Can Charles Rennie Mackintosh's iconic Glasgow School of Art be saved?

After another devastating fire, there is debate as to whether Glasgow's School of Art building will be rebuilt or demolished (Photo: Shutterstock)
After another devastating fire, there is debate as to whether Glasgow's School of Art building will be rebuilt or demolished (Photo: Shutterstock)

After undergoing a painstaking rebuild for the last four years, Glasgow’s School of Art has been left in ruin following a second devastating fire.

Should the city brace itself to say goodbye to this beloved landmark, or can the phoenix rise for the second time?

Structurally unsound?

Experts say that the extensive damage caused by the latest fire (which started on Friday 15 June) has left Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s more than 100 year old structure structurally unsound.

Glasgow Caledonian University’s professor of construction management, Billy Hare, told the BBC that there is a "growing consensus" that the building may have to be demolished for safety reasons.

History has been lost

Glasgow-based architect Alan Dunlop agreed that the destruction caused to the building is "irreparable" in a recent interview with Dezeen.

"It is certainly possible to rebuild but you cannot replicate 110 years of history," he said.

"The students, artists and architects who have worked there, and whose presence permeated the building – that's what has been lost in the fire."

The money issue

According to Hare, if the art school’s structure has been compromised by the second fire, it may be possible to dismantle the building and rebuild it around a new internal frame.

However, a project of this size is estimated to cost more than £100 million. Up to £35 million had already been set aside for the building’s original restoration, which was originally expected to reopen in 2019.

Several political leaders, including First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Secretary of State for Scotland David Mundell, responded to the news of the recent blaze with pledges to save the iconic landmark, but whether budgets will stretch far enough remains to be seen.

A digital record

Miles Glendinning (a professor of architectural conservation) told BBC Radio Scotland that Glasgow School of Art "should be restored and will be restored", suggesting that the existing walls could be reinforced rather than knocked down.

According to Glendinning, photographs, drawings and other data collected during the building’s first restoration helped to create a detailed digital plan of the art school, which the professor believes should be used to rebuild accurately.

“The building still exists digitally even if the inside is for the moment physically absent,” he told Good Morning Scotland.

A shred of hope

Scottish Labour MP for Glasgow North East, Paul Sweeney, toured the art school site following the most recent fire and told The Guardian that he remained hopeful that the building could be saved.

“I think you can write off any hope that anything is left internally, but the stone and steel is still holding up, so there is a good chance that you could have a facade retention structure in place and then begin restoration again,” said Sweeney.

The MP also revealed that he believed many of the fixtures and fittings for the Mackintosh Library restoration had been kept in storage elsewhere and were not damaged by the blaze.

What would Mackintosh make of it all?

Many are calling for Glasgow School of Art to be rebuilt, but others argue that this is not what the famous Scottish designer would have wanted for his work.

“We should resist the calls to rebuild it as before, 'stone by stone',” said Dunlop.

“That would not be restoration, it would be replication – a process I believe Mackintosh himself would resist, as he was an innovator, not a copyist.”