James M MacLaren studied architecture in Glasgow before moving to London to practise. Most of the buildings he designed are in Perthshire in Scotland.
In 1880 Sir Donald Currie, self made shipping magnate, MP for Perthshire and with great influence in South Africa, started buying up the estates in and around Fortingall, and engaged an up and coming young architect - James M MacLaren - to develop the village.
MacLaren's buildings in Fortingall include Balnald Farm, Glenlyon Farmhouse and steadings, and Kirkton Cottages with the iconic tapering red sandstone chimney rising above crow stepped gables, reed thatch and Cornish inspired eyebrow dormers. He had done preliminary work on Fortingall Hotel and Glenlyon House before his untimely death at the age of 37 in 1890. His work was completed by his partners Dunn and Watson, who also rebuilt the church in 1901-02 with an open barrel-vaulted roof of handworked oak timbers. The young Robert Lorimer was working with them at this time, and he returned in 1913 to design a gothic reredos in memory of Sir Donald Currie.
Another young architect influenced by MacLaren was Charles Rennie Mackintosh who sketched his work in Stirling and adopted MacLaren's "materials, massing and design-vocabulary". Lastly in 1936 a village hall was built by Curtis Green, successor to Dunn and Watson, in memory of Currie's daughter, Elizabeth Molteno and her husband. It features a spectacular scissor beam ceiling and is where the Society generally holds its meetings.