Page\Park’s head of architecture David Page on being picked for the £35m job to restore and reconstruct Glasgow School of Art’s fire-ravaged Mackintosh Building
As the only Glasgow-based practice in the running for the Mac job, how does it feel to have been selected?
It’s an honour. It’s fantastic to be working on one of the greatest buildings in the world, and especially fantastic that we’re going to be giving it back to the city. As students we were inspired by the School of Art because we grew up in a period of the 1980s when the trends of architecture were rediscovering modernism, but the building has been there all the way through for us.
The Mac is part and parcel of our professional life and our city’s life. It’s where we take our friends when they come to the city.
What are the biggest challenges the project faces?
The challenge is to get beyond the emotion of the fire and ask: ‘How much do we know, and what do we do?’ So for the three months [of the final stage of the bid process] what we did was to take a bay of the library and use it as an opportunity to learn and see how that might enable a reconstruction, if that is the strategy that is taken. We did the exercise to find out the foundations of the design.
What has come from that process so far?
It’s wonderful to learn how the idea of the library was made, and the design shows is that it’s a very simple piece. Simple materials and simple methods come together in the most magnificent room that you can imagine: He held it all together using nails – that was a complete revelation. Somebody asked me whether I’d use nails to put together a reconstruction, and I’d say – as a result of our examination – ‘yes’. We’ve seen how it’s put together, and we’ve seen the integrity of the piece.
So will the Mac be restored to a state exactly how it was before the fire?
The first thing is to do your homework and describe how it was constructed in detail. That is to say what’s possible for its reconstruction – then a judgment can be taken. This is not about making a decision on reconstruction before we’ve worked out how it was made in the first place.
This is not about making a decision on reconstruction
What we can do is put it back together, if that is the decision that is taken by others, because we know how it was put together originally. The Art School will make that decision.
Is it possible?
There’s a staircase that was put in that wasn’t the Mackintosh intention, and the library windows were reconfigured from the originals that Mackintosh designed because they were leaking. We’ve got to tear all of these issues apart before we can make a clear decision on how we move forward. It’s forensics, but the art school will make that decision. The last thing the art school wants to do is anything that’s not true to the original building.
The GSA has indicated it is keen for work to start on the building next spring, with the ‘aspiration’ there will be academic access from 2017-18. Is that a realistic timescale?
It’s going to be very intensive, but the situation is also unique. The Mac has 259 rooms, and some are less damaged than others. Normally, you don’t do the details of your building until later in the process, but here we know what the details are so we can start doing the details at the same time that we’re investigating the rooms. You can collapse the time by tackling all of the issues at the same time. That’s why we felt we could look at the library in isolation.