THE multi-million pound project to restore Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s fire-ravaged Glasgow School of Art building took a major step forward yesterday with the announcement of the team of architects to lead the work.

Page\Park Architects will head the sensitive programme, which could cost up to £35 million, after five short-listed firms gave presentations to the school’s management team.

It is hoped the building, which has been closed since last May’s fire, will reopen to students in early 2018.

Shock waves were sent through the art world after the Mackintosh masterpiece was severely damaged by the blaze sparked by a student’s art work in the lead up to the annual final year show.

No one was injured, but the building’s unique centrepiece, the iconic library inspired by a dense forest, along with much of the school’s west wing was left a blackened shell.

At first it was feared that much of the structure, completed in 1909, had been destroyed, together with its contents. However, it soon transpired that thanks to the prompt action of firefighters 90 per cent of the building and many priceless documents and art works could be saved.

As journalists were led into the library’s burnt out remains yesterday, the school’s leaders seemed confident the building could be authentically restored.

Professor Tom Inns, director of the Glasgow School of Art, said he and his senior colleagues were impressed not only with Page\Park’s knowledge of the building, but also of Mackintosh’s work.

“They bring an understanding of the building’s particular importance to Glasgow – its people and history – as well as of its status as an international design icon,” he said.

He rejected previous criticisms that restoring the building to Mackintosh’s original plans ran the risk of creating a “Mockintosh” copy and that the school should instead create a different, contemporary design inspired by the architect.

“I can understand where people are coming from, there are examples of Mockintosh all around, but I think if you dig into that, Mockintosh comes from limited sources of information, while here we have a great deal of detail about the understanding of the building.

“It is incredibly well documented and there is a rich portfolio of information available about how it was constructed,” he added.

“There are plenty of other places and building sites on which to explore contemporary architecture. This isn’t necessarily the place to do that. One of the great things about the Mackintosh building is that it has not changed a huge amount over time ... and it is very important we continue on that trajectory,” he said.

“But as we progress with the authentic restoration we will be integrating 21st century features in the restoration in an incredibly subtle way which keeps us true to the spirit of Mackintosh.”

Page\Park, which is based in Glasgow, undertook a detailed analysis of the construction of a bay from the Mackintosh Library, including the creation of an accurate scale model, to find out how the room’s features were built.

The examination revealed the wooden columns in the library were made from pine, not oak as Mackintosh originally planned, and were constructed from eight planks of wood nailed together using techniques similar to those used by shipbuilding carpenters.

Page\Park have an extensive track record in both restoring and reinvigorating major historic buildings. They have also worked across the spectrum of Mackintosh’s designs including the Hillhouse, in Helensburgh and the former Glasgow Herald offices, now The Lighthouse building.

The company will also establish an external expert advisory panel for the restoration details of which will be announced later.

The funding for the restoration will come through a variety of sources, including the school’s own fundraising and insurance claims as well as through the Scottish and UK Governments.


"Mackintosh would have preferred a new modern library"

by Alan Dunlop, Glasgow architect

THE fire at the Glasgow School of Art was horrible and a terribly sad day for the country and for the wider art world.

The loss of the building’s centrepiece, the library which was a stunning and unique space, was a particularly cruel blow. When you were in the library you had a sense that Mackintosh once stood there and that connection with him is now lost forever.

But in my view we should mourn that loss and take our time to work out what we should do next. I believe the best approach is to move forward to create something new and different. I believe that is what Mackintosh would have thought.

He was a forward thinker, an innovator and if he was alive today, he would not want a revival of something he did previously.

Today libraries are very different spaces from what they would have been in Mackintosh’s time, with people taking their laptops in to work at the desks.

Rather than create a replica of the library, I think the best way forward would have been to create a contemporary library, using wood, natural light, steel and glass to create a stunning new design to pay tribute to Mackintosh’s own vision about what architecture is about.

I absolutely think this is a missed opportunity and I think the school has been swayed more by the wishes of tourists who flocked in their thousands to see the library rather than the needs of the Glasgow School of Art students and staff.

David Page is a fine architect, but I believe the school should have considered something more radical.

"Recreating one of the great interiors was the only sensible option"

by Michael Davis, architectural writer

SOME purists thought it could not be done and some that it should not be done. But yesterday it became clear that the proposed restoration of Glasgow School of Art, and particularly of its world famous library, will happen, will recreate one of the world’s great interiors, and will be in very safe hands.

Now that Page/Park have been appointed to head up the design team, the so-called debate over the burned-out Mackintosh Library increasingly looks like a landslide victory for common sense.

With the financial backing of the Scottish Government, the broad support of Historic Scotland and with the appointment of Page/Park, there is every reason that Mackintosh’s original scheme can be recreated with meticulous integrity.

It is not correct to say that because the original interior went up in smoke, there can be no going back. In fact, there can.

Page/Park Architects have very considerable experience of working with those very rare things: buildings by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. They have the track-record and sensitivity to put the original design and surviving material first.

The Art School without its Mackintosh-designed Library re-instated would present a sad prospect. There are many other opportunities in Glasgow and in Scotland for contemporary buildings and interiors by modern architects.

The evidence of our eyes suggests that far from all of the recent buildings in Scotland are masterpieces.

I, for one, have a huge sense of optimism that restitution of Mackintosh’s design is not only right but the only sensible decision.