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Debate over GSA rebuild strategy intensifies

December 22 2014

Debate over GSA rebuild strategy intensifies
Debate surrounding the restoration strategy for the Glasgow School of Art’s iconic Mackintosh designed library has intensified with architects speaking out in favour of a contemporary interpretation as the historic room rather than a 'pastiche' recreation as the school continues its hunt for an architect to oversee the work.

Speaking to the BBC’s Scotland 2014 broadcaster Stuart Cosgrove outlined 'three schools of thought' in regards to the project. "One is a restoration, what is interesting about that is that Mackintosh’s correspondence with local craftsmen has been preserved so there is a lot of detail about the making of the building and because of GSA’s digital 3d scanning this could be replicated in quite a forensic way.

“A counterargument is that when Mackintosh built it he was at the height of his as an imaginary, innovative, Scottish argument and that’s precisely what should happen now. It should be gifted over to that level of innovation.

“A third thought, which is actually really interesting, is that there should be a new building which tells the story of the fire because there are parts that can be encased and preserved.”

Weighing into the debate Dunlop outlined his rationale for favouring the second option, telling the programme: “When the fire happened it was immediately considered that we had to fully restore it, over a period of time now we’re analysing that and considering whether it’s the right thing to do. My own view is that we shouldn’t restore it, we’d create a pastiche if we did, we need to create something new and equally as beautiful.”


#1 Posted by james on 22 Dec 2014 at 12:32 PM
I've just read the house rules. So I'll just have to make do and say this instead to the sound of weeping. For the sake of clarity: Options 2 & 3: Does their banality really know no bounds? Breathtaking.
Big Chantelle
#2 Posted by Big Chantelle on 22 Dec 2014 at 12:43 PM
If the building is not built exactly (or with the best intention to replicate) then it is a complete an utter disgrace.

Even proposing to rebuilt it differently is an insult but sadly a typical example of liberal, moronic thought process these days.

If there was no fire (and there shouldn't have been) the building would still be alive in all its glory. The fact an accident/disaster affected it is not reason to modify it now.

And saying "what would Mackintosh do" is silly. 1. He's not here to talk for himself and 2. When he designed the building he designed it to be used and for over 100 years it was -- perfectly. Nothing in the meantime has changed the building's perfect functionality. To redesign any aspect of it is to somehow say the original building wasn't good enough -- and it was.The building wasn't deficient. It was great.

So, no, no lefty/liberal overthinking of this. Rebuild it exactly.
#3 Posted by hibeesyabas on 22 Dec 2014 at 13:27 PM
New heights for The Arogance of Now. Just bonkers.

This is a very unique case. Unleashing the forces of Now on this building will almost certainly be a catastrophe. The other option, is a guaranteed masterpiece. Pretty bloody simple, no?

And I'm to the left of Castro for whatever that's worth Chantelle.
D to the R
#4 Posted by D to the R on 22 Dec 2014 at 13:36 PM
Big Schann-T ... Surely to (attempt a) re-build would far greater a crime than contemplate an appropriate modern contribution. Otherwise isn't it just like creating the Eiffel Tower and the Sphinx in Las Vegas ? I'm could understand restoration if some of it remained but it was obliterated?! There is nothing left ..... Mackintosh's designs were forward thinking and progressive .... This should be too
#5 Posted by M. on 22 Dec 2014 at 13:42 PM
When it comes to a building like the Mackintosh you have to restore it to its former glory. It is one of the best examples of CRM's work and to change it would be an out-right catastrophe and would render the building with a permanent scar. I hope Dunlop's comments are ignored by the winning team and I further hope Dunlop has nothing to do with this building - ever.
Big Chantelle
#6 Posted by Big Chantelle on 22 Dec 2014 at 14:21 PM
@ D to the R

What you on about? All this liberal mumbo jumbo. "it's pastiche to wold be like creating a Las Vegassy thingy.......". Do you liberals ever listen to yourself. Who are you trying to impress with ur over convoluted thought processes?

If there was no fire, the building would still be stdanding -- without the suggested 'now' modifications. It would be a brilliant building without any need to be made over.

The only reason there's proposals to make over the building is because it was a fire damaged -- tragedy that should never have happened.

Building anything different to the original is an insult. A disgrace.

If someone defaced the Mona Lisa would restorers insert a 'modern' part into it -- ya know, a wonky eye and abstract arm? Nope. It would never be suggested. So why propose to do that to this building?

Rebuild it exactly as it is. End of story.
Tony Byrne
#7 Posted by Tony Byrne on 22 Dec 2014 at 14:28 PM
I think Steven Holl has shown us that hanging on to the past with faux sentimentality for the old or even mock historic architecture is fundamentally flawed.

this building is clearly not fit for purpose anymore and damaged beyond repair. Demolish it. This is a prime site to clear and introduce some innovative new design which can mirror and play off the brilliant new Holl building, with some prime opportunities for retail below.
#8 Posted by Mediator on 22 Dec 2014 at 14:34 PM
I would suggest that someone who contributes to a debate with “Rebuild it exactly as it is. End of story” is clearly a dictator unwilling to mediate between their own opinions and listen reasonably to other people’s arguments

Mackintosh's designs were forward thinking and progressive as described by D to the R and he is unlikely to have been designing mock gothic style. debate
Big Chantelle
#9 Posted by Big Chantelle on 22 Dec 2014 at 14:36 PM
Nope Tom Byrne.

Stephen Holl has shown us that when u get free reign to build an ORIGINAL building you are dealing in different parameters. Stephen Holl wasn't asked to 'restore' someone else's architecture.

Your point is invalid.

The building is fit for purpose -- when not in a fire ravaged state. That's the point -- there should have been no fire.

