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Independent board should lead Mac rebuild, Scottish parliament told

The Mackintosh Building, Glasgow School of Art
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An independent board of experts should be appointed to oversee a rebuild of the fire-ravaged Mackintosh Building, a former Glasgow School of Art (GSA) employee has told MSPs

Eileen Reid, one-time head of widening participation at GSA, said the school should step aside and concentrate on teaching students.

She was speaking at a hearing of the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee into the fires that hit Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s 1909 landmark both in May 2014 and June 2018.

Others at the committee meeting were Roger Billcliffe, who has written numerous books about Mackintosh, Stuart Robertson, director of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society and architect Malcolm Fraser.

Reid said: ‘I do not see how the current set-up is fit for purpose for this massive rebuild. There should be an overarching board of experts from across the country driving the rebuild forward. Let the Glasgow School of Art get on with its core business.’

And she called for a significant pause before any rebuild began, saying she had felt a deep sense of loss after the latest fire.

‘I felt this time that it was gone,’ she said. ‘It feels too soon, we can take our time over this. The next generation can build it.’

Reid said that even before either of the recent incidents occurred, staff used to openly discuss the risk of fire in the building.

It feels too soon, we can take our time over this

‘In the art school we all knew it was a risk. We used to talk about how many minutes we would have to get out,’ she recalled.

‘It was precarious given how it had been used for 100 years. Our main protection was fire and smoke alarms and if you were at the top of the building when one of those went off – you moved. It was a hazardous building and a threat to life.’

Fraser told the committee that the Mac should be rebuilt as a teaching and learning environment.

‘It is unusual to have a historical building that still works perfectly for its purpose,’ he said. ‘It was a building of transcendent importance to architecture, we have to get it rebuilt … it should be a working building for students.’

He urged the GSA to stick with a plan he said had been mooted before the latest fire to teach all first-year students in the Mac.

‘The richness of the education in that building is seen in the output of Scottish architects,’ said Fraser.

Following the hearing, a spokesperson for the GSA said: ‘Parliamentary committees invite individuals and organisations with an interest in a subject to contribute to a process of information gathering, and the four witnesses who took part into today’s hearing have shared their particular perspectives.

‘We anticipate being invited to participate in a future hearing as part of the process of enabling the panel to achieve its stated aim of ascertaining how we got to the current position and what lessons were learned.

‘As regards the future of the Mackintosh Building, we have already declared our intent. The Glasgow School of Art will rebuild the Mackintosh Building and bring it back as a fully functioning art school as Mackintosh himself envisaged.

‘The Mackintosh Building was conceived as a place where creativity and innovation would flourish. Its unique design has attracted generations of students to Glasgow, many of whom have stayed on and contributed to make the city one of Europe’s leading centres of creative production.

‘The Glasgow School of Art will ensure that the Mackintosh Building continues to play a key role in the life of the school, of Garnethill and of Glasgow for generations to come.’

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