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Mac almost ‘completely destroyed’ by fire


Glasgow School of Art has been almost completely destroyed after being ravaged by fire for the second time in four years

According to the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service which was called out to the blaze at Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s 1909 landmark last night (11.19pm, 15 June) there has been ’exceptionally significant’ damage to all parts of the building.

In May 2014 the school’s Mackintosh Library was gutted when propellant gases from a canister of expanding foam being used by a student in the north basement of the Art Nouveau masterpiece were sucked into a home cinema-style projector. Although the fire spread through ventilation ducts and behind timber-lined walls to the library, firefighters managed to save 90 per cent of the building.

However the latest incident is understood to have caused ’extensive damage’ to the A-listed building and at its peak the blaze was being tackled by more than 120 firefighters.

Around 20 fire engines were called to the scene of the fire which, the fire service said, had ’taken hold of the Mackintosh building’ and spread to neighbouring buildings including the Campus nightclub and O2 ABC music venue.

There have been no reported casualties and the cause is still unknown. 

Speaking earlier this morning deputy chief officer Iain Bushell, the officer in charge at the scene, said: ’This is an extremely challenging and complex incident, but the response and professionalism of our firefighters has been exceptional.

’The fire took hold of several properties including the O2 ABC nightclub causing extensive damage.

‘This will be a prolonged incident and crews will remain on the scene as they work to prevent further fire spread and damage.’

Following the blaze in 2014, Page\Park won an international competition to restore the building with the government pledging £5 million towards its rescue (see AJ 27.06.14). A provisional date of spring 2019 had been announced for its re-opening. 

Glasgow-based architect Alan Dunlop said he was ‘heartbroken’ that the building had been so badly damaged in the latest fire: ’My phone started pinging at 4am, when that happens you know it’s not good news. It wasn’t, the messages came from friends and colleagues in the US.

It looks like it has been completely destroyed

’It is devastating not just for Glasgow, but internationally. Mackintosh’s GSA is a world building, the most significant in the UK. It looks like it has been completely destroyed.’

Graeme Nicholls of Glasgow’s Graeme Nicholls Architects said: ‘’I was really shocked and saddened to see the Mackintosh building fire late last night.

’My flat overlooks Garnethill, and I saw the blaze light up the sky last night as I looked out, and soon after saw the reports on social media that it was a second fire at the Mac.

He added: ’The Art School’s Mackintosh building is Glasgow’s greatest architectural gem, and of real international significance. I hope it can be salvaged.’

Statement from the Glasgow School of Art – 16 June 2018

A major fire started in the Mackintosh Building around 11.15pm last night, Friday 15 June 2018. The incident is still ongoing and the site is currently under control of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Services (SFRS). We are liaising closely with SFRS, with Kier Construction Scotland (the Mackintosh Building contractors) and both the Scottish and UK Governments. SFRS investigations are ongoing and we are awaiting their outcome.

The Mackintosh Building has been undergoing a period of extensive restoration following the fire in 2014 and therefore has not been a part of the GSA’s operational campus for four years. Whilst the fire in ‘the Mack’ is devastating news, The Glasgow School of Art’s immediate focus is on our students, and on the continuing operation of the GSA to ensure minimum disruption to students and staff. The GSA and all of its buildings will remain closed for the next week, and we will provide updates as and when information is available.

We hugely appreciate the messages of support and offers of help that we have received from around the world. We would ask that at this time any such offers should be sent in the first instance to development@gsa.ac.uk. We will try and respond as soon as is practicable.

Alan dunlop photo of mac after 2018 fire

Alan dunlop photo of mac after 2018 fire

Source: Alan Dunlop

The day after the second fire - 16 June 2018

Detailed report of 2014 fire

Where the fire began

The fire started in Studio 19 in the north basement, west wing of the Mackintosh Building within a student exhibition space – approximately 6m x 2.5m, constructed of chipboard and wooden studs.

The student work comprised high expansion foam panels (fabricated outside the exhibition space), and were approximately 50-75mm in depth, fastened to three of the walls, with one wall left blank to receive projected images from a projector mounted on the opposite wall.

At the time of the incident visible gaps between the foam panels were being filled-in by applying foam directly from a canister of expanding foam.  

Basement plan - with fire


The fire originated within a projector mounted on a shelf approximately 1.7m from the ground and located on the south wall of the studio. (Projector details - Epson EMP-TW680; this was the property of GSA and had been purchased in 2008; it was maintained by GSA Technical Services Department; it had been subject to inspection, cleaned and tested prior to being loaned, with guidance, to the student; annual portable appliance testing (PAT) had last been carried out in December 2013).