#10 Posted by CADMonkey on 22 Dec 2014 at 14:38 PM
Your comparison to the Mona Lisa is precision sharp.
I don't know what planet these promoters of defacing the Mac are on. When I first heard about it I seriously thought it was a joke.
This uber liberal thinking as very dangerous as it might just happen.
Who decides?
#11 Posted by neil on 22 Dec 2014 at 15:15 PM
Pastiche is to imitate. Rebuilding is not imitation.
#12 Posted by Stephen on 22 Dec 2014 at 17:57 PM
I don’t see a rebuild as pastiche. Pastiche means copying, and when used as a pejorative (as it mostly is today in architecture) it means a poor copy where historical design and construction is misunderstood and/or Value Engineered. The truth is we already have a fantastic design for this site, handed down to us by Mackintosh himself. If we submitted his drawings to a new competition I’d think he should probably win that too. But he didn’t whittle the damn thing with his own pen knife (not quite); he did drawings and provided information, all of which we still have (and more). For me it isn't copying to build to his site-specific design for a building that he designed as a composition, where the hen-run, library etc were part of the wider whole that still exists and can be restored. We can't benefit from the changes he might have made today but it'd be a tribute to him to rebuild it as he first intended.

As an aside, I also think we should rethink our lazy use of the word pastiche. Palladio, Michelangelo, Bramante and the rest all threw themselves at it wholeheartedly and we don't mock their legacy. What we should scorn is lazy construction with little cognisance of its place in the history of architecture and cheap building practices and procurement.
#13 Posted by trebuchet on 22 Dec 2014 at 18:19 PM
indeed tony, you could fit at least three levels of basement carparking too!

on a more serious note, is there a restoration project alan dunlop wouldn't peddle this argument about? there is a time and place for reinterpretation, granted, but that chance has been and gone in the (d)rei(ch)d building. the mac is part of world architectural history, and i say that without sentimentality, the loss of the library is tragic. it should and will be rebuilt. but by all means build a new museum elsewhere and take your pencil for a walk there.
#14 Posted by Chris on 22 Dec 2014 at 23:19 PM
#7 What a ridiculous proposition given that over half of the building survived and that it is undoubtedly an icon. You have the mindset that the 60s planners had, and look how far they got us.
#15 Posted by Hingwy on 23 Dec 2014 at 09:15 AM
We don't have a lot of built Mackintosh work - if the building burned down in the 1960's and they replaced it with a structure of its time, we would have had 50 years of regret. Remember that the Parthenon has been rebuilt a number of times. I'm fully paid up member of the mad modernist brigade.
Neil C
#16 Posted by Neil C on 23 Dec 2014 at 09:55 AM
I wonder how many of the hundreds of comments now on line against designing a new library actually have visited the old? Dunlop has a point worth considering seriously, seems to me?
#17 Posted by Stephen on 23 Dec 2014 at 10:35 AM
@16. Neil C. Not sure I follow the argument on how visiting (or not) the old library relates to whether a new design should be built...?

My feeling is that we don't need a new design. We have one that we know is incredible and that is part of an intentional composition and sequence of spaces. The building in its previous form was a well functioning object lesson that is more than worth rebuilding. To say it's pastiche to rebuild is to misunderstand the word and this weird moral absolutism that it's somehow 'wrong' to rebuild is just that: Weird. Can someone please explain the logical argument of those that feel it's wrong to rebuild?
Neil C
#18 Posted by Neil C on 23 Dec 2014 at 10:55 AM
As much as he obviously likes to hear the sound of his own voice I think he was wrong to say a pastiche but Dunlop came across well on the BBC and the amount of interest generated by the Glasgow Herald article was well presented. He and Malcolm Fraser seem to be leading the debate on architecture in Scotland whether you agree with them both or not. I think Dunlop is wrong on various issues but here I think he makes a valid point. The library no longer worked as a library, it was a museum piece .
#19 Posted by Stephen on 23 Dec 2014 at 11:15 AM
"The library no longer worked as a library, it was a museum piece". If honestly true (and that's debatable, it was also an archive) then that's quite a convincing argument for redesign. On the other hand, museums have an important role. The sequence of spaces in the art school and their design (library included) have given seminal experience to thousands of architects. I frequently reference the building for new work and I'm only one person. Rebuilding would continue that legacy. Examples of design at that standard are very rare.

Seems to me that we need an open-minded debate. Perhaps an ideas competition (can't believe I'm advocating architects giving away free designs...terrible idea), or better still, appoint someone with pedigree (Caruso St John?) (plus anyone else that really wants to do free work) to do a feasibility study to inform that debate.
#20 Posted by Hingwy on 23 Dec 2014 at 11:33 AM
Folks arguing that the library was only a museum piece probably haven't been studying there for a long time. Everyday library provision for the students was provided in the belly of the Bourdon building. The Mackintosh library was free for students to use as a quiet study space. Architecture students used the library for studying historic Palladio and Robert Adam lithographs during group sessions.
Current Mac student
#21 Posted by Current Mac student on 23 Dec 2014 at 12:58 PM
The library was anything buy a museum piece this suggestion is wholly false. In every year of my architecture undergrad I actively used the mac library, in its facility's as an archive, quiet study space and a magnificent space to study and learn from. As I would have this year had the fire not occurred.

