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Mac may have to be pulled down, warn experts


Fears are growing that the remains of the fire-ravaged Glasgow School of Art will have to be pulled down, according to a number of industry experts

Speaking to the BBC, Billy Hare, a professor of construction management at Glasgow Caledonian University, said there was a ‘growing consensus’ that Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s 1909 landmark might have to be demolished following the devastating blaze on Friday night.

It is understood the damage caused by the fire was significantly worse than the May 2014 blaze, when firefighters managed to save 90 per cent of the Art Nouveau masterpiece.

A £35 million restoration job to repair the damage from that fire, overseen by Page/Park and contractor Kier, had been nearing completion. 

Hare compared Friday’s Mac fire with a recent incident in nearby Sauchiehall Street, where a fire in the roof of a building housing Victoria’s nightclub led to the building being subsequently flattened. ‘At that stage, the decision was taken fairly quickly to demolish that building,’ he told BBC Scotland.

‘However, the Mac being such a globally recognised building of significance, this would probably have a bit more deliberation before they come to that decision.

‘But the consensus is beginning to grow over the last 24 hours that that might very well be the case.’

Glasgow-based Alan Dunlop agreed: ‘I believe the building has gone,’ he said. ‘I cannot see it being brought back to life at all. The whole interior is gutted and millions of gallons of water, pumped up from the Clyde were needed to put the fire out, which no doubt will have damaged the masonry shell still standing.

‘There will be calls to rebuild, of course, and every nut and bolt, nook and cranny has been digitised and recorded by GSA after the 2014 fire, so the information exists to construct an exact copy. But it will be a replica of a Mackintosh building not a working art school with over 100 years of history, that you breathed in every time you entered the building.

‘Mackintosh was an innovator, he was not a copyist. He would have rebuilt new, not replicated. Calls to rebuild a replica should be resisted.’

However, Peter Drummond of the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland said that there should not be a rush to pull down what remains – even though it is understood 90 per cent of the interior has been lost and that question marks remain over the stability of the external walls.

Everything should be done to try and save what is left of this iconic site

He told the AJ: ‘The art school is one of a handful of modern buildings in Scotland of truly international importance. It would an absolute tragedy if the remaining fabric was to be lost. Everything should be done to try and save what is left of this iconic site.’

It emerged at the weekend that a new sprinkler system being installed as part of the building’s restoration was not yet operational.

The British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association (BAFSA) has said it understood new automatic sprinklers had ‘not yet been fully fitted’.

A spokesperson added: ‘It should be realised that sprinklers can be fitted in buildings throughout construction on a temporary basis, as there is a considerable risk from fire during this period.’

Asked about the fitting of sprinklers, the GSA said that ‘as is standard practice for construction, Kier had control of the site’.

A spokesperson for Kier said: ’Kier has been working with the Glasgow School of Art since 2016 on the restoration of the Mackintosh building and so we share the devastation felt by the School and the wider public at this time.

’We are working closely with the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service in their investigation and as such it would be inappropriate to comment further whilst an investigation is ongoing.’


Tony Barton, chairman of Donald Insall Associates

There are noises coming from my home city that the Glasgow School of Art may be beyond reconstruction. No it is not. The Mackintosh must be rebuilt and not only because we have the skills and technology to enact an authentic rebuild.

This is not a museum. Anyone who visited the Art School before the fire, particularly at the time of its end of year show, would see that this is a living, working entity of creative endeavour in one of Europe’s most beautiful buildings. That living heart beats on and future artists should not be denied this legacy.

As designers we respect, admire and enjoy Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s skill and craft. And, we have his design. It exists. The building just has to be crafted to his design with care, quality and thorough attention to details. It is the design that is the key to this argument against giving up on the GSA. Because of it, there is no need for conjecture, guess work or fudge. The skills exist in the Page and Park-led team to start again and give the design back to us in its built form.

This is one building and one of very few that must be rebuilt

Emotion is a third vital element here. As an exiled Glaswegian of many years, the shock and pain on Saturday morning was very deeply felt, so imagine if you can how Glasgow felt and is still feeling. The Mackintosh is a shining example of the rich vein of culture that runs through Glasgow life, through wealth and poverty, class and geography.

It is a resilient place but without this rightly celebrated European masterpiece, Glasgow is a lesser place, physically, emotionally and intellectually.

So put aside fears of pastiche and eschew philosophical misgivings. This is one building and one of very few that must be rebuilt. Glasgow, Scotland, Europe demand it.


Readers' comments (8)

  • Gordon  Gibb

    Whilst all of us who feel that great building to be their own awake each day with incredulity, renewed shock and sadness, those who are responsible for the procurement and delivery of this project should not underestimate the extent to which this grief is already turning to rage.

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  • I agree with Tony Barton. This was and is Mackintosh's greatest work. The cultural identity of of Glasgow and Scotland runs through its fabric. When in Warsaw in the 1960s I was very skeptical of their choice to rebuild a replica of the old city but I came to understand that it was necessary to any sense of spiritual continuity, and it was very well done. There are examples across Germany and France where cathedrals were left as ruins by allied bombing. Do we condemn their faithful restoration?

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  • I love contemporary architecture but the Mac is irreplaceable. Stuart Robertson ( CRM Society) spoke on Saturday and described how Mackintosh imbued all his buildings with a personality. Those of us who love the Mac have lost a dear friend. We loved how its nooks and crannies nurtured us and how its elegance and beauty inspired us. We love it to its bones and we want new flesh on those bones so that following generations can get the opportunity to love it too and add their years of patina to its fabric just as we did.

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  • Richard Griffiths

    Richard Griffiths
    What is the essence of a building? Is it in its substance and physical fabric, or in its design and form? The metaphysical relationship between substance and essence has exercised philosophers since Aristotle, Plato and Aquinas. However, a building is not a human being. Both the substance and the essence of a building is in its design, in its construction, and in its age. At the Mac, the design is extraordinarily well recorded, the skills exist to rebuild using the same materials and techniques as the original, and the Mac, so rebuilt, will acquire texture and weathering over the years in the same way as the original. Morality has no bearing in this case. Let those who think the Mac should be replaced by a new building expend their energies elsewhere. Mackintosh's masterpiece is one of the great buildings of this country and must be rebuilt. Warsaw, Berlin, Dresden, St Petersburg demonstrate what can be done to rebuild great architecture catastrophically destroyed. The same can, and must, be done at the Mac.

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  • Industry Professional

    Alan Dunlop says, "Mackintosh...would have rebuilt new..."

    Alan Dunlop hasn't a clue what Mackintosh would or wouldn't have done.

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  • I agree with Tony Barton, the Mac is probably the finest building in Britain. Not only can it be rebuilt but it must be rebuilt.
    Yes it will have detail failings, but that will force us to remember how careless we are with fire (Lakanal, Grenfell, Mac).
    I normally do not like re-builds, but this is the exception.

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  • Phil Parker

    Dunlop doesn’t get it. It’s not ‘copying’ as he may have done with a Richard Mier book under his desk at architecture school. It’s replacing like with like. Nothing more complicated than that.

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  • 'I agree with Tony Barton, the Mac is probably the finest building in Britain.'

    Some might debate that.

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