No sadist, I open with an image of the glorious facade of the Mackintosh Building, not with the image that has eaten away at the backside of my last several posts on the fire at the Glasgow School of Art on Friday (and actually in the picture atop my last post). Despite the tragedy of the loss of the Mackintosh Library, most of the building and much of the art work (including the inspired interiors and furniture designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh) has been saved. Much of the damaged portions, including the Hen Walk, is certain to be restored. Money is already flowing in.
As we look forward to the restoration of the building and its interiors, we can conceivably also undertake a restoration of the reputation of Mackintosh himself. Perhaps a more accurate word would be not a restoration but an intervention: Mackintosh is considered a “precursor” to modernism. His kidnapping by the modernists is said to have been the work of the architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner, who ignored most of what the architecture of his victims had in common and used their generally minor differences as an excuse to deny their paternity and place them in the modernist foster home, where they are further abused.
Mackintosh is in there with Louis Sullivan and other obvious classicists whose reps have been snatched after their deaths by the hungry maw of modernism. And yet can there possibly be any relation between the Mackintosh Building and the school’s new Reid Building, designed by Steven Holl, which literally devours its nearest neighbor? If there is any relation at all, historically or aesthetically, between the Mack and the Holl, then there is no building on Earth, past, present or future, that is not the ancestor or the descendant of any other building on Earth. Mackintosh was not a precursor to modernism, he was an artist unbound by the canon of classicism. But neither in his writing nor in his work did he reject the past or the traditions from which his work arose. As the Mack is rebuilt, its creator’s legacy must also be rebuilt.