And those who suggest the building was unfit for purpose show a level of understanding of the Art School's activity's and needs on par with that of a domestic cat. The only people qualified to declare such profanity's are the staff, tutors and students.
if you rebuild it, they will come
#22 Posted by if you rebuild it, they will come on 24 Dec 2014 at 10:33 AM
I respect and often agree with Alan's opinions, sometimes he has valid points, sometimes contentious points that merit discussion. In this case i think advocating anything other than restoration is completely missing the point entirely. None of the arguements are big enough to justify such a big move, to discard one of the city's and national monuments. The library, whether it is used as a library, an archive, or even a museum, is such a significant outstanding space, was probably visited by every single architecture student of any of the six architecture schools, why leave a space like that only in the history books or on flickr. If the techniques used to build the original are no longer available, then by all means come up with new methods, but aim for the look and design intended, it is well documented and sufficiant information on it should be available. And for the record, i'm a lefty, a liberal, a yessie, a forward-thinker that would always welcome something new and exciting, and a postcard member of the modernist concrete brigade. Before anyone tries to turn this into an 'us versus them' battle on two set unbudgeable thoughts. Some things are simply bigger than princples are determined on.
#23 Posted by Peter on 24 Dec 2014 at 12:23 PM
Profanity's are? I remember the GSA library too, seats were uncomfortable and only a limited number of students were allowed in at a time. My guess that was to counter the argument that it was no longer fit for purpose.
Anna McLeod
#24 Posted by Anna McLeod on 24 Dec 2014 at 18:02 PM
Remember the Mac is actually a huge visitor attraction too. Do these people actually think that people will flock from far and wide to have a tour of a re-interpreted newly designed library? No thanks, the Mac is a museum in its own right, please don't vandalise it with 2014 thinking and restore this masterpiece. The Governments of this country have put aside millions of pounds to restore this building, not create something new. The excellent Steven Holl building across the road is an example of a great new building in the campus, not please, please please restore the old one.
#25 Posted by KelvinKid on 26 Dec 2014 at 12:13 PM
I am astounded by the proposal that the library should not be restored. It is Mackintosh's masterpiece inside his most important building, one which is world famous. It is a major part of Glasgow's heritage. To replace it by a modern design would be nothing short of vandalism.
David MacNicol
#26 Posted by David MacNicol on 26 Dec 2014 at 12:22 PM
Surely many other CRM buildings in Glasgow could now be regarded as pastiche, considering a lot of them were built posthumously. To consider a complete reinstatement as pastiche is insulting to the design ethos of the period which is what would be honoured in a carefully considered reconstruction using original paperwork. When it comes to
Mackintosh, the bricks and mortar should not be valued higher than the design, because that's what's most important. Any attempt at a modern reversion is insulting to the building and what Glaswegians/students value about this place. Also, can we consider for a moment how the Newberry Tower was regarded in its time and also it's replacement by Steven Holl - a building generally hated by the students who use it. Both of these buildings were/are of their time. The Newberry was probably considered in its day to be a modern compliment to the Mack, but then demolished for being out of fashion. No doubt the Reid will be outmoded in not many years to come too. The design of the Mack is timeless. Let's honour the design of the building, for that is GSA's greatest asset.
Darren Ferguson
#27 Posted by Darren Ferguson on 26 Dec 2014 at 12:29 PM
Rebuild identical to the way it was, using where possible original materials. Where necessary make slight improvements to the fabric ofvthe building. Do not change the look or the design as that would be sacrilege. If it is not fit for purpose as some say then create an annex somewhere close by. I never went to GSA but I love art and architecture, GSA would lose some of its appeal and status would it become yet another large expanse of glass and metal structure.
Alison Campbell
#28 Posted by Alison Campbell on 26 Dec 2014 at 16:03 PM
Surely the complete integration of Mackintosh's buildings must be respected. Every element down to the most humble designed to work together. To do anything other than restore to his original designs would jar terribly in the context of the building as a whole. This is not the time or place for anything other than a re-making of what was already designed.
Douglas Anderson
#29 Posted by Douglas Anderson on 26 Dec 2014 at 18:27 PM
I have to admit that I'm 'conservative' - whatever that might mean. I'm very much in favour of rebuilding. A propos the topic generally, was the historic part of Warsaw not reconstructed after the end of the War? I'm not aware of there having been too much criticism of that occurrence.
Norval Smith
#30 Posted by Norval Smith on 26 Dec 2014 at 19:40 PM
I don't see what liberal/leftie-ness has to do with it. I want it put back the way it was, as much as possible. My parents met in the hen-run when they were students (pictured above). As a kid I took painting and drawing, design and clay-modelling classes there on Saturday mornings.
Any talk of doing something new with the site or having a new design would be ridiculous. This is one of the great buildings the city has.
And I'm a proud liberal (with a small "l").
Kirsty McNicol
#31 Posted by Kirsty McNicol on 27 Dec 2014 at 01:04 AM
It should be rebuilt exactly as Mackintosh intended, in the same way that the Cutty Sark was.

'Modernising' this beautiful Art Nouveau building would be a real shame.

It was already a massive mistake to allow it to be used as a 'modern' working artschool with such off hand disregard for it's initial disaplined and decent use.

The management of this Art School allowed it's use to get so out of the realms of common sense and reasonable use that this disaster happened.

It should be a cultural and tourist relic used for safe and sensible purposes, not a shambolic fun house for people to mess about with flammable materials for silly daft 'Art' projects which were just nonsense. Teach and encourage drawing and architecture and keep Damian Hurst style modern art experiments to safer fire handlimg equipped premises, where life and heritage is not put at risk as was the case here.

The management responsible for this should all be sacked! Bunch of dosey, inept fools could only allow this to happen to a landmark building which should have been given more thought and respect.

GSA has practised for far too long, a total disgraceful disregard for adequate safety requirements.


#32 Posted by Kirsty on 27 Dec 2014 at 01:17 AM
I truely hope that it will be rebuilt exactly as Mackintosh intended, in the same way that the Cutty Sark was.

'Modernising' this beautiful Art Nouveau building would be a real shame.

I feel it was already a massive mistake to allow it to be used as a 'modern' working artschool with a lack of consideration for modern fire safety and a common sense approach.

It should be a cultural and tourist relic, hopefully still to be used for safe and sensible purposes, such as to teach and encourage drawing and architecture and perhaps in future the Art school should keep more experimental modern art ventures confined to safer premises, where life and heritage would not be put at such risk.

GSA should respect the Mackintosh legacy and restore this building, hopefully treating it with the respect it deserves in future.

