Glasgow School of Art – mourning the Mack

Mackintosh Building 22nd May 2014
Mackintosh Building 22nd May 2014

This is not quite the post I meant to write, and for a few days I wasn’t going to write it at all. Last Thursday, I visited the iconic Mackintosh Library at Glasgow School of Art – the day before the library was destroyed in a fire which ripped through the west wing (closest to camera above) of the Mackintosh Building. I thought it might be tasteless to write about it, but I’ve now decided that I should, both to record that I was part of the last group to be shown round the library and to draw attention, for anyone who is interested, to the Building Fire Fund which has been set up – you can find full details on the GSA website. So here’s the story of my visit.

I’m one of the guides on Glasgow Women’s Library’s Heritage Walks. We want to update our Garnethill script, which has a stop at the Art School, to take in the new building for the School of Design which has been named after a woman, Seona Reid, Director of GSA from 1999 to 2013.  Delphine Dallison of GSA’s Library (and also a volunteer with GWL) very kindly agreed to show the guides around to give us some background information. The Reid Building is a very modern, glass-fronted contrast to the Mackintosh. However, it has not completely abandoned tradition, and I admired the way it was built around the old Union.  I also liked the internal “driven voids” which penetrate the building and were designed to bring light in from the top and drive it all the way to the bottom floor. There’s a good exhibition on the ground floor, Window on Mackintosh, which tells the history of the School and is open to the public. We spotted GWL’s very own Adele Patrick in the display – next to Peter Capaldi, no less!

Delphine then took us across to the “Mack” which houses the Fine Art studios where many students were busy preparing for their Degree Show. The Mackintosh Library was undoubtedly the star attraction of the evening and I’m really glad I had this final chance to appreciate it. Delphine had gone to a lot of trouble, showing us books from special collections which had been used for a display on the Glasgow Girls. There were books with bindings or illustrations by Jessie M King, Ann Macbeth, Katharine Cameron and others, exhibition catalogues, textbooks on textiles, and books of designs for metalwork such as brooches and belt buckles. A book on “artistic dress” (i.e. loose, comfortable and without corsets) featured photographs of the MacDonald sisters, Margaret (Mackintosh’s wife) and Frances.

However, all this is now gone – what more can I say? Except to end on a note of optimism: 90% of the building and the school’s archives have survived, thanks to heroic efforts by the Fire Service, a thorough salvage operation is currently underway, and GSA seems to be looking after its students really well with those who lost work being given bursaries to recreate their portfolios. The Mack will rise again.


The Mackintosh Architecture Project


You would think, with Charles Rennie Mackintosh being so revered, especially in Glasgow, that a definitive survey of his architecture would have been made long ago. Wrong! The Mackintosh Architecture project, led by the Hunterian Museum at Glasgow University, will be the first authoritative survey of all known architectural projects by Mackintosh and also, for the period of his professional career in Glasgow (1889 to 1913), of projects by John Honeyman & Keppie (from 1901 Honeyman, Keppie & Mackintosh). At the moment, the project link leads to sample pages from the resulting catalogue – the whole database goes live in July, and will be accompanied by a major exhibition at the Hunterian.

One of the researchers, Dr Nicky Imrie, recently came to the MmITS AGM to give a talk on her experiences of working on this fascinating project. She discussed the challenges of identifying Mackintosh’s architectural work, how they tackled the process of cataloguing and digitising the diverse sources, and some of the perils faced along the way, such as being accidentally locked into the odd building! The website now has 358 project entries and 2700 images and, although the catalogue is at its heart, it also contains biographies of contractors and clients, essays, a glossary and a map.

As a result, lesser known and under-researched architecture and buildings to which Mackintosh merely made a contribution have been documented. As they were working, researchers gave each a building a “Mack Factor” to indicate Mackintosh’s involvement. These ranged from 1 (beyond doubt) to 4 (executed during his period of employment but with no evidence of his involvement). There were two buildings mentioned which I know well, but which I had no idea had anything to do with Mackintosh.

I have walked past Ayton House in Dowanhill many times. Originally built around 1859, it was damaged in the 1941 blitz and almost demolished in the 1980s. However, a developer took it over and restored it with a decidedly 21st century penthouse. I’ve always been so fascinated by this that I’ve never looked round the side and noticed what Nicky identified as a Mackintosh extension with Mack Factor 1. Since the talk, I have been back to the house to photograph it:

The other building is Jordanhill School. I worked for many years at Jordanhill College / Campus which overlooked what was originally its demonstration school. I’m not sure what its Mack Factor is, as Nicky only mentioned it in passing but, according to Stuart McLean’s Jordanhill Local History site,  it was built by Honeyman, Keppie & Mackintosh after a design competition in 1912, and Mackintosh received £250 as his part in it – though there might have been some dispute about the exact attribution. I took the photograph below when I was documenting the campus before it closed in 2012.

Jordanhill School
Jordanhill School

All in all, this was a fascinating talk and I’m really looking forward to the exhibition and website going live so that I can find out more.