Damp jeopardises Mackintosh masterpiece

The Hill House in Helensburgh was designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Picture: NTS
The Hill House in Helensburgh was designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Picture: NTS
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A £2.5 MILLION bill for weatherproofing has put the future of one of Scotland’s finest Charles Rennie Mackintosh buildings in doubt.

The architect’s Hill House, near the Argyllshire town of Helensburgh, faces a “significant threat” from damp according to the National Trust for Scotland (NTS), which has been caring for the building for the past four and a half decades.

The fittings and furniture could be damaged by water coming in. Picture: Contributed

The fittings and furniture could be damaged by water coming in. Picture: Contributed

It said at least £2.5 million is needed to address problems with “excessive water ingress” into the fabric of the building, because it was not constructed with traditional weathering material.

The heritage body added the problems it hopes to address represent a “significant threat to the fabric of the house and the exquisite furniture, fittings and finishes within”.

It is now expected to mount an international appeal to try to get wealthy donors and admirers of Mackintosh around the world to help foot the cost of a four-year rescue plan.

Commissioned by the Glasgow publisher Walter Blackie, Mackintosh designed all of the interior rooms, including fittings and furniture, as well as the building’s famously minimalist exterior design.

‘Support for this project will come from donations and grants’

Among Hill House’s many admirers is Hollywood superstar Brad Pitt who visited the property with Angelina Jolie four years ago while he was in Scotland filming zombie drama World War Z.

Pitt later agreed to become patron of the appeal to restore Mackintosh’s iconic Glasgow School of Art building in the wake of last year’s devastating fire.

Mackintosh was a rising star of Glasgow’s architecture world when he was recommended to Walter Blackie and his wife Anna for their new home in 1902.

The property, which is described as a building of “international standing” by NTS, allows visitors to relive how it would have looked when it was handed over to the Blackies in 1904.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Picture: Contributed

Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Picture: Contributed

A NTS spokeswoman said: “The Hill House is significant today because it allows the visitor to study Mackintosh’s art in a unique context.

“Mackintosh provided a house to suit the needs of a particular site and a particular patron and his family who had individual requirements.

“It is because of this sense of completeness and its accessibility that The Hill House is widely regarded as Mackintosh’s domestic masterpiece.

“In his pursuit of expressing what was at the turn of the 20th century a contemporary vision of architecture and design, Mackintosh made use of innovative building techniques and materials. These elements all helped create a beautiful minimalist exterior design. Their use, unknown at the time of construction however, now presents significant challenges.

“The avoidance of traditional weathering details and the application of a then relatively untried material has contributed to excessive water ingress into the fabric of this 113-year-old building.”

Although some work has been carried out on the building since the 1990s, including installing a new roof and rebuilding chimneys, NTS said it has not resolved the “fundamental problem” of moisture ingress into the building.

Early research has been carried out into what kind of repairs need to be carried out to both the interior and exterior of the building, with thermographic surveys used to pinpoint the worst-affected areas.

Specialist contractors are about to be appointed to help draw up a long-term conservation plan for the property, with work hoped to get under way next year and go on until at least 2018.

In a fundraising bulletin, NTS told its members and donors: “Having now undertaken key preliminary research, the NTS is ready to tackle this complex challenge. Given that Mackintosh’s creation is of international significance, the repair approach will be sensitive and well managed.

“Support for this project will come from donations and grants both in Scotland and abroad. This philanthropy is crucial and will help us protect The Hill House and its interiors for generations to come.”

Terry Levinthal, director of conservation at NTS, said: “The Hill House is clearly a place of the highest cultural significance, and must be well looked after. Caring for our heritage can be very complex and this project is a prime example of that. The trust has been exploring how best to resolve the long-standing issues of water ingress and we have now concluded what our repair strategy is going to be, after considerable research investigation and consultation with stakeholders.”