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Glasgow School of Art: What next for the Mac?

June 17 2018

Glasgow School of Art: What next for the Mac?
As the initial shock of Friday's devastating Glasgow School of Art fire begins to dissipate tough questions are now being asked as to how such a disaster can have been allowed to happen not once, but twice within the span of a mere four years. Here Robin Ward, author of Exploring Glasgow, The Architectural Guide, queries the absence of basic fire protection systems.
In 2014, rapid response by firefighters to the notorious fire in the Mackintosh Building at Glasgow School of Art saved 90% of the structure and 70% of its contents. But the school’s Library, Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s world-famous art nouveau interior, was destroyed. A shattering loss. No city has such a symbiotic relationship with its art school, and love for the architect.

A postmortem by the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service identified the cause of the fire—flammable gases from a canister of foam used by a student making art—and why it spread so fast. The SFRS report revealed the ‘Mac’ as a century-old tinderbox, riddled with ventilation ducts and voids which became a conduit for the flames. A sprinkler system had just been fitted but was not operational. It is unlikely it would have contained the blaze. Incredibly, four years on, a second fire started late Friday 15 June and spread swiftly with devastating effect. Glasgow’s most revered work of architecture was gutted. The cause of this catastrophic event is, so far, not known.

The 2014 fire, GSA director Professor Tom Inns said, was a ‘horrible accident’. Of the SFRS report he opined, ‘Obviously there are many features in the building which contributed to the fire—those are the things that are highlighted in the report.’ Lessons would be learned. Not
highlighted in the report, or by Inns, was a failure of stewardship, and negligence.

The GSA’s investment and hype in the years preceding the 2014 blaze had focussed on creating a campus fit for the 21st century, notably the Reid Building (Steve Holl and JM Architects) which opened in 2014 face to face with the Mac across the street. After the fire, restoration of the Library went ahead, prioritized by popular demand. The restoration (Page/Park Architects) was to be have been meticulous, as good as new, and expected to finish next year.

Buildings under repair or restoration are always at risk. What precautions did the GSA put in place? Why was the sprinkler system not finished or improved to protect the bulk of the building the firefighters saved? According to the Guardian, the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association understood that ‘automatic fire sprinklers had not been fully fitted as the building was still undergoing refurbishment from the 2014 fire.’ The association added, ‘sprinklers can be fitted in buildings throughout construction on a temporary basis.’ Furthermore, with restoration in progress, was anyone hired to fire-watch overnight, every night? It seems not.

After the first fire, no one at the GSA wanted to play the blame game. No heads rolled. But were lessons learned from the SFRS report? On the streets of Glasgow there is shock and anger that such a fire happened again. As for the future, there will be calls for the whole building to be restored. The shell of the Mac survived the inferno but it may not be structurally sound. Intense heat and the sudden spay of water cracked and weakened stonework in 2014. Whole or partial demolition may now be required for public safety. Façadism may be feasible, with a new structure inside.

In any event, a complete copy would be doable—the Mac is comprehensively documented, and a detailed digital modelling of the building was done after the first fire. Indeed, CRM’s design for the House for an Art Lover was built in Glasgow long after he died. But would a replica of the Mac be desirable?

Forensic knowledge was acquired during the restoration of the Library. There will be pressure to restore it again, but to what purpose? The Library was freely used by students when I studied there, when the Mac was a workplace, inspiring but not considered precious. It has since become a shrine, attracting the faithful from around the world.

CRM, long neglected, is now the architectural spirit of Glasgow and his buildings are a tourist attraction, chiefly the Mac. The fire of 2014 generated a huge amount of sympathy and fund-raising to restore the Library. Can that goodwill be sustained to restore the whole building?

The most pressing question, which will provoke debate, is should the Mac be rebuilt as it was, where it was? Would CRM do that or craft something new, with 21st-century materials and technology? Would he apply art nouveau decoration? He would certainly still be a magician of spatial surprise and the effects of light and shade that were the original’s unique personality. Perhaps the school’s architectural students should be given a chance to reinvent the place. CRM was young when he designed the Mac, and created a masterpiece.