I definitely think a full restore would be much loved and adored by future generations.
#33 Posted by RM on 27 Dec 2014 at 08:48 AM
#31 makes me think that Alan Dunlop argues the more valid and reasonable point, "It should be a cultural and tourist relic used for safe and sensible purposes, not a shambolic fun house for people to mess about with flammable materials for silly daft 'Art' projects which were just nonsense" Perhaps it's a joke but judging by the knee jerk reactions to rebuilding new perhaps not.
#34 Posted by Karen on 27 Dec 2014 at 10:08 AM
A full restoration is the only solution. Speaking as a Art school alumni this was what was so special about attending the school, the fact you were working in this legendary building, students worked hard to gain entry to the school and are admired for getting there. There is two library's - the Macintosh library was always seen as more of a museum piece anyway. Not to mention the tourism the building brings to the city, we have plenty of new, modern architecture in the city, let's have some heritage left.
#35 Posted by Stephen on 27 Dec 2014 at 14:47 PM
Wow, some people have some really funny views about things don't they? I can understand having deep seated views when it comes to the rights and wrongs of murder, but why a debate about the future of a room can't be more nuanced I find a bit bizarre. "Must be rebuilt", "anything else would be sacrilege", "to rebuild would be a shameful pastiche". All seems very odd to me. I think an open debate, respectful of all positions would be interesting (not a UR strongpoint).
I'm open to any approach but would rebuild if it were up to me; to my mind whatever is done with the current shell needs to demonstrate an intimate understanding of the existing building, the sequence of rooms, the site, Mackintosh himself, Glasgow, the GSA and the use of the building. It's an almost impossible task but we already have such a design and one which would be very difficult to better. That said, I'd LOVE to have a go at a redesign myself, although judging by some of the views on here, I'd probably be strangled for it.
#36 Posted by Martin on 27 Dec 2014 at 15:13 PM
I agree with Kirsty and Big Chantelle

Especially the fact that is event should never ever have occurred - the school had already been given £200k+ funding specifically for fire safety and fire prevention.

The school needs to be returned to its original state, that should be a given - as stated here repeatedly, there was nothing wrong with it (apart from the shameful lapse in adequate fire prevention, which was a management issue and not a structural issue).

If the school is returned to its former glory - Cutty Sark and similar works - if corners are cut and if funding is a major concern, if the GSA is penny pinching and Scrooge with it's attempts then the school will fail and come across as a drab pastiche,
The school needs to be willing in every aspect, management, financially and pro-actively to replace the original with an exact copy - and maintaining it's quality with the proper fire safety and human safety standards that had claimed (incorrectly) where already in place.

The problem comes if the school is pushed into doing an exact replacement which they do not have the willpower to complete, then it will become a sad, shameful floppy copy.


#37 Posted by james on 27 Dec 2014 at 15:17 PM
...and so on and so on... I am at a loss as to why there is a debate at all. What a meaningless, pseudo-contractual, legalistic architects' phrase, 'fit for purpose' is in this context. Oh! the banality of function...
#38 Posted by Vron on 28 Dec 2014 at 07:40 AM
why do architects have such a huge ego to imagine they can improve on this work. This is effectively a museum piece, and a huge tourist attraction for glasgow. When a brand new art school building has just been erected opposite, why would anyone want to eradicate the traditions which the Mac building is rooted in. Let's use this time to train craftsmen and build the craft traditions which are declining in today's modern world. If the house for an art lover is hailed as a success, why can this rebuild not be so also.
#39 Posted by FHM on 28 Dec 2014 at 12:02 PM
I think it's a pretty naff building. Everyone is missing the point; it should not be kept at all.
Neil C
#40 Posted by Neil C on 28 Dec 2014 at 13:18 PM
Congratulations Urban Realm, The perfect storm... informed debate, trite additions, good discussion, Mockintosh, GSA, Conservation, Rebuild, Modernism, Dunlop, nameless posters, bad management, Trolls. Brilliant!
#41 Posted by hibeesyabas on 28 Dec 2014 at 16:29 PM
Red herring debate.

neil had it covered in one of the early posts:

"Pastiche is to imitate. Rebuilding is not imitation."
Bruce Peter
#42 Posted by Bruce Peter on 28 Dec 2014 at 17:56 PM
The beautiful baroque Public Hall in Springburn lay derelict for years. If ever a building shell deserved an imaginative new interior, this was it - but nobody cared. The Mackintosh Building, however, inspires the 'neo-geniuses' of the contemporary architectural profession in the same way that Picasso wished to be compared with Rembrandt. They want to impose themselves on it in the hope that they will be thought of as genii too. The position is also rather offensive to highly-skilled conservation architects and specialists in building restoration. The implication is that their scholarly and loving work is of no more value than One Direction issuing a cover of Teenage Kicks. This is errant nonsense.
Paul Sweeney
#43 Posted by Paul Sweeney on 29 Dec 2014 at 03:53 AM
I couldn't agree more with Bruce Peter. This case is so extraordinary and sufficiently resourced with financial and political wherewithal to merit a showcase of the extraordinary craft and expertise of forensic conservation architects in recovering the original interior composition of the Mackintosh Building.

For those advocating the insertion of a new, repurposed interior - there are currently 162 historic or listed buildings at risk in Glasgow - unlike the Mackintosh, most are derelict with a redundant use. Where is the same sense of urgency and creative vigour in applying innovative solutions for repurposing those irreplaceable civic assets through imaginative new interior design? Springburn Public Hall by William B. Whitie (also architect of the Mitchell Library) was unceremoniously destroyed by the Glasgow City Council proxy City Property LLP two years ago today. It seems plenty more of this inheritance from our Victorian and Edwardian forebears already have and will continue share its fate before we wake up to this massive challenge to the very character and soul of our city.
#44 Posted by RM on 29 Dec 2014 at 09:34 AM
Imitation is right, the connection with Mackintosh is lost and will always be. The library was a museum piece, the chair of the GSA Muriel Gray agrees. " an opportunity to try to recreate it, to make sure that when the art school is reconstructed it will be a fully working art school again, not a museum space" Sunday Herald. You can't have a fully equipped and functioning modern library in a 100 year old interior without resorting to pastiche.
#45 Posted by Sven on 29 Dec 2014 at 19:32 PM
In July 14th 1902 the campanile di San Marco in Venice collapsed into a pile of stones. The authorities decided to reconstruct ''where it was and as it was". Most visitors do not notice that the tower is 500 years younger than it is and it is a defining piece of Venice's architectural motif.

The Art School library is a defining piece of Scotland's and Glasgow's architectural motif. We have the original architects plans, we have numerous photographs and memories of the rooms destroyed. There is no valid reason not to rebuild them "where it was and as it was". Modern lighting, technology (wifi) and etc can be added and blended in without intruding.

