Glasgow School of Art starts work on rebirth of fire-ravaged library

Inside what remains of Glasgow School of Art's world-famous library ahead of restoration work.
Inside what remains of Glasgow School of Art's world-famous library ahead of restoration work.
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A three-year restoration of Glasgow School of Art's world-famous library is underway - two and a half years after it was virtually destroyed by a devastating blaze.

The team behind the planned rebirth of the iconic Mackintosh Building today offered the first glimpse into a £35 million transformation of the landmark.

A temporary roof has been erected over the Mackintosh Building ahead of its 35 million restoration.

A temporary roof has been erected over the Mackintosh Building ahead of its 35 million restoration.

A “forest of steel” scaffolding has been erected over the last three months to stabilise the fire-gutted structure of the library ahead of the restoration project, which will see the library’s look returned as much as possible to how it was when it was completed in 1910.

Original designs by celebrated Glasgow architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh, as well as surviving stone pillars and salvaged light fittings from the building, are being deployed in the reconstruction.

The art school is also shipping in several columns of Tulip wood, which was used in the original building, from a mill in Massachusetts as part of its drive to honour Mackintosh’s vision.

Students were putting the finishing touches to end-of-year projects when the fire caught hold at lunchtime on 23 May 2014.

Work on the restoration of the Mackintosh Building is not due for completion until 2019.

Work on the restoration of the Mackintosh Building is not due for completion until 2019.

Kier Construction, the firm carrying out the restoration, started work in July on the project, which Glasgow architects Page/Park have designed using surviving documents from the 1910 scheme.

Up to 150 workers, including stonemasons, plasterers, carpenters and glass experts, will be involved in the restoration of the “Mack,” parts of which are still open to the elements.

Gordon Reid, business development manager at Kier, said: “We’re currently replacing the stone in the library which has been significantly damaged in the fire. This will involve cutting new stone to the rough dimension of the old stone with modern tools before our craftsmen use hand tools to expertly finish the new stone to replicate the original stone.

“A lot of the stone in buildings that you see in Glasgow were cut by machines and do not have the same craftsmanship put into them. The art school is very keen that everything we do, as far as possible, replicates what the original building looked like.”

More than 600 pieces of lamps salvaged from the library will be used to create 29 brand new lights and help make another seven.

Project manager Sarah Mackinnon said: “It’s taken a year of work by the restoration team with our colleagues from archives and collections, to develop our conservation methodology and sort the light fragments into light ‘kits.’

“We need 53 lights to reinstate Mackintosh’s original scheme, so the missing lights will be reproduced from scratch.”

The official investigation found the blaze was triggered by flammable gases from a canister of expanding foam.
Firefighters received huge praise after managing to salvage 90 per cent of the building and rescued around 70 per cent of its contents.

A 12-week effort by forensic archaeologists to sift through the charred remains of the west wing, the most damaged part of the Mackintosh Building, uncovered parts of a studio clock and its mechanism, a silver salver, remains of dozens of the lamps from the library and a number of rare books.

Some 90 oil paintings, including two by Mackintosh himself, and around 8000 books and journals were all lost.