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Keppie's popularity speaks for itself

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I am grateful to you for publishing Mackintosh scholar John McKean's email, 'Keppie legacy not fit for RIAS retrospective' (AJ 29.4.04) so that I can explode a few myths. McKean's premise is that Honeyman and Mackintosh could design memorable buildings, but that everyone else in the 150 years of the practice could not, and the RIAS was wrong to devote exhibition space to the subject. Incidentally, McKean obviously did not visit the exhibition.

The vast majority of Victorians would have preferred John Keppie's Dunloe House to Mackintosh's Windyhill or even Hill House, and many Keppie designs like McConnel's Building in Hope Street have been well loved by Glaswegians through the years. Were they all wrong?

Graham Henderson had a string of design competition successes before the First World War, but with his entire career spanning from the 1910 recession through the austere inter-war years, there was little potential for extravagant design.

However, the RIBA sought fit to award the Bronze Medal for the originality of Cloberhill School - was it wrong?

As for the past 50 years, I would rather leave the judgement to posterity than a prejudiced contemporary critic, but since the Keppie practice has consistently been one of the most successful in Scotland over that period, have all the clients who commissioned it been wrong? Is it wrong to design with the building users in mind rather than pandering to certain architectural academics, commentators and their dogma? Is it wrong to be well respected and valued outside this narrow group?

And of course some of the biggest myths surround Mackintosh himself. It is absurd to suggest that he only designed a small number of buildings during his 24 years with the practice, the ones where architectural aficionados can detect a certain style. He played a full part in the practice, designing many more, including the sensitive 1904 Classical extension to Honeyman's 1868 Paisley Art Gallery and Library. You will not find it in any book on Mackintosh, although the design and drawings are skilfully executed.

I do hope that John McKean sticks his head above the parapet when my practice history is published in the autumn. I could do with some controversy to sell lots of books.

David Stark, Keppie Design

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