WHEN you think of Glasgow, you think of tenement flats. 

The iconic architecture, which is synonymous across the West of Scotland, often tells the history of the city despite being hidden behind close doors, and now one enthusiast is helping to bring it to the masses. 

Zan Phee, 36, runs Tenement Tiles, an online archive which curates pictures from some of the most intricate and artistic tenement designs, which she created in 2015.

Glasgow Times: Pic: Thomas FosterPic: Thomas Foster

Zan said: “I created the archive around six years ago after I got out of a long term relationship. 

“I had to move out and I was lucky to find somewhere to live fairly quickly in the South Side. 

“It was a hectic household and I would go out on long walks to get away for a bit, which is when I started properly looking at the tenement closes and the designs of the tiles used in them.”

Zan began by posting pictures to her own personal Twitter, before creating a separate ‘Tenement Tiles’ Twitter page. 

She said: “I genuinely think that it saved my sanity a little bit. 

“When I was able to, I would go out for walking hours at a time, looking at closes and different tenements. 

“I’m not someone who can just walk aimlessly without something to go and do or look at, so this is perfect. I would get my all day bus ticket and travel to the East End or West End and immerse myself in the tenements for a day.”

Six years later, Tenement Tiles now has almost 5,000 followers on Twitter and another 1,800 followers on Instagram. 

Zan said: “It’s pretty incredible but we have a worldwide audience. 

“People in USA, Canada, Germany and even China - tenement designs is something that attracts people from all over.

“I think that’s one of the most rewarding parts of this is.  We have a sense of national pride when it comes to tenements but there is a history of these designs all over the world."

This was no moreso evident than when Zan found a unique tile in Glasgow's West End, a picture which she used for Tenement Tile's exhibition with Glasgow City Heritage Trust.

“When we put it into the archive and into our exhibition, we were contacted by someone who found the same tile in a Chinese cemetery, another person who found it in New York and another in Germany, it was really amazing.”

Zan has said that the archive has even helped locals to get to know their local history. 

She said: “I remember I put up this picture from an old Strathclyde Buses mosaic across from Maggie May’s in the Trongate and I put something like ‘Any guesses where this is?’

“People still send me selfies with that mosaic to this day. It’s great when people start to notice the art around them in the city that they normally wouldn’t think to look at."

Now in lockdown, Zan is limited to how far she can travel to find the hidden gems in Scotland’s closes, and is now calling on residents to submit their own pictures. 

She said: “With lockdown so restrictive now, it’s nearly impossible to get out the same way that I used to. 

“I’m lucky to be living in the South Side, because I can go for a walk while in lockdown and see tenements all around me, but we want to archive from all over.

“We have always had contributors who send us pictures, but we’d love to get more people sending in their pictures.

“I’m not one for putting a lot of attention on myself or the project, but I think it’s something that people really respond to. 

"Especially during lockdown, when all we have to appreciate is the things in our immediate vicinity.”


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And for Zan, one of the goals for Tenement Tiles is grabbing a picture from one historic close in her hometown: “I think one of the ones I’m really trying hard to get is in Clydebank.

“It is a ‘fairytale’ themed tile that is around 200 years old.

“Just thinking about the history behind that is amazing, but I haven’t been able to get it into the archive yet.”

Although Zan has spent the best part of six years creating the immense online archive of pictures, that isn’t the only thing that Tenement Tiles has cultivated. 

She said: “We have been able to create a really great community around this. 
“It’s also got to the point where, for example, we have repair workers that we can put people in touch with if they have any issues. 

“It lets people who wouldn’t normally meet connect over this shared interest. 

“Tenement Tiles has no slant, no political stance and no bias. 

“It is for everyone and anyone to enjoy and learn about the history in their city and connect with people across the world.”

To follow the achrive on social media, you can follow @TnmntTiles on Twitter and @tnmnttiles on Instagram.