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Glasgow School of Art unveils full-size prototype of Mac library rebuild

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The Glasgow School of Art (GSA) has unveiled a full-size prototype of a proposed Mackintosh Library bay as part of Page\Park’s ongoing restoration of the fire-ravaged building 

Over the last six months, the American tulipwood structure has been used to ‘test and retest every aspect of the design and manufacture of this centrepiece’ of the rebuilding of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Grade A-listed masterpiece, which was gutted by a fire in 2014.

The structure has been put together at the workshop of specialist carpenter Laurence McIntosh.

According to the school, the re-creation of the bay began with detailed research of items retrieved and information gathered in the archaeological survey after the fire, together with consultation of Mackintosh’s original designs, early photography, letters and other documentation. Much of this work was carried out by Natalia Burakowska, an architectural assistant at Page\Park.

She said: ‘The GSA’s decision to undertake a detailed archaeological survey of the library was crucial to the process of restoration. We soon realised that precious charred timbers had a considerable amount of information to reveal. We were excited to learn about timber joints, nailing techniques, timber sizes, and clever assembly strategies adopted by craftsmen working on site.

‘We were privileged to look at the library in a manner that nobody else had had a chance to do before.’

Natalia Burakowska of Page\Park Architects in the library prototype with a surviving spindle from the original

Natalia Burakowska of Page\Park Architects in the library prototype with a surviving spindle from the original

Source: Mcateerphoto

Natalia Burakowska of Page\Park Architects in the library prototype with a surviving spindle from the original

‘We pored over the archives sifting through original plans, records of building committee, receipts, financial records and specifications. Photographs taken by Bedford Lemere in 1910 and later images assisted in tracking the changes and amendments to the original design.’

Installation of the new bays is expected to begin on site in spring 2018.

Mack Library Model

Mack Library Model

Source: Franki Finch

Mac Library Model from May 2015


Tom Inns, director of the Glasgow School of Art 

From the outset we said that we would restore the building and restore it well. The creation of this prototype which we are unveiling today is underpinned by two years of groundbreaking and hugely detailed research ranging from information discovered in the archaeological survey to Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s original designs and paperwork and meticulous designs of every element, profile and joint to 0.5mm accuracy, which were created by our design team and then incorporated into a comprehensive set of drawings for the specialist carpenters to work from.

The challenge was then to convert this research into the physical object. Months of testing and retesting of all aspects of the design and manufacture by Laurence McIntosh, working in close partnership with our design team lead Page\Park, have culminated in this final prototype. The calibre of the craftsmanship in every aspect of the manufacture is of the highest order and is testament to the skill of the specialist carvers and woodworkers at Laurence McIntosh.

For those of you who remember the library as it was in 2014, the biggest change you will notice is the colour. This is how we believe is how the library would have looked in 1910.

Mackintosh library in 2014 - before the fire

Mackintosh library in 2014 - before the fire

Source: McAteerphoto

Mackintosh library in 2014 - before the fire

One of the first discoveries after the fire was that much of the library was constructed from American tulipwood. Samples from the bottom of a library column and one of the shelves from the library cabinets which survived the fire gave us the first clue as to both the colour of the library in 1910 and how the colouring has been achieved.

Highly pigmented oil-based paint had been rubbed directly on to the surface of the wood, which once dried was polished with beeswax. As with every aspect of the work on the prototype, many experiments were made using the closest product to the original oil-based paint: medium-burnt umber and raw-umber artist paints.

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