"the connection with Mackintosh is lost and will always be" is absolute rot. If I designed the building and it was rebuilt using similar materials, like for like, to my design, then it is my design. The dates are irrelevant. The House of an Art Lover is newer than me but it is still a MacIntosh building as he designed it.
Jennifer Wilson
#46 Posted by Jennifer Wilson on 29 Dec 2014 at 21:32 PM
We need to rebuild it as the original - I can't believe they would contemplate otherwise - visitors come from all over the world to see this - at least they appreciate what it is - please don't make a fool of yourselves by considering otherwise. Use it as a chance to train some real craftspeople and master joiners etc.
Jennifer Wilson
#47 Posted by Jennifer Wilson on 29 Dec 2014 at 21:36 PM
Regarding the comment about needing a modern library - there is exactly that in the other new building. And surely a place to absorb true historic art, a place to relax and contemplate and to receive inspiration is exactly what the students need. And I imagine most students nowadays do a lot of studying via laptop - that can be done anywhere. But in this restored historic library they can still hopefully view the rescued great works of art and books etc. I would not personally agree with Muriel Gray and we need to get this restoration ongoing and re-create from Mackintosh's original plans. It is a world famous building and needs to be restored to be as such. And it is a great tourist attraction. Lets not destroy any more of Glasgow's heritage - enough of that has been done already with the loss of such buildings as St Enochs station.
G. Fraser
#48 Posted by G. Fraser on 30 Dec 2014 at 01:04 AM
As a current student at GSA, I feel that it is imperative that the space is renewed for the future generations; anything other than this I would suggest as being shortsighted. What we had before was that of a masterpiece, there is no denying that. However I do feel quite strongly in the fact that with the damage caused we have an excellent opportunity, which has basically been placed in front of us for the taking. I would also have to say that any attempt to restore the library space to that of the original in my opinion, would not particularly be successful. Purely on the grounds of it being new as opposed to being 105 years old. If you are building/ designing in the present, then surely it would not be appropriate to build in the past?

Just some thoughts.

BArch stage 1 Mackintosh School of Architecture, GSofA
#49 Posted by RM on 30 Dec 2014 at 11:55 AM
#48 agreed indeed, not only are the conservationists condescending "please don't make a fool of yourselves" "neo-geniuses' of the contemporary architectural profession" but have more faith in the past that the future. Alan D is correct build a new library, as the chair of also GSA agrees, not restore a replica of a museum space of use only as a tourist attraction.
#50 Posted by Sven on 30 Dec 2014 at 18:26 PM
"Purely on the grounds of it being new as opposed to being 105 years old."

So all restoration is unsuccessful? What exact year after construction does restoring or recreating a building become unsuccessful? Does replacing slates on a Victorian tenement roof mean it is now not a Victorian roof? Would the 'new' slates have to be red terracotta as that is new or do you blend in with the original blue slates? Would you force solar panels as that is au courant?
Jonathan M
#51 Posted by Jonathan M on 31 Dec 2014 at 13:24 PM
Interesting debate here, some good points being raised (along with the ill informed!)

My first reaction, like most I am sure, was a total and faithfull restoration. After all, this must be one of the most documented interiors and is integral to Scottish architectural history. There is a plethora of crafting talent for whom this would be the commission of a lifetime and I am sure would do a perfect job.

However, upon deeper thoughts, we must evaluate what we are actually restoring. Sure, we may be able restore the shelves, the woodwork etc but to an extent the fabric of the library was the canvas - the true essence of the library was the 100 years of use and the inherent wear and tear, the small acts of graffiti in the tables, and the knowledge that you are sitting where previous generations came to gather their own thoughts. That can't be recreated and that is truly lost, much more than the physical library. I would worry that with a faithfull recreation, in all it's good intentions, we would be presented with a carbon copy that would be shrink wrapped - it would be pristine but we would be too fearful to use it in the way that the Origional library was. It would become a museum piece - a beautiful recreation I am sure, but the silver tea set that is kept in the cupboard but never truly used.

Perhaps we should look instead to the example set in the Neuss Museum in Berlin - war ravaged and pockmarked, it truly tells the story of its history. It acknowledges it's past but also gives a modern interpretation free of pre-event sentimentality and romanticism that a full restoration would have produced.

I am not suggesting a total carcass of the room, but neither a full restoration. Why not use this opportunity to build on Mackintoshs design values, through the use of craftsmanship, to showcase contemporary design ideas and craftsmanship? To continually look to the past is to hinder the present and to deny the future.
Big Chantelle
#52 Posted by Big Chantelle on 1 Jan 2015 at 20:36 PM
@Jonathan M said "Perhaps we should look instead to the example set in the Neuss Museum in Berlin - war ravaged and pockmarked, it truly tells the story of its history. It acknowledges it's past but also gives a modern interpretation free of pre-event sentimentality and romanticism that a full restoration would have produced."

Who are you trying to impress with this liberal mumbo jumbo? Do you think ur overly convoluted way of thinking makes u better than other people? Is that why you're saying what you're saying?

Why are you and other folks trying to romanticize a fire? It was an accident that should never have happened!!!!!

So, if the fire didn't happen the building would still be intact. When the building was intact, noone suggested rebuilding the library differently. It's only on the back of the fire that others have suggested such a silly thing.

The building needs to be restored to the way it was.

Anything less is a complete raping of the building and the memory of it.

G. Fraser
#53 Posted by G. Fraser on 2 Jan 2015 at 01:49 AM

The comparison of re tiling of a Victorian residential building, to that of the Mack is quite ridiculous. As I'm sure you are aware there are not many Victorian residential buildings that are considered to be in the same caliber of the Mack. I predicting it to be un-successful purely on the premise of what #51 voiced; You will never be able to re-create the smell and overall atmosphere. Also to #47, the library is actually in the old Bourdon building, which in my opinion is getting stretched: especially if the campus needs to expand. However, I would be against the instillation of a new library in the remaining shell.
kevin toner
#54 Posted by kevin toner on 3 Jan 2015 at 14:09 PM
It’s not too late to start the following school of thought, especially at the art school. In fact Mackintosh may have anticipated this if he intended building arguably the greatest ever intellectual contribution to textbook western architecture so far.