Robin Ward is the author of Exploring Glasgow, The Architectural Guide



#1 Posted by Billy on 18 Jun 2018 at 08:33 AM
Where was the night watchman? Presumably there was one. If not why not?
#2 Posted by Sven on 18 Jun 2018 at 10:07 AM
We have many buildings that have been restored from ruins - Japan has many 'ancient' buildings that are post WWII, Germany and Poland have mass experience of doing so (the Old Town of Warsaw is younger than some of our baby boomers), the Frauenkirche in Dresden was a pile of stones until 2004 and is mostly new stone. We have the will and want to rebuild the Mack as it was and should do so. The opportunity is now to add in future proofing and fire proofing. We already have restoration experts onsite who did a marvelous job and we should start again.
jimbob tanktop
#3 Posted by jimbob tanktop on 18 Jun 2018 at 10:36 AM
I don't believe there's any question of a new build - there will be a straight restoration. To build something new, that wasn't at least the equal of the Mackintosh building would be certain to incur the contempt of wider Glasgow society.

Arguably more interesting is what Glasgow and Scotland does now, to enhance the GSA's role in the city. It has a chance to embed the institution deeper into the fabric of Glasgow by greatly improving the built environment immediately to its south. Only a short while ago, some awful, boxy student housing scheme was thankfully thrown out by GCC to replace the admittedly execrable Jumpin' Jaks nightclub. Could this site not be acquired and a GSA alumni museum built to complement the Mack and other Garnethill buildings and provide a focal point for visitors to this part of Glasgow?

Most Glaswegians are barely aware of GSA's existence, and as Sauchiehall Street declines with the changing environment for retail and leisure, perhaps Glasgow could do something spectacular to celebrate not only the certain-to-be-rebuilt Mack, but the institution and everything it has contributed to the city's life.

With destruction comes the opportunity to improve.
James Tallent
#4 Posted by James Tallent on 18 Jun 2018 at 11:56 AM
I think almost everyone would like to see a total restoration/rebuild of the building, which would then become a Mackintosh museum and visitors’ centre. And then - happily - the other half of the block, the southern half, would make a magnificent plaza/minipark, with seating and trees, perhaps some steps forming an area to sit for office workers and shoppers, with side streets, and the street in front of the Mackintosh, pedestrianised. The back of the building always suffered from being obscured - let’s rebuild the building and put it in a glorious setting!
#5 Posted by Billy on 18 Jun 2018 at 11:58 AM
Think they should demolish jumping jacks and have terraced gardens with seats to show off the rear of the art school and also encourage footfall to the area. Would also make it easier to find.
A Local Pleb
#6 Posted by A Local Pleb on 18 Jun 2018 at 13:58 PM
One assumes that with Page & Park having accredited conservation architects within their ranks they would have given comprehensive advice on the best practice for the installation of fire protection measures?
Historic Environment Scotland have a plethora of advice and guidance (such as TAN 22- Fire Risk Management In Heritage Buildings) so it would inexcusable should that have not been fully taken account of after the first fire.
Walt Disney
#7 Posted by Walt Disney on 18 Jun 2018 at 15:04 PM
I remember standing by the GFT with tears roilling down my cheeks in May 2014. I remember the despair at the destruction and then the partial relief that half of the building had been saved. I remember the fireman statue at Central Station with the 'Thank You' placard hung around its neck....and yet here we are again, but this time it is worse.

You'd have thought that the first construction operation on the building in 2014 would have been to install a fire supression system in the untouched 1899 wing? Seems like the GSA took their eye off the ball on that one and concentrated on interviewing starchitects rather than protecting the remaining asset. It is a crying shame that the simplest of all lessons wasn't learned.

A point to consider though. Well managed and well maintained building sites don't just burst into flames, especially when there is nobody working on site. There's a lot not right about this.
#8 Posted by JS on 18 Jun 2018 at 15:47 PM
The recent fire at The Glasgow School of Art has been even more devastating than the one in 2014. Then, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service managed to save approximately 70% of the contents. Although it is early days, the fire of June 2018 looks to have been much more damaging, and aerial photos show what appears to be only a shell remaining.

