Leader: Time to mourn, but we must not give up on Mackintosh

An aerial view of the devastation caused by the fire at the Glasgow School of Art. Picture: Police Scotland.
An aerial view of the devastation caused by the fire at the Glasgow School of Art. Picture: Police Scotland.
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That one of Scotland’s great architectural masterpieces should find itself engulfed in flames twice in four years is almost beyond comprehension.

“Heartbreaking” was the word used by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. For many who witnessed the fire which left the Glasgow School of Art little more than a shell, this exactly sums up their emotions. Sadness and shock left Glasgow a little quieter yesterday.

The blaze is all the more difficult to come to terms with given the amount of time, money and, above all, painstaking effort that had gone into restoring the building after the destruction wrought by the first fire. It seems particularly cruel that Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s magnificent Art Nouveau building was so close to recapturing its former glory when disaster struck for a second time.

The cruelty is compounded by this being the 150th anniversary of Mackintosh’s birth.

Mercifully, no injuries have been reported and thanks must go to the brave firefighters from the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service who battled the intense flames.

Before yesterday’s terrible events the famous library, destroyed in the first fire, had been recreated in minute detail and Mackintosh’s idiosyncratic and elegant style had been faithfully recreated in a £35 million project. As the wreckage lies smouldering, it is clear that this fire is far, far more serious.

Rebuilding the architectural treasure for a second time will be an intensely challenging project. Right now, it is not clear how possible this is given the scale of the damage. A retention of the facade and a complete rebuild of the interior is perhaps the best that can be hoped for.

But given the importance of Mackintosh as one of Scotland’s greatest architects and the place that the original 1899 building has in the hearts of Glaswegians, Scots and citizens of the world, the A-listed structure must be recreated if at all possible. “The Mack”, as it is affectionately known, is a national treasure which is known around the world.

Amid the outpouring of grief, there have been some encouraging signs. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the Scottish Government “stands ready” to provide support. Scottish Secretary David Mundell has made similar noises on behalf of the UK government.

Given the scale of the damage it may well be that Scotland has to look beyond the public purse. In which case a national appeal to rebuild this monument to Mackintosh’s genius will be necessary.

What if every newspaper reader in Scotland were to give just £5 towards this cause? That would be an incredible place to start.

The first fire was devastating. The second heartbreaking. But what a monument it would be to Mackintosh if the people of Glasgow and Scotland said “we’re not giving up – the Mack will return”.