Fire was caused when flammable gases (Isobutane, propane and dimethyl ether) used as a propellant within a canister of expanding foam was discharged in close proximity to the projector.

These flammable gases were drawn into the projector cooling fan. The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service report has ruled out ignition being caused by this equipment being defective, finding no evidence to suggest the projector had not operated as the manufacturers intended. It is likely that indirect ignition of the flammable gases occurred as it passed in and around energised electrical components of the projector.

Once ignited the flame front would have grown in size consuming plastic components and the plastic casing of the projector, flames then impinged onto the foam which was placed on the wall directly behind it.  

Fire spread

As flames and hot gases reached ceiling level of Studio 19 they spread horizontally, igniting further timber panelling and entered voids in the walls on both sides of the doorway of Studio 19.  

Ground floor plan - with fire

Flames then travelled through the voids in the walls into Studio 31 on the ground floor, directly above Studio 19. Fire spread vertically either side of the doorway and also horizontally behind the timber panelling, in a westerly direction, in Studio 31. At least four voids run vertically in the walls of Studio 31 and these allowed unchecked fire spread to areas above, as well as on the same level.

First floor plan - with fire

One of these voids allowed lateral access to Studio 32 at ceiling level. From Studio 32 the fire spread through voids to the Mackintosh Library above.  The construction, layout, and high fire loading (timber furniture, panelling and books) meant that the room and its contents became totally involved in the fire. From the Library the fire spread vertically via voids to the Library Storage Space above and then into Studio 58 via these same voids.

Second floor plan - with fire

Returning to the ground floor within Studio 31, fire spread via all four vertical voids to the first floor Studios above 43, 44 and 45. The fire achieved this by breaking through timber panelling which cover the voids, allowing access into the corridor outside the studios.

Fire then spread laterally from the Professors’ Studios to Studio 57. From here, the fire also spread into Studio 58.

A major contributory factor for the fire spreading throughout the building was the number of timber lined walls and voids, and original ventilation ducts running both vertically and horizontally throughout the building. The vertical ventilation ducts consisted of both brick-lined - within the walls - and timber ducts - mounted on the wall surface. The brick-lined ducts were formed within the structure of the walls. Horizontal ducts were constructed of timber and, in some instances, sheet metal. A vertical service void ran the entire height of the building to roof level and acted like a chimney. It allowed flames, hot gases and smoke to travel vertically.

A fire suppression system, designed to enhance existing fire protection measures, was being installed and was in the latter stages of completion; at the time of the fire the system it was not fully commissioned and was not operational.  

Previous story (AJ 12.11.14)

Mac restoration job drums up global interest



Readers' comments (6)

  • So desperately sad but the love for this building will see it rise again.

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  • Expanded foam once again implicated in a disastrous fire, this time destroying a masterpiece. It is time we recognised that this is petroleum in solid form and that it be banned. There are alternatives.

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  • This building is not a treasure of Glasgow but of the whole world. This disaster reflects our misunderstanding of how valuable such a building is. I visited the school in the mid 1980's and I was in such awe that I could not believe that people were actually using the building just as though it was a warehouse or any other nondescript building. Even then I walked around hardly drawing breath at its magificence and disbelief that it was being treated with such disregard, instead of preserving it more as a museum. A huge loss.

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  • Sadly I suspect the building and its interiors are for the history books. Given the extent of the damage rebuilding a facsimile seems illogical now, it would be a near 100% copy rather than a repair. No doubt an international competition will be held for its replacement....

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  • MacKenzie Architects

    The original building was built on a very tight budget -and they had to build it in two phases.
    It's simplicity and everyday genius was probably drawn a lot from CRM trying to meet the budget, and most of the brilliant details (bending steel beam-ends, fluting timber planks, big simple trusses, window-cleaner supports to stabilise giant windows, some bent metal light fittings) came from making the most of the challenge.
    Having said that, I just did a fag-packet calculation, and it's £40 million.
    A bargain no matter what. Take the pain, knock it down and rebuild it faithfully.

    Glasgow doesn't have a great record in re-building projects or getting major bequests off the ground. They took at least 20 years to rebuild the great St Andrews Halls where Dickens spoke (and that was as a Library), and who knows how long to get the Burrell Collection housed.
    Already over a generation of Art students has missed out on working and learning here, and another generation plus are going to lose out too (typically 3 years courses)

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  • Surely the concept that replacing a building is no better than copying some unique work of art needs to be questioned - an architect produces the design for a building, which is not the same as personally building it, however close the supervision.
    If something happens to destroy the building, and it's considered 'irreplaceable', why, if it can be rebuilt true to the original design?
    This question might become of increasing importance, when you look at the recent destruction of works as wonderful as some of the structures at Palmyra.

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