What will happen to the Glasgow School of Art now?

The Mackintosh Building at Glasgow School of Art, designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh.  Picture Robert Perry.
The Mackintosh Building at Glasgow School of Art, designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Picture Robert Perry.
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It will take days, if not weeks, before the questions over what will become of Glasgow School of Art’s fire-ravaged Mackintosh building can be fully answered.

The officer leading the investigation for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service confirmed today that the job to establish how the fire started and spread so quickly is “very complex” and will “take some time.”

The findings, when they come, will inform whether Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s masterpiece can be saved.

While elements of the structure, such as the famous front elevation, appear to remain largely intact, it is possible other parts will have to be demolished. The famous ‘Hen Run’, for example, is little more than a snarl of charred timber and warped steel joists.

Images of the building’s shell shows that stonework, including Mackintosh’s elegantly designed masonry, has suffered damage in places, similar to the 2014 fire, which weakened swaths of the structure.

The laborious restoration effort launched in the wake of that blaze saw the external stonework repaired, but the scale of the challenge in the wake of Friday night’s fire is considerably steeper.

What is clear, however, is that there is a commitment to save the building known affectionately as The Mack, even if it will be an uphill battle.

Susan Aitken, the leader of Glasgow City Council, was among those to visit the art school site in the aftermath of the fire. The experience brought home to the extent of the damage, but even so, she signalled a determination to save the structure, convening a Sauchiehall Street taskforce to plan the future of the area ravaged by the inferno.

“It’s a devastating sight but the Mack is still standing,” she tweeted. “Glasgow City Council building control experts will work with partners to do everything possible to make sure that remains the case.”

While the cost of the rebuilding the building with a new internal frame as been put as high as £100m by Billy Hare, a professor of construction management at Glasgow Caledonian University, there is some hope that the architectural planning will be made easier that it would otherwise have been.

Following the 2014 fire, a forensic digital map of the building was compiled, documenting every room, spindle, and decoration in minute detail. According to Miles Glendinning, a professor of architectural conservation at the University of Edinburgh, it means the Mack “still exists digitally,” with the only barriers to rebuilding being time and money.

There are many architects who believe Mackintosh’s landmark building can - and must - be rebuilt, yet equally, there are dissenting voices.

The Glasgow architect Alan Dunlop has suggested that Mackintosh himself would not have approved of a replica building, and has instead called for a design contest for an entirely new building.

Whatever the future holds, it will be preceded by a spirited debate. The Glasgow School of Art is keenly aware of the building’s importance to the city, and as much as any decision will be guided by hard, physical evidence of irreperable damage, so too it will take into account civic Scotland’s desire to save one of Scotland’s treaures.

First, however, the wait for the fire investigators and building control experts goes on.