Please don’t steal that quote!

If it’s not merely my own idea/concept to begin with, and perhaps or surely Mackintosh’s himself, then it’s upon us (future generations) to either embrace or rubbish it, the following.

A kind of ‘salvage in advance’ concept – on the perishable relative to the solid shells of the masonry: the library itself being the most important masonry shell due to being compartmentalised in mid air too by a presumably concrete floor.

The same strategy may’ve also been afforded in some of the other important rooms at a much smaller scale, but definitely not for the majority of the building (the larger spaces, the studios) to which the library belonged.

Therefore the library is much more important than we think!

Rather than be forced to replace the interior from scratch after disaster, as has occurred for the first time after the fire, why not periodically replace the interior more often: in parts, rather than as a whole, until a sufficient quantity and quality of duplicated material is generated as contingency to cover various forms of damage through time - not too much that will oust the next centuries’ craftspeople doing likewise...

In fact, duplicate work can (or should) be built as a matter of course in advance, but probably never is. I trust Mackintosh was too modest/budgeted at the time to instruct the ‘should be’ and the best we’ve been given is an implied ‘can be’, i.e. in the concept of keeping spare work.

However, back to the article:

Alan’s difficulty in comprehending the restoration of the library is not unusual, but typically conventional, arguably far too conventional for what’s at stake.

It is indeed difficult for most to comprehend the reinstatement of Art Nouveau stamped things, at any point in time, salvaged or otherwise, compared with e.g. classical pieces boasting a greater age.

For example and by comparison, no one has any issue when certain historic landmark buildings are rebuilt. We have the medieval Tolbooth Steeple in Glasgow as a nearby, almost 100 year old, example.

Who’s also dared to criticise, or complained, with the new Shakespeare Memorial Library being reformed at the top of the new ‘Library of Birmingham’, a 2014 Stirling Prize contender?!album-108-101

The Mackintosh library hasn’t really gone. Its perishables will simply be reinstated en-bloc rather than, through time, bit by bit.

What will make this reinstatement (the Mac Library) more acceptable than most historical instances is, ironically, that the idiom (arts & crafts) has been more easily recreated, vernacular, across the ages, e.g. there’s no real date or heyday for Tudor in whatever decade, period or century since whenever.

It’s quite a weave to unravel what is appropriate or essential to reinstate and in what way as this conversation thread begins to testify. I charge quite a bit - perhaps way too much - to convey these answers, which is why others will have to be relied upon for progress.

I can do post mortems though for free, but let’s hope I won’t have to here.
Neil C
#55 Posted by Neil C on 4 Jan 2015 at 10:08 AM
#54, I think you've solved this. A strategy that would satisfy no one. Neither a rebuild nor conservation, neither a new working library nor museum space. Of no interest to tourists and taking many years to complete. Brilliant! Too late though I think GSA may steal your idea. I'll certainly steal your quote.

#52 "complete raping"? raping?. Final confirmation, if it were needed, that you are a m*ron
kevin toner
#56 Posted by kevin toner on 4 Jan 2015 at 21:21 PM
#55, I think you may've misunderstood, but thanks as it gives me another chance to put my point across in another guise!

Basically, Mackintosh & I are saying don't scrimp and scrape all next century around after doing an en-bloc refit/reinstatement. Yes, it’s been late to say so, but I reiterate, it’s never really too late to reinstate perishables and to build surplus to keep spare, but again not too cyclically as ‘fabric integrity’ is hardly a matter due to the design’s everlasting materials!

I’ve also said this before: no one is asking for anything as remotely periodic/ritualistic in the way that the Japanese keep their buildings ancient, since the Art School’s perishables have the added advantage of being entirely internalised within a highly protective shell and environment.

I’d urge and re-urge, during the refit, that proper use is made of the craftspeople in affording to build more spare (not sparing) work than normal and then to keep spare work secure &/or displayed etc...!

The crafts world is waiting in the wings following this disaster, with lots more to prove than the odd egotistical architect thinking that ‘refit/modernisation’, in lieu, has something more to offer than a reinstatement.

With money and funding blessed, there is absolutely no reason to consider doing anything other than a reinstatement.

I was simply saying that this must be done less sparingly than was afforded for the original fit-out.

Perhaps no one else other than Mackintosh himself would have ever thought of the possibility of conservation being taken seriously, hence the institution’s making do with the thrifty ‘fit-out once’ approach. This [hopefully former and outdated] approach treated the fit-out perishables like they were part of a master painting. That’s the wrong kind of conservation science for an architectural interior of such calibre.

The lesson has been learned the hard way, but I stress again, ‘it’s not too late’ to make amends!

Ps Unless Alan etc. get their wish for design intervention. However,

With no offence to Alan etc., intervention - by even the top or greatest architects of any time or generation - would be laughable!

If it weren’t for Mackintosh compartmentalising the library in the way it was, I might’ve taken a different view.

Mackintosh basically built conservation into the product, which is quite an art of architecture in itself, and one which we ought to understand more about and trust with better stewardship/custodianship/etc.
Jonathan M
#57 Posted by Jonathan M on 5 Jan 2015 at 16:46 PM
@#52 Big Chantelle
I am certainly not trying to “impress” anybody with my opinions, nor do I feel my comments are an attempt on my part to be more or less valid than anybody else’s. Please do not mistake convolution with a genuine wish to involve all spectrum of discussion, from the ultra-conservative such as yourself to the liberal. Everybody has a right to their opinions, although I must say yours are certainly of the more aggressive and orthodox in tone.

I think you have either ignored or misunderstood pretty much all of my above points. A restoration to the pre-fire design would be a restoration to its original, as built state. Whilst in principle I agree with this, by doing so we are essentially resetting the clock and ignoring the 100 years + of history and use (for better or worse) that the library has endured. That is the history that we have lost, and without that use we are recreating a museum, a set piece, and not something that will ever genuinely be used to the same extent as the original. As somebody who is as prepossessed with history as yourself, you must be able to understand that history derives not just from the object itself, but the subsequent use of that object. In a sense, a restoration could be argued to be denial of its history.

