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Conservation specialist challenges ‘replica’ restoration of Mac library

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Architect Julian Harrap has said calls to build an exact replica of the Mac library are ‘hasty’ and ‘driven by insurers and loss adjusters’

The renowned conservation architect has challenged the Glasgow School of Art to resist demands to rebuild its fire-damaged library ‘exactly as it was’ before the blaze in May.

In the aftermath of the fire, a number of architects said the library should be replicated. John McAslan – who restored Mackintosh’s last major commission, at 78 Derngate in Northampton – called for the library to be rebuilt ‘as authentically as possible, to recreate the feel of the building as it was the moment before the fire.’

However, Julian Harrap – who has attended a number of expert meetings on the building’s future, including one held last week in Glasgow – said he feared ‘insurers and loss adjusters’ were driving an unnecessarily hasty effort to build a replica of the library.

He said: ‘The Mac really has to be bold because the library was not properly being used in the years running up to the fire. The library was designed for 10 people but they now have 100, so the capacity of the library has been inadequate for some time.

‘It had also been altered since Mackintosh did it, aged 28. For example, glazing on its west side was altered and that had made quite a profound difference. And iron radiators in the library were not original.

‘The institution needs a vision for how the library can become, once again, a symbol of Mackintosh, of the city and of the institution and I believe that involves avoiding simplicity and avoiding the idea of a replica.

‘The replica route is wrong and I’ve said that absolutely publicly at forums in Venice and Glasgow.’

Harrap said that ‘all sorts of techniques’ used at Berlin’s Neues Museum – a 10-year project undertaken by his practice and David Chipperfield, which involved preserving elements of the destroyed original building alongside new additions – could be used on the library.

He added: ‘Myself and others are in the slow camp, the tortoise camp. There’s perhaps a swift route to restoration, driven by the mechanics of the money immediately available.

‘But, rather than having the process driven by the insurers and the loss adjustors, we’re saying “hold on a bit”.

A spokeswoman for the Glasgow School of Art said: ‘We warmly welcome input into the debate around the future of the Mackintosh Library and will be listening to a wide range of views before making a final decision on the way forward.’

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Readers' comments (2)

  • In my view, as a frequent "restorer" of a good many of Luyens's buildings, if it is possible to carry out the work authentically from original drawings and specifications and with appropriate materials then one should do so and without including obviously damaged original elements...a measure of success will be whether the original architect (wherever he now rests) would commend the work being undertaken.

    Whether or not the radiamaybe 20th century revamp with perhaps the wrong rads can now be corrected if the architect and client are agreed. Fining the correct ones is never too difficult.

    That may all sound facile to many but it will be fairly obvious upon completion whether the result is right! It is the intellectual and forensic effort that is needed that will be hardest to source. The rest will be easy.

    Good luck to all but especially to a true leader appointed as architect to see this work through.


    Michael Edwards
    Chartered Architect
    Surrey

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  • I could't agree more with Alan Dunlop's comments regarding the potential replication of the Mac' library following the fire. Glasgow has more than enough fake 'Mackintosh' tat about the place ..........the last thing we need is to see more appearing in what must surely be the great man's finest work. As a modernist, he would turn in his grave at the very thought of copying a design that was a century old.

    Dave McCall
    OMI Architects
    Manchester

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