldest son, Gordon. Thomas Tait continued in the capacity of consultant to the firm until his death in 1954 at the age of 72.

Notable works

A pylon on Sydney Harbour Bridge
A plaque on Sydney Harbour Bridge marks the involvement of John Burnet & Partners, Tait's employer, in its construction

Tait's architectural works were mostly executed as an employee of John Burnet & Son, or as a partner in Sir John Burnet & Partners, later Burnet, Tait & Lorne.

Public buildings

Tait is credited with the design of a number of notable buildings in London and internationally, including: Adelaide House on the River Thames, London; the Daily Telegraph office (1927-8) on Fleet Streetmarker, London; later phases of the Selfridges building (1926-9), Oxford Street, London; St Andrew's Housemarker in Edinburghmarker; and the pylons for Sydney Harbour Bridgemarker. Tait collaborated with James Lomax-Simpson on the design and construction of Unilever Housemarker (1930-33) near Blackfriars Bridgemarker, London.

Tait was also involved in judging a number of architectural competitions, acting as the assessor for competitions to design the De La Warr Pavilionmarker at Bexhill-on-Seamarker, and Kirkcaldymarker Town Hall.

War memorials

Following the First World War, he won a number of commissions to design war memorials, often in collaboration with sculptors such as Charles Sargeant Jagger. Both Tait and Jagger collaborated on the Great Western Railway War Memorialmarker which stands today in Paddington Stationmarker, London (1992), and the (now destroyed) Port Tewfik War Memorialmarker near Suez, Egypt.

The Moderne style

Tait's acclaimed Royal Masonic Hospital at Ravenscourt Parkmarker in London (now the Ravenscourt Park Hospital) won him a RIBA award for the best building of 1933. This Moderne brick edifice features nautical-style curved sun porches and balconies, elongated sculpted figures atop the door pilaster. It has been likened to Willem Marinus Dudok's Hilversummarker Town Hall of 1931.

Burnet, Tait & Lorne continued to build in the curved Streamline Moderne style, as evidenced in Tait's whitewashed Hawkhead Hospital for Infectious Diseases in Paisleymarker (1932), which also features curved, nautical balconies and railings, streamlined corners and horiztonal bands.

Tait's Tower

Tait is perhaps best remembered for his contributions to the design and master planning for the Empire Exhibition, Scotland 1938, held in Bellahouston Parkmarker. Tait was appointed as head of a team of nine architects, which included Basil Spence and Jack Coia. Tait's vision was of a modernist, utopian future, and the Empire Exhibition was the largest collection of modern architecture built in United Kingdom in the first half of the 20th century. Dominating the whole exhibition was "The Tower of Empire", designed by Tait himself. The 300-feet-high tower was erected on the summit of the hill in the centre of the park and had three observation balconies, each capable of carrying 200 people.

Private houses

In addition to public buildings, Tait is credited with a number of private houses in the Art Deco Moderne style, such as the terrace of houses in St John's Woodmarker (1934-1936), or the house in Maida Valemarker which he designed for the Marques and Marquesa de Casa Maury (1937-1938).

Tait is also credited with the design of Chelsea House, built 1934, in Belgraviamarker. This rotunda-shaped building stands on the corner of Lowndes Street and Cadogan Place on the former site of the 1874 home of the Earl of Cadogan, also called Chelsea House.

Tait took on the design of his own house in Newbury, Berkshiremarker (1929). It is built in a Modernist ziggurat form and finished in white cement, with emerald green Art Deco-style casement windows, front door and balustrade.

Besides commissions for individual private dwellings, Tait was also commissioned to design a housing estate at Silver Endmarker, Essex, for the industialist Francis Henry Crittall as part of his model village project in 1928. The houses are white with flat roofs and steel window frames.


Image:British war memorial in Brussels.jpg|The Brussels war memorialImage:Jagger GWR memorial1.jpg|The GWR War Memorial, Paddington StationImage:Jagger GWR memorial6.jpg|The GWR War Memorial, Paddington StationImage:St. Andrew's House Façade.jpg|St Andrew's House, EdinburghImage:58, Hamilton Terrace.jpg|De Casa Maury house, Maida ValeImage:Wells Rise 1.jpg|Terrace of houses, St John's WoodFile:Silver End House - - 321811.jpg|Houses in Silver End Village, Essex


  1. Ravenscourt Park Hospital today is a listed building, although it now appears to be closed

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