You keep reiterating that the fire should never have happened; sadly, it did. I would never have advocated touching the library before the fire, and I am certainly not trying to glorify the event, but you can’t deny that it is now part of the history of the building and will continue to be a major part of the buildings story. My example of Neues museum in Berlin was to give an example of a building that accepts it has had a significant, destructive event occur, that it is now part of its history, and has accepted and responded to it rather than covering it up.

You say that anything less than a full restoration is raping the memory if the building – I accept that to an extent, with perhaps less graphic conviction, but my counterpoint would be that ignoring the fact that there was a fire, which subsequently destroyed not only the library but the marks of 100 years of history, is just as disrespectful to the memory of it.

I concluded by saying that we can use the Mackintosh design ethos to give a thoughtful and sympathetic solution for contemporary design, much as the great master himself was given when the school was designed. Surely we must recognise that this is far more conducive with the ethos of the Mac, as a progressive school of architecture, art and design thought and product.

Just a thought.
Neil C
#58 Posted by Neil C on 5 Jan 2015 at 18:41 PM
@57 great, well considered and thoughtful post.
The Flâneur
#59 Posted by The Flâneur on 6 Jan 2015 at 14:54 PM
I have been following this debate with interest so please allow me my tuppence worth:

Whilst appreciating that the Neues Museum is a fashionable precedent at the moment I ask if it is the correct one for the situation at the Glasgow School of Art?

What happened to the Neues Museum was a direct result of the Allied bombings of 1943 and 1945 and these only came about as a consequence of the whirlwind reaped by the criminal Nazi regime. Is that key human event not what is being recorded in the decisions the Chipperfield team took in the conservation of the Neues Museum?

In contrast the fire at the Glasgow School of Art was an unfortunate accident that was probably the result of someone being over-tired and stressed in the final push to get their piece exhibited for examination.

To emulate the strategy taken at the Neues Museum do we not risk fetishising this accident by putting too much emphasis on it?

And anyway, surely what is important about Mackintosh’s Glasgow School of Art Library are the spatial complexity and symbology of his ideas and not the rather ordinary material out of which it was fabricated or the patina of marks left by a century of use?

I am not trying to belittle the craftsmanship and effort that went into the creation of Mackintosh’s masterpiece but ultimately, to follow Joseph Rykwert’s line of thought, these actions were a translation of Mackintosh’s ideas on paper into three dimensions. Those drawings are still available and the room is enormously well documented.

The destruction of the library represents a major loss to Glasgow and Scotland’s culture. A careful and faithful re-creation of the library by some of the UK’s best craftsmen will both allow Mackintosh’s seminal ideas to be appreciated once more and will let the building heal. It would not be a pastiche and there are plenty of examples of such an approach be it St Mark's Campanile in Venice or the Cloth Hall in Ypres.

There is no shame in such an approach and it would be a lot more respectful than the insertion of a contemporary design within the void left by Mackintosh’s library. A new insertion risks making a mockery of such key spatial moves as how the three extraordinary oriel bays soaring up the west elevation were reflected in the hexagonal voids behind – one of Mackintosh’s most delightful spatial games were he plays around in the gap between the inside and the outside of the building and something he had to fight for. A contemporary design will be forever hamstrung by the comparison with what went before and if you are looking for a parallel one need reach no further than the unflattering awarding of the 2014 Sir Hugh Casson Award by Private Eye magazine to Steven Holl’s Reid Building over the road. I doubt future generations would thank us for it.
kevin toner
#60 Posted by kevin toner on 7 Jan 2015 at 12:22 PM
Must I repeat that Mackintosh already built the concept of ‘conservation’ into the product, i.e. one deterring the modernisation of a timeless modern masterpiece?

Okay, I’ll repost earlier thoughts for UR readers’ edification. Notwithstanding that commenting (and/or practice) already claims that it has some kind of conservation acumen in one way or another. Not good enough!

I might believe any of them that have IHBC after their architectural accreditations, if any of them do!

This job needs more than simple accreditation/experience*. It needs competence in the science of architectural conservation (e.g. all 3 IHBC competencies as a starting point). Any UK applicant for this job had better have this before embarking on the job. Touching and feeling for tweets/guidance during symposia is not the way - for established practices - to go about edifying themselves, the educated workforce, albeit I’ve done my bit to enlighten in this way without thanks/acknowledgement. What’s new!

*experience can be a curse, it’s not really the issue as Mackintosh has already done or implied the conservation work:-

1) In setting a datum for the precise heights of all library components, by defining the enclosing shell horizontally with concrete, i.e. the goalposts and pitch have been set (and not least the various floodlights) like no other part of the building;

2) Specifying the primary wood (no not for the book cabinets) as one that won’t show signs of age, with patinas, internally for the vast majority of the fit out (all of the bulk outside of graffiti-able distance), leaving nominal posts and key replicable furniture, at the students’ discretion; in turn making for an ‘unnoticeable’ replaceability of the main interior fabric at any one point in time (and ‘untraceable’ replaceability too as follows, wow!);

3) For architectural spaces that are utilising a traditional Japanese element, vernacular, that is in itself dateless as a timber rich idiom (as replaceable timber can be of an older wood – especially in the case of slow growing exotic hardwoods over the course of the centuries and even for century old spaces. Ask Trada if you don’t believe me, or better still, visit your local Snooker club and compare cues, where even amongst the most touched of woods it is sometimes pointless trying to guess which is newer between some 100 year olds Vs their newly untouched manufactured equivalents.

I could go on and on..., but again though, I reiterate the urging of more (spare work) to be built so that we are not kept out on a limb for longer than is necessary.

Spare work can pay for itself countless times over in many ways; and therein (through analogy) is the key to the lost library’s collection being returned, i.e. through the kind donation of spare copies!

Will this be the last word: will Mackintosh’s genius be forever jinxed and grudged eternally?

