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Archaeologists begin to sift through Mac Library ruins

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Forensic archaeologists have started the ‘painstaking work’ of excavating the remains of the Mackintosh Library at the Glasgow School of Art (GSA)

Although firefighters managed to save 90 per cent of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s 1909 landmark from damage during the blaze in May, the library was almost entirely gutted.

The meticulous excavation followed by the rigorous documentation of the building similar to that undertaken after the major fire at Windsor Castle in the 1990, will provide ‘invaluable information to the restoration and archives teams’.

Fourteen firms from across the globe have already thrown their hats into the ring to take on the £35million project to restore the Art Nouveau masterpiece (see AJ 12.11.14).

Gordon Ewart, director of Kirkdale Archaeology, who is leading the forensic survey,said:’ Over the next few weeks we will work through the remains of the library excavating, layer by layer, though the ash checking carefully for any artefacts that have survived the fire or fragments that can be conserved.

‘Throughout the process we will keep a archaeological record which will remain as a detailed document of where salvageable material was found and we hope will help inform the GSA’s restoration programme.’

Alison Stevenson, head of libraries, archives and collections at the GSA described the process as ‘at once the most complex and potentially most revealing project in terms of conservation’

She said: ‘Although the library was destroyed in the fire there are significant remains which we hope will retain artefacts or fragments that will prove invaluable both in terms of our archival records and our restoration plans.’

The excavation work is expected to take several weeks.

A shortlist of up to eight architect-led teams in the running for the restoration job is expected to be announced before Christmas.

The survey process

  • The forensic archaeologists will work through the library in 1m x 1m columns excavating the layers of ash in c.25cm increments or ‘spits’.
  • Each new exposed surface/horizon will be photographed and recorded in plan @ 1:10  and each of the 2 - 3 exposed full sections will be photographed and drawn @ 1:10.
  • Each layer will then be transferred to the Mackintosh Museum where a team from AOC Archaeology Group will sift through the remains to identify salvageable items. Each excavated item and deposit will be logged in terms of its archaeological context, before removal for either suitable storage and treatment or disposal.

    Gordon Ewart, forensic archaeologist at the entrance to the Mackintosh Library Alan McAteer.jpg

    Source: Alan McAteer

    Gordon Ewart, forensic archaeologist at the entrance to the Mackintosh Library Alan McAteer.jpg

Items to be kept for conservation

  • All coloured glass will be retained along with the ‘best examples’ of exterior window glass, interior window glass, library office glass and bookcase glass.
  • All modern metal fittings will be disposed of with only original fittings being retained. The best examples of lead work from the doors, locks, hinges and one radiator will be retained along with all air vents.
  • All pieces of wooden furniture and decorative/coloured wood will be retained along with the best examples of internal window frames and original boards from the wall lined panels.
  • Large-scale identifiable samples of general books will be retained for assessment along with all fragments of books from the special collections list.
  • Plaster casts from the windows and ceramics will be retained along with some carpet samples.


The Outcome

  • A series of measured and photographed plans and sections through the entire deposit will be produced, which can be combined to illustrate the deposition sequence at a series of discrete intervals both across and through the debris field. A written report on the quantity and types of material disposed of as well as detail photographs and written description of anything retained will be produced by the GSA.
  • The results of the project in terms of all excavated and evidence, historic documentation and any other specialist input, will them be combined in a single project archive and the GSA aims to create an online digital resource that is capable of integrating a wide variety of multimedia components as they emerge during each stage of the restoration project.

Previous story (AJ 12.11.14)

Mac restoration job drums up global interest

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