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Mac fire: How could it have happened again?


Investigations into the blaze should examine the Glasgow School of Art’s own oversight role as well as Kier’s management of the site, says a fire safety expert. Colin Marrs reports

The Glasgow School of Art has serious questions to answer in the wake of last month’s fire, which destroyed its Mackintosh building, say industry experts.

So far, the GSA has remained tight-lipped on the circumstances surrounding the blaze, saying only that the entire site was under the day-to-day management of Kier Construction Scotland, the contractor working on repairs following an earlier fire in 2014.

But independent fire safety consultant Stephen Mackenzie told the AJ that investigations into the latest blaze must examine the oversight role played by the school, as well as Kier’s management of the site.

Mackenzie said: ‘There has been ample opportunity to put a temporary or phased permanent sprinkler system into the construction site. As a very bare minimum, they could have at least protected the parts of the building which were not damaged in 2014. Given that they were stung by a fire before, that would be first on my list as a client.’

It is understood that a sprinkler system arrived at the site the day before the latest fire, and had not been installed.

Mackenzie also pointed to the HSE’s 2015 Construction (Design and Management) Regulations, which ‘makes the client accountable for the impact their decisions and approach have on health, safety and welfare on the project’.

There is an enormous gulf between the protestations of care and the fact the building burnt so severely

The regulations place a number of duties on clients, including the preparation of a ‘client brief’, outlining how the project will be managed, including health and safety risks.

The client is also responsible for maintaining and reviewing the management arrangements, with the regulations suggesting the establishment of key milestones to assess the progress of the project ‘and determine whether health and safety standards are being met’.

Mackenzie said: ‘After the fire in 2014, I would have expected the school to have taken a belt and braces approach to fire safety. Once the project is on site, I would expect a client representative to monitor the site and deal with queries from contractors and possibly investigate any incidents reported to them.’ He added that the cause of the fire may never be established. ‘If the fire started in a roof, which then collapsed, then they are never going to find the source,’ he said.

Alan Dunlop, principal of Alan Dunlop Architects, said: ‘The board of governors and trustees had a responsibility – they were custodians of this building and held it in trust for everybody worldwide and in Scotland. They cannot distance themselves from this fire. Kier might have been the contractor but the GSA had a duty of care.’

Mac fire june 2018 peter drummond web

Mac fire june 2018 peter drummond web

Source: Peter Drummond

Kier –  whose contract with the school has now ended by mutual agreement –  has insisted that it had implemented its fire safety strategy for the construction phase of the Mackintosh restoration, a project designed by Page\Park Architects.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Kier said: ‘These [combined measures] included a smoke and heat detection system and regular evacuation tests as well as 24-hour, seven-days-a-week security and fire warden patrols by a team of three guards, originally appointed by the client after the 2014 fire and subsequently by Kier.’

But Scottish architect Malcolm Fraser said: ‘Given Kier has reported on such a thorough fire strategy it is incredible that the fire broke out and took hold as quickly as it did. There is an enormous gulf between the protestations of care and stewardship and the fact the building burnt so severely.’

Fraser called on the school to confirm what insurance it had in place, ‘so we can focus on how to save what remains’.

A spokesperson for the GSA would not respond to questions, citing the ongoing investigations by Police Scotland, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and the Health and Safety Executive.


Readers' comments (4)

  • As is reported, it is incredible that 4 years after the first fire not even a temporary sprinkler system had been installed to protect this masterpiece.
    Also as reported, there is a wide gulf between Kier's claimed fire safety regime and the outbreak of such a fierce fire.
    It is obvious the building must be rebuilt, but all those involved must be distanced from the project, which should be handed over to a body specially set up by the Scottish Parliament to look after the project.
    GSA appear both irresponsible and incapable of action, and must step aside.

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  • It's one hell of a coincidence that within a day of the components of a sprinkler system arriving on site the building goes up in flames, apparently with the greatest of ease and at great speed.

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  • Its absolutely staggering that this was permitted to happen again. What possessed the client and contractors team to not incorporate a temporary or phased permanent fire suppression system!

    if anyone says it could not be done in the MAC then they have not kept abreast of key case installations outline in the following article & extracts below:


    One of the first sprinkler systems installed in a historic building in the UK was at Duff House, a William Adam masterpiece in the north of Scotland. This project, which was managed by Historic Scotland in the early 1990s, was designed to provide comprehensive protection for the building. The system was remarkably successful in discreetly placing the sprinkler heads so that they go virtually unnoticed.

    One of the most interesting of the more recent sprinkler systems is at Newhailes on the outskirts of Edinburgh. This delightful house of the Scottish Enlightenment by James Smith, 1686, was refitted and extended by William Adam from about 1720. Here the National Trust for Scotland has embarked on a fascinating conservation project. The philosophy of this project, ‘to conserve as found’, is at variance with the requirements for visitor access. The fire officer’s requirements started out being, frankly, horrendous but they virtually melted away when the intention of providing a sprinkler system was introduced. All involved in the project are agreed on one thing: if it can be done here, it can be done anywhere.

    Hence calls on Scottish Government, following or in parallel to the fire investigation, to conduct a public inquiry or at the very least review the Glasgow School of Art Case & protection of our historic buildings.

    Stephen Mackenzie

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  • Thank you for this Stephen, that's very clear. I heard you also recently on BBC Radio Scotland giving expert advice on both client and contractor responsibility. Very impressive.

    Given Tom Inns comments yesterday about rebuilding the Mackintosh building and it being covered by insurance. Can you say something, if you can, about the likely hood of insurance cover if a temporary or phased permanent fire suppression system was not incorporated.

    Given the fire in 2014, that would seem to me to be good practice and what insurers would expect considering the significance of the building?

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