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Reid Building: Stephen Holl Architects

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Stephen Holl’s Reid Building for the Glasgow School of Art is designed to make the most of the winter months

Glasgow in the winter can get you down. It gets dark between half three and four. But the neon glow of the bars and shops, the dimly lit stone sculptures on the buildings, and the gaudy festive lights in George Square remind you of one cockle-warming thing: this city looks great at Christmas. Cheer up!

Stephen Holl must have known this because, in his Reid Building for the Glasgow School of Art, he’s designed a great winter building for this cold damp, northern city. Much has been said of the three giant lightwells that anchor the building, and in section draw the city’s ever-changing skies down into it – stuff like: ‘the sky is too dark to make use of this way’, or ‘they channel more sound than light and disturb students at work’. (But this is an art school, not a library, right?)

Less has been said of the lovely lantern glow of the building’s glass facade and the light it brings to dark Renfrew Street – a street made darker still by the solemn bulk of Mackintosh’s art school. For some of us, it is joyful and warm, a sign that life thrives 55 degrees north.

Even less has been said of its north elevation, which runs alongside a ramshackle back alley made distinctive and modern by Holl’s metal and glass-clad walls and strips of horizontal glazing.  True, the glazing system on the Renfrew Street facade is clunky and not worth comparing with the masterly composition across the way. But it was never going to be fairly compared, even if Holl got it right.

As for the lightwells, guess what? They work. How could they not in a city where the summer sun rises at half four in the morning and sets at 10pm?


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