Inconclusive Glasgow School of Art fire report provides few answers
January 25 2022
A long-awaited report into a devastating 2018 fire that all but obliterated the Glasgow School of Art has found that the cause of the conflagration remains 'undetermined'.
The Scottish Fire & Rescue Service (SFRS) says physical evidence relating to the source of the fire was destroyed by the same blaze, rendering it unable to attribute an official cause for the record.
The inconclusive report follows a 2018 fire that devastated the A-listed building just as it was nearing the end of a £35m restoration project, initiated by an earlier May 2014 blaze.
The 2018 blaze was reported by a security guard at 23:19 on the evening of 15 June after discovering a fire within a 'crawl space' or 'duct' on a level four landing while investigating strange sounds. Forensic investigators had sought to determine whether the fire arose as a result of arson, electrical fault or an accident but failed to find sufficient evidence to support these lines of inquiry, leaving an open question as to whether a stray cigarette, willful fire-raising or an electrical fault is to blame.
Ross Haggart, SFRS deputy chief officer, attributed the absence of firm findings to "... working within a structurally dangerous site to physically examine hundreds of tonnes of debris which was up to four metres in height and heavily compacted." Haggart added: "Unfortunately, almost everything within the building was severely damaged or consumed in the fire and that included any potential items of evidence that could have provided those answers."
The GSA is progressing a faithful reinstatement of the Mackintosh Building as the school seeks to move on from the disaster and spur the regeneration of Garnethill and Sauchiehall Street.
Comment by architect and Mac alumnus Alan Dunlop
After three and a half years, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service's final report into the 2018 fire at the Mackintosh building has been made public. The investigation has clearly been a challenge and the outcome, though disappointing, is a highly detailed and forensic analysis. Unfortunately, no conclusion as to the "possible origin" or cause has been made. This leaves us with many questions and with a less secure foundation to move forward. However, the report makes a series of recommendations concerning fire awareness and safety in construction which are welcome.
As to the future of the Mackintosh building. The report confirms that the fire was a "significant and catastrophic" incident and that the building's original ducting "served to intensify the fire, promoting uncontrolled fire growth and rapid development". Planning for twenty first century building and fire regulations did not form part of Mackintosh's creative agenda. Moreover, the other elements that made his masterwork so brilliant, the sweeping entrance staircase through the foyer then up onto the open first floor gallery; the double height studios with open access corridors; open staircases either end; double height landings and innovative plenum system could not be replicated without much compromise. It is clear that the Mac can not be replicated.
Instead, any future "faithful reinstatement" has to be undertaken with absolute sensitivity and expertise. The Mac must remain a working building that meets the needs of a contemporary art school and combines the new with all of the original structure that can be saved and Mackintosh's unique legacy is respected.
I would recommend that a trust is now specifically set up to manage that process