Ps Visit the Mackintosh Architecture exhibition on a new resource, survey, at RIBA (#mackintosh2015), also online at

Remember that this new survey is as relevant, as dissemination, in addition to any actual archives.
#61 Posted by Stephen on 7 Jan 2015 at 21:29 PM
@59. EXCELLENT post I thought.
Although if you're going to cite the Hugh Casson Award...
The 1996 'winner' (House for an Art Lover) was awarded on the following grounds: "unreal design by long dead architect".
#62 Posted by Stephen on 7 Jan 2015 at 21:57 PM
@60. Kevin. You've written A LOT ("I could go on and on" - quite) but I've no serious clue what you're on about. Most of it doesn't make grammatical, architectural or any other kind of sense apart from where you're throwing insults about.
It seems to boil down (rather more concisely) to the following though:
Are you suggesting an exact rebuild but with a commitment to making spare parts?
Bit odd, but each to his own.
Are you also suggesting Mackintosh implied some kind of conservation for the library by setting a datum, specifying a timber (which went up like a torch by the way), defining the boundaries of the room and using the external walls for windows? In that case I've done exactly the same in nearly every room I ever designed - go me!
#63 Posted by RM on 8 Jan 2015 at 13:14 PM
Shortlist published. That's it settled then. Nothing to see here. Move on, move on.
kevin toner
#64 Posted by kevin toner on 8 Jan 2015 at 15:32 PM
[#63 hold your horses mate,]

#62 on #60 I Disagree:

1) He makes multiple sense;
2) He hasn’t insulted enough;
3) of course he’s suggesting a “rebuild” through his use of the word “reinstatement” – as to how exact or precise (you want to know) is a matter of conjecture and judgement etc. to which I’d (like him) confide to the very few with adequate enough competencies (perhaps himself if he weren’t so expensive to quiz as he claims); and
4) His ‘spare work’ concept should not be as odd as you suggest, but through convention’s failings it’s unfortunately this way, ‘all to his own’ as you say;
5) of course Mackintosh’s library datum is an extremely important establishment because of its permanence in defining a fully dividing shell at a level above which fits all of the library design and components. This datum has been beautifully and intrinsically achieved as can be seen from the level below - in the Lecture Theatre ceiling, which hosts two trapezoidal beams etc. taking a necessary distribution of weight as dictated by the positioning of the aligned stilted interior above. Therefore, yes, the set is as heavily prescribed for [indeed] the library as he claims, and rightly so, for if this weren’t the case, then the datum would otherwise have been up for grabs and reinterpretable (i.e. given the allure of such a vertical shell) noting that even with the verticality as it stands – fully divided by this datum – it’s still wetting many an appetite for refit by reinterpretation, and doesn’t the encircling vultures calling to usurp prove it: please imagine for a moment, think, what that appetite would have grown into had the shell not been so cleverly divided, but more sacrificially stacked in the way the studios cleverly are. I’d hasten to say that the budding designers would possibly be winning this thread. Ask for a fire-fighter’s opinion too: this has been a masterpiece too clever to foil. Note also that such a solo element as the library had to have this horizontal datum set in concrete, not really for the fire protection (per se) as the eventuality of ‘uncontrolled fire’ occurring in this particular case through the doors/corridor nullifies that - ergo the clever risking of materials that would, to use your own words, go ‘up like a torch’, clever here [indeed] because of the specification merits that he mentions.

Therefore my sincere thanks to him for pointing all of this out given the quite evident context of key people predictably ready to rubbish - or deny that there is - any of this very real/unbeknownst and very sophisticated art behind all of it: no, not one all about craft alone, but an architectural one with the “implied conservation” that you doubt, which embraces the crafts that very well still exist.

If I remember him tweeting correctly, on a #buildonmack thread reply, he said this

“I had the unending feeling of severe alienation since my initiation to the space 34 years ago. It was no bad thing, it was essential! @GSofA”

It’s ironic that someone who didn’t particularly enjoy the space is fighting too and nail like no other on its behalf.

[#63, now we can close the session if UR weren’t the press freedom advocates that they are!]
kevin toner
#65 Posted by kevin toner on 16 Feb 2015 at 10:29 AM
Finally a good report on the basics from a critic’s article yesterday from the online Guardian entitled “Glasgow School of Art: what architect could restore Mackintosh’s masterpiece?”

Except for one possible oversight in its failure to fully elaborate on the timbers used, where it suggests that all is in dark stained softwood.

Most of us will guess or agree that some of the timbers doing basic functions may very well have been in softwood, maybe some of the less important, out of sight, structural timbers (as a guess) or for example the balusters. I myself remember seeing a lot of this around the complex as a whole, e.g. at the refectory if I remember correctly and even within the Art school itself no doubt.

However, back to the library in particular, most will probably recall that much was in a dark stained oak that’d rubbed off with wear and tear at points, but not the ‘out of reach’ art nouveau material that’s carved/panelised.

At least 3 image galleries that I’ve seen, beautifully demonstrate a more than likely different wood altogether for the untouchable, though very visible, art nouveau timber. I linked to these on my Google+ page after reading the critic’s vagueness on the wood, which I’m presuming will not pull the wool over our eyes.

Thank goodness for photography!

However, therein is another hypothesis: i.e. had the original interior been entirely of softwood how different would that have made restoration philosophies?

And secondly, going on the Guardian’s article, could we in fact ever accept the downgrades of a fully stained-softwood alternative. One possible attribute might be that stained softwood can’t lose its ‘deeply absorbed character’ stain in quite the same way that’s rubbed off on some of the library’s original (presumably oak) wear and tear.

I’d imagine that there’d be no option to downgrade the smooth and intricate art nouveau work, nor perhaps the furniture in whatever different species, and so therefore what might transpire in the restoration-orientated bids, expected shortly, could be the attitudes to either 1) replicate the past, wood for wood; or 2) mimic the past not without a full exposition on character and appearance relative to the restorative/philosophical aspects of integrity, authenticity, conjecture and intervention... to use some lingo from ‘conservation vocabulary’.

We’re days away from seeing the shortlist. Urban Realm will hopefully have a report on it shortly, watch the space.

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