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Inconclusive Glasgow School of Art fire report provides few answers

January 25 2022

Inconclusive Glasgow School of Art fire report provides few answers

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

Any evidence that could have pinned down the cause of the fire has been lost
Any evidence that could have pinned down the cause of the fire has been lost


James Hepburn
#1 Posted by James Hepburn on 25 Jan 2022 at 14:32 PM
Well that's a huge surprise everyone. Nobody is to take the blame! Nobody is responsible for not one, but two major fires at one of Scotland's most important heritage sites. Muriel 'two-fires' Gray & Co. get away scot free as the Establishment closes ranks once again. Shocker!
#2 Posted by KLD on 25 Jan 2022 at 15:30 PM
Three years well spent.
Fat Bloke on Tour
#3 Posted by Fat Bloke on Tour on 25 Jan 2022 at 15:59 PM
What are the rumours surrounding these fires?

All I have heard -- third or fourth hand -- is that in 2018 someone was running along Sauchiehall Street looking for a security guard sometime before 23.10.

Although anytime this comes up in conversation people give out a number of knowing looks.
Fat Bloke on Tour
#4 Posted by Fat Bloke on Tour on 25 Jan 2022 at 16:03 PM
Hobby horse'r touting for work -- not a good look.
Jimbob Tanktop
#5 Posted by Jimbob Tanktop on 25 Jan 2022 at 17:49 PM
Nobody's fault, nothing to see. And very nice to see Muriel Gray has now been co-opted by ministers to sit on the board of the BBC as the 'Scotland (Nation)' member for the next five years.
#6 Posted by Peter on 26 Jan 2022 at 08:57 AM
Zero experience here. Scottish Fire & Rescue Service, where can I apply?
#7 Posted by modernish on 26 Jan 2022 at 11:27 AM
Well worth the wait...
However, for a bonus point in the Part 3 exam - If the source of the fire is 'undetermined', or they are 'unable to attribute an official cause', or any other word soup that says they can't or won't say what happened; where does that leave the buildings and the contractors insurers?
#8 Posted by Kier on 26 Jan 2022 at 11:56 AM
Phew ....
#9 Posted by E=mc2 on 26 Jan 2022 at 12:34 PM
Yes, I had also heard 'anecdotally' the security guard was not where he was supposed to be at the time of the fire... who knows? Not sure why Alan Dunlop has been wheeled out either to give his recommendations, he has no larger a say in this, beyond his own self-serving agenda, in what should happen now moving forward.

Hopefully, the expertise of the original design team (Page/Park etc) and specialist sub-contractors and fit-out contractors (not Kier perhaps) can be used in the reinstatement. And that the client body has sufficient technical expertise to question, question and then question again all the decision-making processes, design, specification, assurance, and governance arrangements in place to get absolute certainty and clarity on a faithful reinstatement of the GSA building that preserves the legacy of Mackintosh but using modern life safety and build fabric systems such as sprinklers. And that includes temporary measures during the build process. Doubt what remains would survive a third incident.
Fat Bloke on Tour
#10 Posted by Fat Bloke on Tour on 26 Jan 2022 at 15:30 PM
A lot of the chat about this building comes across as home town boosterism -- I think that it is good to the point of being world class but only one of a hundred such buildings for the 20th century.

My thoughts are that the interior is better than the exterior and it says a lot about the Scottish cringe that a Glasgow School / style of furniture design has not taken off given the foundations that Mr and Mrs Mac have given us.

Consequently something for Weegie council and the Auld Reekie civil service to think about -- more effort into delivering a class local product / industry rather than scouring the world for low wage screwdriver plants to keep the plebs off the street.

Might be showing my age with the last comment but we need to move on from back office jobs and answering the telephone and our history of furniture and interior design -- QM to the fore -- means that we have a bit of history to build on.

John Glenday
#11 Posted by John Glenday on 27 Jan 2022 at 08:44 AM
@9 Alan Dunlop was invited to comment by the BBC initially and this is reproduced in full here.
#12 Posted by Gary on 27 Jan 2022 at 08:57 AM
Lets get real and be realistic, the GSA building was a dump, only renowned by ex students trying to re-live and reminisce about the high life of being a student and all that came with it. Some how trying to link themselves and their skills with CRM.

It went on fire x 2 because it was antiquated and not fit for purpose. Life moves on as do buildings, technology and even people!

Redevelop the site provide a GSA building that is fit for purpose, modern and provides world leading art teaching facilities. Live in the now and the future and don't dwell on the past.

Or should I start crying that the wally close that I lived in as a child is no longer there? Sentiment can be a terrible thing and hold you back !
fair scunnered
#13 Posted by fair scunnered on 27 Jan 2022 at 11:05 AM
Way to go Gary! You are the future! You and Alan Dunlop! Prophets, the pair o' ye's
#14 Posted by JMo on 27 Jan 2022 at 13:40 PM
I say burn I t to the...oh.
#15 Posted by Gary on 28 Jan 2022 at 11:54 AM
#13, why thank you kind Sir for your personal recommendation.

I can imagine you now, sitting in your poor CRM replica chair, talking about how much you love Glesga and all the banter. Your tartan scarf tight around your shoulders, maybe your real name is Muriel?
Niall McTeague
#16 Posted by Niall McTeague on 13 Feb 2024 at 11:30 AM
I have been revisiting much of the media reports from 2022 onwards and the Scot Gov Culture Committees fairly scathing findings/comments. The whole thing stinks. The Main Contractor must be made to comply with Inquiry. A legal Inquiry is needed with powers to demand attendance by all parties and handing over of all paperwork, communications, documents, CCTV, records etc. The Contractors and Subcontractors on site files would show much of what was happening at the time of the fire and in the days previous. Method Statements, Fire Inspections, Hot Work Permits, Construction Phase Plan etc etc. Also why are Page and Park still involved given Culture Committe Reports etc?

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