Four years ago I was in the Cairngorms blissfully incommunicado with the world when a text appeared from a London friend asking ‘what’s happening with the Mackintosh?’. I was totally unaware of the fire which had caused enormous damage to a building that has been such a part of my life, as a student in the early 70’s and as a long time resident of Garnethill. That was a very sad homecoming. The Glasgow School of Art building had been severely damaged and the smell of smoke still hung heavily in the air. That the building was to be restored was wonderful news and I have walked by so often recently awaiting the reopening of this iconic treasure.
Here we were again, standing in our community watching a nightmarish repeat on an even more intense scale.
Friday, 15th June, 2018 and here we were again, standing in our community watching a nightmarish repeat on an even more intense scale. The Mack was totally ablaze from the east to west walls and unlike the last fire this time it seemed as though there could no coming back from this complete destruction. We residents, ex students and current students stood there in tears, in shock, devastated by what we were seeing. ‘Oh no, not again’, ‘how can this be happening?’, ‘please tell me it’s not the Mackintosh?’.
To some, I know it may seem strange that the destruction of a building can arouse such a sense of hurt, loss and heartbreak but it says so much about this very special building that it does have this effect. In architecture and design it is a masterpiece. It is Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s masterpiece. It’s Glasgow’s great masterpiece.
As a first year art student I had the joy of working in the studios along the hen run, I chose and borrowed books from the original library and I endured the discomfort of the seats in the lecture theatre (no chance of nodding off through lectures there).
The drawing and painting studios were on ground level and sculpture studios in the basement. This was a working building and hive of creativity. The famous Mackintosh doors revolved constantly with endless streams of students.
The Mackintosh must be rebuilt and it now seems it will be but there are serious issues which need to be investigated thoroughly. Once may be an accident, twice smacks of carelessness. The board of GSA and Keir Construction must be held accountable. Certainly, the GSA board have not proved to be responsible custodians and I believe the care of the building must be given to a more capable organisation.
On a positive note the specialist work and skill that has gone into the recent GSA restoration must not be wasted. What an opportunity to train young apprentices to recreate the craft and design that made this building unique.
Moira Macmillan studied at Glasgow School of Art from 1972 to 1976. She worked in bookselling and publishing and started Ceartas PR to increase Scottish media access for visiting and local authors including book event and publicity tours throughout Scotland.