Adequate investigation into how such a catastrophic event was allowed to happen - and why lessons had not been learned since the fire of 2014 – must be carried out and, if it shows that negligence was involved, responsibility must be taken by those who could or should have protected this precious landmark.

Notwithstanding this, however, is the love and admiration that members of the GSA community, Glaswegians, architects and people the world over have for this building and its architect, and nothing noted above should be allowed to cloud judgement when discussing the fate of the building itself…there are two discussions to be had: what went wrong, and what to do next?

What Mackintosh ‘would have wanted’, or otherwise, is hardly the issue now, romantic and respectful as it sounds. What matters now is that the overwhelming majority of citizens of Glasgow and beyond appear to want the Mackintosh Building – OUR Mackintosh Building – restored (or if necessary, rebuilt) as faithfully as possible. As a result of the last 4 years, whilst researching the building in order to restore it since 2014, we now have the research and additional knowledge required; we have a detailed 3D digital map of the building; we know the skills (carpentry etc.) still exist and – in fact – have been honed since 2014. These things allow us construct the Mackintosh anew.

People will seek reassurance from The Glasgow School of Art, the City Council and other responsible agencies that they will, once more, restore the original building’s design, and will not allow the inevitable small group of architectural historians, critics and thinkers (some of whom waited less than 24 hours before condemning Scotland’s most famous building) to determine the fate of a building which plays such an integral part within the life of the city. These academics will, instead, insist on an international design competition to come up with a 21st Century work which, will undoubtedly still be inferior to Mackintosh’s masterpiece.

People should ask, this time round (and in stark contrast to 2014), that those within the profession who disagree with the concept of a faithful reconstruction remember that holding an opinion on the built environment- (its power, impact and emotional effects upon its occupants - is not solely the privilege of those educated in the discipline. The rebuilding should not be allowed to become a debate on the theory surrounding what new architecture should be, nor what ‘genuine’, ‘imitation’, ‘pastiche’, nor ‘authenticity’ are. The Art School will presumably want this exceptional building back as Mackintosh designed it, and most others do too.
#9 Posted by David on 18 Jun 2018 at 16:02 PM
I would agree that the vast majority of people would like to see the Mackintosh building reconstructued exactly as it was.

I think there is scope for debate and discussion regarding its future use however. As a former GSA student, I now feel as though the Glasgow School of Art is no longer a worthy caretaker of the building, and it can no longer be entrusted to them. I fully agree with the above comment suggesting it become a Mackintosh museum and visitor centre, perhaps with a community art centre incorporated. GSA owns half of Garnethill, they have plenty of other buildings they can use. I for one feel as though they have lost the right to continue occupying the Mackintosh building. The fire of 2014 was a tragic accident, and we were all devastated, but this time around the feelings of sadness have been replaced with sentiments of anger and sheer disbelief.
It ain't necessarily so...
#10 Posted by It ain't necessarily so... on 18 Jun 2018 at 22:25 PM
On first reading, this is a fairly eloquently expressed argument by JS for the re-building of the GSA, however, on closer reading it's a bit contradictory and flawed.

On the one hand, it is argued that ''love and admiration'' in themselves carry insufficient weight in determining the eventual outcome of this building, but it is stated further on, that, ''the overwhelming majority of citizens of Glasgow and beyond appear to want the Mackintosh Building – OUR Mackintosh Building – restored (or if necessary, rebuilt) as faithfully as possible.''

So from discounting love and admiration, it is argued that an ''overwhelming majority ... of citizens wanting'' an outcome (that is unsubstantiated) is somehow sufficient reason for the literal re-building the GSA to happen. I was not aware that any mechanisms were in place for people to vote directly on whether a non-existent building proposal got built or not, or indeed, whether they could vote on which particular architectural approach is to be taken, or indeed whether public opinion had anything to do with this whole process, full stop.

