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Steven Holl ‘deeply saddened’ by Mac fire

Steven Holl has described a sense of ‘monumental loss’ following the Glasgow School of Art fire and called for immediate reconstruction of the iconic Rennie Mackintosh-designed building

The New York-based architect of the recently opened Reid Building opposite the fire-ravaged Mac published a statement explaining his profound ‘shock’ following the tragic incident.

Holl said the fire – which gutted the Mackintosh library and caused millions of pounds-worth of damage to the western end of the Art Nouveau landmark – was even more painful due to his own personal ‘conviction and passion’ for the building’s  architecture.

Demanding a speedy and faithful reconstruction of the 105 year-old building, the architect argued the Mackintosh should reopen as an art school within two years.

We must all work rapidly for its complete restoration

‘We must all work rapidly for its complete restoration,’ said Holl. ‘We should challenge ourselves that only one year will be lost, and Mackintosh’s Glasgow School of Art will again launch students into the world in 2016.’

Explaining his fondness for the structure, Holl described an ‘unforgettable’ lecture by Professor Pundt which he attended in 1967 at the University of Washington on Rennie Mackintosh’s role in the history of architecture.

He said: ‘Mackintosh’s work, and especially The Glasgow School of Art building, occupied a very emotional and important place in my own passion for architecture from that day forward.’

Holl said he was later awestruck by the architect’s ‘use of light’ when visiting the building for the first time in June 2009 – shortly before he was announced winner of the architectural contest.

He continued:  ‘The invention of an original architectural language is as fresh today as it was then. It is a symphony of light in many movements-a tone poem in north, south, and top light with dark melancholic movements.’

The buildings organisation and structure ‘based on well-proportioned studios with great light’ created ideal teaching and studio spaces for artists while also being adaptable to changes in practice, Holl added.

The passion and ‘direct conviction’ of the Grade A-listed art school, Holl argued was particularly refreshing compared to the ‘cynical reason and sarcasm’ of the current intellectual climate.

He said: ‘When you have something in front of you which embodies great ideas, it lifts you above the misery of cynicism, it gives you strength, and you can-if you persevere-find your own convictions and arrive at your own core values as an artist.’

Almost two hundred fire fighters tacked the fire on 23 May which was reportedly started after a spark from a projector in the basement ignited foam.

They managed to save most of the structure and ‘70 per cent of the contents’, but the ‘iconic and unique’ Mackintosh library was destroyed along with part of the western end of the Art Nouveau landmark.

A new high-pressure water mist system, which would have halted the blaze without harming the precious artworks, was just weeks away from becoming operational and ‘97 per cent’ complete, a source close to the project said.

The Architects’ Journal will present a special architectural award to the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service for its extraordinary efforts in saving one of the world’s most admired buildings.

Steven Holl’s full statement

Steven Holl

In 1967, while I was an architecture student at the University of Washington in Seattle, my History of Architecture Professor Hermann G. Pundt presented a one-hour lecture to the class of approximately 200 students on The Glasgow School of Art and the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. It was an unforgettable hour due to the passion and enthusiasm with which Professor Pundt delivered this special lecture. 

Professor Pundt had devised his own theory and history of Modern Architecture. Our yearlong education began with Brunelleschi’s Duomo in Florence and its use of steel in tension, progressed through Schinkel’s Berlin works, on to Louis Sullivan’s buildings in Chicago, and ending with the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. I remember Professor Pundt’s presentation being so great that we never doubted that this was the true history of Modern Architecture (a narrative in which Le Corbusier didn’t appear). Mackintosh’s work, and especially The Glasgow School of Art building, occupied a very emotional and important place in my own passion for architecture from that day forward.

Visiting the building for the first time in June 2009, I was very inspired by the vitality of the School and Mackintosh’s use of light. Over 100 years after its completion, Mackintosh’s Building continues to inspire as a work of architecture and a place to make art. The invention of an original architectural language is as fresh today as it was then. It is a symphony of light in many movements-a tone poem in north, south, and top light with dark melancholic movements. Its organizational structure, based on well-proportioned studios with great light, provides ideal space for the teaching and making of art and has proven adaptable to changes in art practices and media. 

Georges Braque once said, “The only thing that matters in art, is what cannot be explained.” The Glasgow School of Art is part of the existence of things beyond value. When we try putting a price on it, we fail as it hasn’t merely relative worth. It has an inner worth and a dignity beyond all value.

 

Readers' comments (1)

  • Alex Seymour

    We are all wise AFTER the event. I wonder how many other precious and historic sites have their fire protection '97% (and less) complete' The V&A for instance or the National Gallery? Are they all 100% ?

    Unsuitable or offensive?

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