STAFF at Glasgow School of Art last night began removing precious artefacts and documents from the fire-ravaged Mackintosh Building, the start of an arduous restoration process that could take four years and cost up to £20 million, according to a leading architect.
As the final wisps of smoke cleared from the A-listed building after Friday’s devastating blaze, archivists and academics joined specialist recovery teams to safeguard objects that survived the fire.
Professor Tom Inns, the GSA’s director, said at present it is “not possible to confirm the extent of the impact” beyond the loss of the iconic Mackintosh library and studio.
However, the majority of the building’s interiors are said to have been spared the worst of the fire, including its museum, archives and lecture theatre.
With the recovery operation ongoing, the campus will remain closed for the majority of this week to allow conservators to move items into safe storage. It is expected the school will reopen to students on Friday.
Fiona Hyslop, Holyrood’s culture secretary, praised the efforts of the GSA to install a fire prevention system as the “correct” approach and said it was simply “very sad” the blaze broke out before the work was done.
The school had plans to install what it described as a “bespoke fire suppression system” this summer to supplement its existing fire safety measures, which include fire doors and extinguishers.
The news comes as Assistant Chief Officer David Goodhew of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service hailed the “outstanding” professionalism of his crews in minimising the fire’s spread.
About 400 firefighters were in attendance at the Garnethill campus on Friday.
Prof Inns also reiterated the GSA’s gratitude to firefighters for their work in preventing the rest of the building from succumbing to the fire.
He said: “The SFRS did not simply go the extra mile, but a marathon in their efforts to ensure that as much of the Mackintosh Building and student work as possible was protected.”
Speaking on BBC1’s Sunday Politics Scotland yesterday, Ms Hyslop said Historic Scotland and other conservators were aiding the GSA to “start the process of recovery and restoration”.
Referring to the school’s fire prevention measures, Ms Hyslop added: “They were doing the right thing in terms of protection for an A-listed building. You’ve got to be very careful as sprinklers can cause damage and you therefore have to assess the system you’re putting in. They were correct in putting in that system, it’s just very sad that it wasn’t put in place in time.”
The scale of the challenge facing the GSA and the wider conservation community will only become clear once extensive surveys have been carried out on the 105-year-old building.
But one prominent architect said it could take years and tens of millions of pounds before the Mackintosh Building once again stands tall in Garnethill. John McAslan, who restored Mackintosh’s last major commission at 78 Derngate in Northampton, estimated the work could cost between £15 million and £20m and take four years to complete.
He said: “This has to be immaculately and respectfully done. You can’t just repair the bit that has been damaged. You have to assess the robustness of the whole building to ensure nothing like this can happen in the next 100 years.”