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Architects urge Strathclyde to loan empty studios to GSA

Pressure is mounting on the University of Strathclyde to offer up its almost-empty, former school of architecture building as a temporary home for students from the fire-damaged Mac

Completed in 1967, the university building by Frank Fielden & Associates is to be converted into a new teaching block. Strathclyde’s architecture department has already moved to an engineering hub in the nearby James Weir building last year pending the start of works. Now some of Scotland’s leading architects are calling for the much-loved Brutalist block to be loaned to the Glasgow School of Art (GSA) while it rebuilds its Charles Rennie Mackintosh-designed home.

Alan Dunlop said a temporary gift of Strathclyde’s under-used building would be ‘a generous offer of solidarity, respect and friendship from one great institution to another in need’.

And Stuart Falconer, of Edinburgh-based GRAS, described the proposal as ‘very clever’ and ‘urged Strathclyde to make this offer’, while Paul Stallan of Stallan-Brand said ‘it would be a lovely gesture’.

RIAS secretary Neil Baxter said: ‘It seems like a brilliant idea. Strathclyde has a studio building sitting empty. I can see no reason why anyone would not be enthusiastic about this.’

Described by the Twentieth Century Society as ‘highly influential’ and as ‘the University’s finest post-war building on campus’, the Fielden block at 131 Rottenrow is now only used in parts and the north-facing studio spaces lie empty.

The decision by the University of Strathclyde to move its school of architecture out of its home of 46 years was slammed by former tutors and students (AJ 14.01.13). A spokesman for the campaign group the Friends of the Architecture Building, which has been battling to reverse the decision, backed the move.

He said: ‘Frank Fielden’s building is a ready-made stop-gap. [We] believe it can provide suitable temporary accommodation for the art students who call The Mac home.’

The University of Strathclyde, however, refused to make any commitment, saying: ‘We have been working closely with the Glasgow School of Art in a number of ways since May 23 and will continue to do so during this difficult time for its staff and students.’

Meanwhile the GSA has now stood down its incident team and brought in a recovery group to look at what can be salvaged from the 1909 building, which was hit by fire on 23 May. It is understood the school has received offers of help from organisations from Glasgow and beyond. A spokesman said: ‘At this stage our plans for the relocation of the School of Fine Art have not been progressed. There are numerous vacant buildings across Glasgow, some of which we have used before, some of which are more suitable than others. No decisions have been taken as yet and we will look strategically and sensibly at the options and opportunities.’

See the University of Strathclyde’s planning application for the building here.

The Mac (GSA) and 131 Rottenrow (Frank Fielden building) at the University of Strathclyde

The Mac (GSA) and 131 Rottenrow (Frank Fielden building) at the University of Strathclyde

Other comments:

Barnabas Calder, lecturer in History of Architecture at University of Liverpool:
‘The GSA and Strathclyde have a long history of collaboration and shared facilities – they used to co-teach the same architecture degree from the nineteenth century. It would be wonderful if Strathclyde were able to come to their rescue after this appalling tragedy and offer them good quality, nicely lit studios. Fielden’s Architecture Building isn’t the Mackintosh building, but it’s another excellent, purpose-built visual arts building produced by architects who worked there and knew how to design studios.’

Ruairidh Campbell Moir of Glasgow-based studio BARD:
‘It is a superb idea. The Frank Fielden designed building is purpose built studio accommodation, with good proportions and brilliant ambient north light.  It has been empty for one year now, and to see it brought back into use for such a noble cause would be both fitting and highly suitable for GSA.  I can think of no other building in the city that can serve the art school needs as well as this one during this unfortunate time in their history, and I applaud the University of Strathclyde in advance of making this vacant building available to serve an educational cause once again, should they offer it to GSA as a gesture of solidarity and goodwill.  

‘Speaking as someone educated in this characterful building, I am confident that Art school students would develop a great affinity to it as their temporary home.  The Fielden building is a much undervalued but quite sublime brutalist building, indeed the Architects Journal in 1967 reported that Fielden Associates “in the bold articulation, powerful rhythms and good proportions of the building one feels some affinity to Mackintosh’s vigorous approach [to the Glasgow School of Art]”

John Cunningham, Fielden & Associates:
‘I remember GSA director Seona Reid, on leaving her post, saying what she’d learned from the students was their complete irreverance. That lack of respect…was an enormous strength.
‘The Mac building had an inherent strength and robustness to deal with these ‘hooligans’. The Strathclyde building has a very similar robustness. The idea [to offer it up] is superb.’


Readers' comments (3)

  • As a former lecturer at Strathclyde UniversityArchitecture School in the early 2000s I endorse the idea. The purpose built nature of the Strathclyde Architecture School, particularly its studio spaces would be a great temporary home for GSA students. Also their proximity to the Stratthclyde Architecture students could also lead to future potential creative collaborations.

    Dr Ola Uduku Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture

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  • I can't imagine why Strathclyde shouldn't be forced to allow GSA to use it's premises by the Department of Education. What is the DoEdu for if it isn't to at least manage resources in the event of necessity, if not catastrophe ?

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  • It's a brilliant idea which Strathclyde should have thought of first.
    Having enjoyed being a student in both buildings, I am charmed to see your joint elevation drawing of Freddy Feilden's next to Toshie's.
    (I'm just really pleased that in your set of period photos, you didn't use the Henk Snoek one which had me in it!)

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