Shattering news from Scotland, where architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s masterpiece, the Glasgow School of Art, completed in 1909, has just suffered a catastrophic fire, just as its restoration after a catastrophic fire in 2014 was nearing its final stages. No! It cannot be! I cannot believe this.
As usual, I opened my trusty ANN – ArchNewsNow.com – and started reading a story about how sprinklers had not been fully installed even at this late stage of rebuilding the school. “Glasgow School of Art: sprinklers had not been fitted after first fire,” read the headline of a story by Libby Brooks, of the UK Guardian. “Idiots,” I thought. How can they be this far along without that? The subhead read “Hopes rise that Mackintosh façade can be saved amid questions over why sprinkler system was not prioritised.”
The first paragraph of the story read like some sort of Groundhog Day joke. Even now I was unaware there was yet another fire, last Friday. I thought somehow I was reading about the 2014 fire, déjà vu all over again:
Hopes have been raised that Glasgow School of Art’s Mackintosh building, which was gutted by fire on Friday, can be saved as it emerged a new sprinkler system had not yet been fitted as part of the restoration following an earlier blaze.
“Gutted by fire on Friday”? So then it finally hit me. Another fire.
I don’t know how to process this. I cannot imagine the horror of Glaswegians, or of people connected with the school, its restorers, Mackintosh fans around the world who have been following the restoration for two years …
This fire is even worse than the 2014 fire, torching almost the entire building, leaving only the exterior walls intact, or at least salvageable, maybe.
But in the smoke and ruin some good news. In the process of restoring the building after the first conflagration, a comprehensive modeling had been performed on the entire building and all of its details and fixtures. Plus, much of the restoration piece-work for the Mackintosh Library, which had been destroyed, had not yet been installed and was still safe in storage. But the big problem is that the cost of restoration this time might exceed £100 million on top of the last restoration’s cost of £35 million.
Whether to restore just the exterior and build something new inside is a possibility that cannot be rejected outright. But I for one do reject it outright. As for building it anew “for our time” – perish the thought!
So here we go again. Another story in the Guardian, “Bulldoze or rebuild? Architects at odds over future of Glasgow School of Art,” has a sub-head that reads, “Ideas about what to do with the charred remains of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s [icon] range from restoration to a building ‘fit for the 21st century’ ” Architects no doubt prefer the latter. This is typical:
“From what I’ve seen, restoration is not an option,” argues Alan Dunlop, a Glasgow-based architect and alumnus of the Mack. “We’d be talking about replication, which is totally against what Mackintosh stood for. He was an innovator, working at the cutting edge. He would want to see a new school of art fit for the 21st century.”
Wrong. Don’t be daft. Mackintosh would want his building rebuilt. Was he not a human being? Why set his spirit spinning in his grave again? These boo-birds who think that the best way to honor someone is to destroy his masterpiece – they make my skin crawl. Those of us who love Mackintosh had to listen to their caterwauling the first time around; now we’ll have to wait while they have their innings again. Rebuilding is the only option.
Oliver Wainwright’s “Bulldoze or rebuild” quotes a lot of poppycock, but it is even handed. Here is a more sensible view of the debate:
“I see no argument for why you wouldn’t rebuild the school of art as it was,” says Roger Billcliffe, author of a number of definitive books about Mackintosh. “It has been voted Britain’s most important building several times over, and we have all of the information needed to recreate every detail, following extensive laser surveys after the first fire. People are saying, ‘Let’s get a good modern architect instead,’ but we’ve already had one in theory, and we got that Steven Holl monstrosity across the road.”
Holl’s green-tinged glass extension of 2013 has been widely criticised, looming opposite the Mackintosh building with all the elegance of a discarded fridge. It won Private Eye’s Sir Hugh Casson award in 2014 for the worst new building of the year, and was damned as a “crude and insufferably arrogant essay in minimalist neo-modernism.”
Yeah, sure. Let’s have another one of those. Slap ol’ Mack upside the head again. Damn him twice by fire then, after teasing him with inspired flattery, damn him again, and for good. Yup. That’s what he’d really want.
(Cue the heavy sarcasm music.)