The other main criticism I have of this point is that it is claimed that there is an ''overwhelming majority''. When was this election organised and held? Where are the results? What was the size of the poll? What was the wording on the ballot? The answer is none of this exists.

I don't believe that anyone can claim to speak on behalf of the non-existent man in the street. There are other opposing voices on social media that would not wish any public money directed toward a redevelopment of the GSA due to a certain perception of exclusivity that has always historically held sway on Garnethill. A few selected opinions on MSM from former students or disgruntled citizens does not constitute an 'overwhelming majority' either way.

It is further stated that 'people will seek reassurance' (this is just nonsense) ''that the inevitable small group of architectural historians, critics and thinkers (some of whom waited less than 24 hours before condemning Scotland’s most famous building) could get to determine the fate of a building which plays such an integral part within the life of the city.''

There are two main points here. One is that JS claims to know the results of a non-existent poll within 48 hours and secondly I doubt if the cognoscenti that are mentioned will have any say in the final outcome as since when have historians, critics and thinkers ever had any political and financial clout in any decision, which is what it will come down to. Even the planners will toe the party-line (everyone has their price) and will not be able to refuse an application on the basis that what is proposed is not a literal re-building of the GSA.

Unfortunately, the populist argument presented then wants to close down debate about a future - that nothing should be discussed other than the re-instatement of the GSA. I would have thought that debate was a necessary part of the whole of a society that discusses what its values are. Or is it only the populist arguments that are put forward that we are to listen to?

I'd like to at least hear the other side of the coin, after all, there are many factors that will be involved in this process, which I daresay functionality (whether we like it or not) will be part of that consideration in years to come.

Lilian Macdonald
#11 Posted by Lilian Macdonald on 19 Jun 2018 at 00:48 AM
My husband and I are former students of the GSA, with so many memories of our days working in the MacIntosh building many years ago. Reading the comments which have been posted, it seems to me that what is needed badly is a bit of time to mourn the destruction. Time to have assessments made as to the structural viability of the shell that is left. Time to have some idea of the costs involved in a total reconstruction if the existing structure is no longer sound. Until all this is done, emotional statements and an attribution of blame are pointless. The situation is what it is. No-one can know for certain what Charles Rennie MacIntosh would have wished. I think we all need to draw breath and give time to let the shock subside. We are just so glad that none of the students were hurt.
#12 Posted by rob on 19 Jun 2018 at 08:34 AM
Glasgow School of Art contractor was previously condemned for fire safety failings
#13 Posted by Roddy on 19 Jun 2018 at 09:27 AM
Surely Glasgow City Council needs to look at the appointment of this crowd to the Burrell and the Citizens.

Glasgow’s heritage is too important to be left to amateurs
You cant fit quicker than a kwik fit fitter
#14 Posted by You cant fit quicker than a kwik fit fitter on 19 Jun 2018 at 10:17 AM
Wow - talk about all your eggs in one basket. I knew they were doing the Burrell - I remember being disappointed in the irony of one of the ringleaders in the blacklisting scandal working on a philanthropist's collection.

Didn't realise they were doing the Citz too.
#15 Posted by Billy on 19 Jun 2018 at 11:42 AM
Surely not. At least until all investigations are complete. Once is once too often. Especially with such hike stakes.
#16 Posted by Timelapse on 19 Jun 2018 at 13:17 PM
Timelapse Footage of the Fire
A Local Pleb
#17 Posted by A Local Pleb on 19 Jun 2018 at 13:59 PM
Lets all play the blame game, one crappy article referred to by #12 tries to infer a track record of failure! One very bad job amongst many successful ones does not correlate.
#18 Posted by hmmm... on 19 Jun 2018 at 14:00 PM
#16 Wow! - this video appears to show the fire starting in the east end of the building and then travel to the west. The O2/ABC appears to then ignite after the GSA. This would in this instance maybe scotch the Glasgow-designed-by-fire-insurance-claims conspiracy theory. I'd say this looks like quite a bit of solid evidence where the fire roughly began.
You cant fit quicker than a kwik fit fitter
#19 Posted by You cant fit quicker than a kwik fit fitter on 19 Jun 2018 at 14:33 PM
#17 - one 'criminally negligent' very bad job and 1 burned down high profile building I think you'll find. Not exactly the trackrecord of an organisation that should be allowed anywhere near the Burrell or Citizens!
It ain't necessarily so ...
#20 Posted by It ain't necessarily so ... on 20 Jun 2018 at 08:46 AM
So there we have it - Muriel has spoken.
What on earth was all the fuss about?

