Alan Reiach photographic collection

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 227 phAR
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Physical Description
      ca. 4295 prints, in four original drawers, re-boxed and packaged, with two files of illustrations from publications, totalling 1 metre

Scope and Content

The collection features Scottish and international architecture, 1930s-1950s. It is made up of 120mm photographs, images printed on postcard, cropped images and published postcards. There are also occasional 120mm photographs joined to make double or even triple images.

There are ca. 2,365 images of Scottish vernacular architecture, of which over half are 120mm photographs, a further 968 are photographs on postcard along with 16 published postcards. Some 188 images relate to photographs of various sizes which have been clipped. Scotland was surveyed between 1937 and 1943 beginning with Caithness in 1937, then Banff, East Lothian, Fife, Mid Lothian, Moray, Caithness, Sutherland and Wigtownshire in 1938. In 1939 Reiach surveyed Ayrshire, Argyll, Caithness, Fife, Stirlingshire, East Lothian, West Lothian and Perthshire. In 1940 he covered Ayrshire, Angus, Kincardineshire, East Lothian, Wigtownshire, Renfrewshire, Ross and Cromarty and Stirlingshire. 1942 saw tours of Argyll, Inverness shire, and undated surveys also exist for Orkney, Roxburghshire, Clackmannanshire, Dumfriesshire, Kirkcudbrightshire and Berwickshire. There are also 104 additional 120mm images of Scotland within the foreign section and 11 British images on postcard marked 'foreign parallels'.

The foreign section contains ca. 1815 images, including ca. 841 120mm photographs, 505 images on postcard, 211 published postcards and 258 assorted size images. The collection is particularly strong in images of Germany, Italy, Sweden and Spain, but there are also images of Greece, Holland, Hungary, Ireland, Norway, Russia (including a le Corbusier envelope containing 7 images), Belgium, Switzerland, North America, France, Finland, Poland and Denmark. Many of the published postcards had been sent by or received by Reiach and can contain descriptions of cities and rough sketches of plans and ideas. He visited South East England in 1929, Italy and Germany in 1933, Sweden in 1934, Norway, Finland, Germany and Switzerland and possibly Denmark in 1934, Germany and the Netherlands in 1935, North America in 1935-6, Russia, Germany Czechoslovakia, the Netherlands, France and Switzerland in 1936 and Germany and Switzerland in 1937 and 1938.

Administrative / Biographical History

Alan Reiach (1910-1992) was one of Scotland's most celebrated Scottish architects. He studied at Edinburgh College of Art (1934-35) and was supervised and much influenced by Frank Mears. He travelled in England and Norway, Russia and USA and sketching rapidly gave way to photography as his chosen method for recording what he saw. He undertook major architectural surveys, of 'International' architecture in Europe and North America (1934-37) and of Scottish vernacular architecture (1930s and early 1940s), the latter forming the bedrock of his publication Building Scotland (1942). The photography which forms the output of these surveys is a crucial record of architectural heritage.

Reiach's survey seems to have begun in 1937 at a time when the work of the National Trust at Culross and other preservation campaigns in face of the 1935 Housing Acts had started to regard Scottish vernacular architecture as worthy of preservation. He conducted his Caithness survey in his spare time during 1937, which was made more difficult by his being posted to London that year. He returned to Edinburgh in 1938 to take up a two year Research and Teaching Fellowship at the College of Art and after 1940 was made a member of the Scottish Office Team to oversee the Clyde Valley Regional Plan. He continued his surveys between 1938 and 1942. The project seems to have effectively ended by 1943.

The surveys of towns seem to have begun by recording areas close to the original site of the Mercat Cross, thus emphasising buildings such as kirk, castle, tolbooth, inn and town house. The surveys are inconsistent in their coverage and in some towns looked at some areas targeted for re-development but ignored others. The range of buildings covered was extensive, however, and covered rural as well as urban areas. There is some overlap in coverage of buildings in the surveys undertaken by Ian Lindsay, first financed by Lord Bute with the support of the National Trust for Scotland. The photographic record of that survey was, however, dispersed amongst the records of the National Buildings Record and its successor the National Monuments Record of Scotland.

Reiach used his archive to inform the reports he drew up in his capacity as Secretary of the Scottish Housing Advisory Board and the styles of architecture he recommended in Planning our New Homes in 1944 were influenced and illustrated by examples from his survey.


Reiach stored the images in four tightly packed drawers. In the Scottish vernacular section the two drawers are arranged alphabetically, by county. In the foreign section the arrangement is simply by country but there is overlap and images of the same country may appear in more than one division. Any re-packaging work has preserved the original arrangement.

Access Information

The photographic collections are currently the subject of a major digitisation project. It is the intention to have the entire archive captured in electronic form, and available (with sophisticated searching facilities) on line via the web. A full version of the software can be accessed in the Library and researchers are welcome to visit the library to use it but it is important that appointments are made in advance. Access to original photographic material may be restricted.

Acquisition Information

Deposited at the library of the University of St Andrews in 1998.


Description compiled by Rachel Hart, Archives Hub Project Archivist.

Other Finding Aids

The Scottish material has been part listed, otherwise there is no finding aid.

Alternative Form Available

There are four bound volumes containing 203 individually mounted photographs of Scottish vernacular buildings, entitled The Lesser Architecture of Scotland which were gifted by Reiach to the Library of the Edinburgh College of Art between 1940 and 1951. These images were selected by Reiach from the larger collection now held at GB 227.

Conditions Governing Use

Copies of images held in the photographic collection (with the exception of any photographs which are held either without copyright or under other restrictions imposed by the donor or photographer) can be ordered. Photographs thus provided for purely personal or research purposes are not subject to any fee beyond the photographic costs (for which a scale of charges is available). Prior written permission must be obtained before any further reproduction is undertaken of images supplied, for commercial or non-commercial purposes. Reproduction fees may be charged.

True photographic reprints of most images can be provided, or computer-generated prints of an increasing proportion of the collection at low, medium or high resolution. Given the fragility of the original material our preference is to provide computer prints where possible. We can also provide transparencies and a range of electronic formats.

Custodial History

Reiach's private collection had only been accessed in its entirety by his closest associates. He approached the University of St Andrews with a view to depositing it in 1990.




John Frew, 'The Reiach Surveys, 1934-42' in Studies in Photography (1999), pp. 29-31; John Frew, 'Alan Reiach's Scottish Vernacular Survey, 1937-43', in History of Photography, vol. 25., no. 2, Summer 2001, pp. 161-8; A Reiach and R Hurd, Building Scotland: Past and Future, (Edinburgh, Saltire Society, 1942).