By all accounts, June 15, 2018, should’ve been a triumphant day for the Glasgow School of Art. It was graduation day, and the campus was alive with the pomp and circumstance surrounding the degree-conferring ceremonies. The school was also coming off the high of celebrating the 150th anniversary of the birth of hometown legend Charles Rennie Mackintosh; few local institutions could claim a more intimate link with the beloved art nouveau architect, who was not only an alumnus of the school, but also the designer of its most famous building. But around 11:15 p.m., an inferno broke out—bigger and more devastating than the fire that blazed through its historic Mackintosh building in 2014—erasing all traces of the nearly complete $46 million restoration work undertaken after the previous fire and destroying parts of the school that had previously been left untouched.
Three months later, the school often described as Mackintosh’s “masterwork” bears little resemblance to its former glory. The Japanese-influenced timber framework of the school’s Mackintosh Library, the bright, albeit garish, color schemes on view throughout the building and the clusters of electric lights that were so revolutionary at the time of construction are gone, leaving behind only a hollowed out, skeletal shell. Still, BBC News reports that the school will stand again: As board chairwoman Muriel Gray explains, the Mackintosh building will be rebuilt to nearly the exact specifications laid out by the art nouveau architect in the early 20th century.
"There is absolutely no way it wouldn't be a working art school,” Gray says. “It's non-negotiable.”
In an interview with the Herald’s Phil Miller, Gray estimated the rebuilding process could take between four to seven years. Speaking with the BBC, Gray further clarified that it could be up to 10 years before students are able to use the building again.
According to Miller, officials still have access to Mackintosh’s original blueprints, as well as a digital model created during the most recent phase of restoration. Gray says that given the level of “forensic detail we have on the building, we could practically 3D print it. … It will be beautiful. It will be as Mackintosh designed it, to the millimeter.”
The school hopes to fund reconstruction through insurance and private donations rather than taxpayers’ money.
During the immediate aftermath of the June blaze, it was unclear whether the burned structure would be razed in favor of an entirely new building or rebuilt in accordance with Mackintosh’s original plans. A week after the fire, three Turner Prize winners and nominees, all of whom attended the school, responded to a Frieze survey by expressing their hopes that the building would be resurrected rather than replaced.
“There is a strange vanity to the idea that this moment could be an opportunity for new architecture,” Martin Boyce, winner of the 2011 prize, noted. “... We have an architect and a building and it’s one of the greatest. It is crystal clear to me that the building must be rebuilt.”
Others spoke out against rebuilding.
“Mackintosh would have absolutely deplored the idea that someone was going to make a facsimile,” design critic and author Stephen Bayley tells the Sunday Post. “You could take his original idea, his plans, and develop it, but we should make something that exemplifies the spirit of Glasgow in 2018, not the spirit of Glasgow in 1909.”
The fire’s cause is still unknown, but BBC News reports that a “fire suppression system” was scheduled to be installed in the school just weeks after the blaze broke out. Still, School of Art director Tom Inns tells STV News that “repeated warnings were not ignored,” as the building’s heritage status prevented it from being equipped with traditional sprinkler systems.
Authorities are still awaiting permission to fully examine the school’s structurally unsound ruins, and Miller notes that a full investigation cannot begin until it’s deemed safe to enter the building. Residents and local business owners from the neighborhood directly surrounding the school have also been prevented from fully returning to their properties, leaving the local economy and art scene’s fate hanging in the balance.
Mackintosh was in his late 20s when he designed the art school. Writing for the Guardian, Rowan Moore expounds on what made Mackintosh’s vision just so singular. “[He] broke and remade customs of symmetry and composition,” Moore writes. More than that, he adds, "[t]here was sheer joy in the naturally inspired motifs; playfulness in taking lines for a walk, and in having fun with the slopes around the edge of the site.”