#21 Posted by ricky on 20 Jun 2018 at 15:58 PM
drone footage giving much more detal on the damage to the Mack and the Reid Building
D to the R
#22 Posted by D to the R on 20 Jun 2018 at 20:38 PM
I'm usually never one to agree with Mr A Dunlop but an international competition for a new art school is the only game in town. A replica building is a poor substitute for a former masterpiece - recreating the Mockintosh is even more irreverent than demolishing it.

Let's face facts - buildings don't last forever. True that some have a long a prosperous life, some fall victim to acts of God and irreparable damage. The art school has faced the latter.

Compare it to the death of a loved one - physically they aren't there but their spirit lives on. Mackintosh was a progressive thinker, an innovator - forward looking. His masterpiece has gone but its spirit lives on. The GSA, and the so called protectors of the asset, if they really really think about it, need to pay the building the greatest respect and embrace the next chapter of the Art School's story.
The Flâneur
#23 Posted by The Flâneur on 21 Jun 2018 at 12:57 PM
Given some of the very public pronouncements over the last few days, by people who might be best advised to keep their counsel, I thought it might prove helpful to provide a very brief list of some famous buildings which have been faithfully reconstructed (NB this list is no way exhaustive):

The Barcelona Pavilion by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. (Otherwise known as the German Pavilion for the 1929 International Exposition in Barcelona the pavilion, one of the seminal buildings of the modern movement, was demolished 1930 and reconstructed in 1986 using the original plans in combination with historic photographs.)

The White House, Washington. (Burnt down on 24 August 1814 when the British Army sacked Washington during the British-American War of 1812 -15. In 1948 it was declared in imminent danger of collapse so was entirely reconstructed internally from 1949-1952 with President Truman moving back in on 27 March 1952.)

St Mark’s Campanile, Venice (Severely damaged by lighting in 1388, set on fire and destroyed in 1417 again seriously damaged by a fire in 1489. Repaired and restored due to further damage caused by the earthquake of March 1511. Damaged again by lighting in
1548, 1565, 1658, 1745, 1761, 1762 before being finally fitted with a lightning conductor in 1776. The tower collapsed and was destroyed on 14 July 1902 then being entirely reconstructed between 1902 and 1912)

The Fine Arts Pavilion, San Francisco, by Bernard Maybeck. (Originally constructed for, and one of the few surviving structures of, the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition. As the pavilion was only temporary by 1964 the fabric had become unstable resulting in demolition and, with the exception of the structural frame, all the building fabric, including sculpture and ornamentation, was completely renewed in 1965. The dome, rotunda, colonnades and lagoon were again restored in 2010 when a seismic retrofit was carried out).

The Frauenkirche, Dresden (Built between 1726 and 1743 the dome collapsed on 15 February 1945 following the firebombing of Dresden by both the RAF and the USAF and subsequent firestorm which started two days beforehand. After the reunification of Germany, reconstruction started in 1994 with the exterior completed by 2004, and the interior a year later. The church was reconsecrated on 30 October 2005. In particular, the new gilded orb and cross on top of the dome, which was forged in London, is a symbol of reconciliation between the UK and Germany.)

I’m very confident people can supply others (if I had more time I’d do it myself); however, the point is I very much doubt that anyone is sorry that these destroyed landmarks were reconstructed or would argue that their culture impact has been lessened as a result.

Heal the Mack, heal Glasgow…

PS All my thoughts and best wishes are with the conservation team about whom I am deeply concerned.
#24 Posted by JS on 22 Jun 2018 at 10:35 AM
At no. 23,

Hear, hear

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