Glasgow School of Art – Fire at the Mack

Very early on the morning of Saturday 16 June I was scrolling through my Twitter feed, when I spotted a tweet saying that Glasgow School of Art’s Mackintosh Building (affectionately known as the Mack) was on fire. The Mack had previously caught fire in 2014, and had undergone significant restoration. Bearing this in mind I was completely shocked at the news, and in the words of Stuart Robinson, Chair of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society, “I hoped I’d got it wrong, and would waken it up realising it was all just a horrible dream.”

While I was away at a conference in Leicester I watched the news unfold – and the damage reveal itself – with increasing horror. Glasgow is a fantastic, vibrant, artistic city; to have something so tragic happen again in such a short period of time is a massive blow. Now, several days after the fire, we are able to see the extent of the damage to the building in drone footage like this. If you want to see how much damage has been done, take a look at this picture essay, which shows photographs of the fire juxtaposed with images of the interiors of the Mack. There’s also great footage of what the inside of the Mack looked like here.

Why is the damage to the Mack so extensive? Shockingly, as the Guardian reports, sprinklers had not been fitted after the previous fire, and safety recommendations had not been followed. Eileen Reid has written an illuminating piece for the Scottish Review, highlighting a lot of the issues with the restoration process after the 2014 fire, and detailing causes and errors prior to 2014 that contributed to the severity of the fire over the weekend. Among the issues highlighted by Reid, the attitude of management seems to be a particular concern (the discussion of the restoration of the Mack at the Venice Biennale comes up for particular criticism). Reid also, significantly,  asks why safety recommendations weren’t ‘implemented during the £8m refurbishment of the building in 2008?’

After an initial survey it seems the shell of the building is intact, and scans of the details of the building – made in 2014 after the previous fire at the Mack – will be available for use in the restoration process. This restoration process is estimated to cost over £100 million, but the continued existence of the Mack, a World Heritage Site, is surely worth much more than that? Mark Cousins, writing for Dezeen, argues that the Mack has to be rebuilt ‘because it’s an invaluable showcase for Scottish craft skills’.

The Guardian have collected responses to the fire and tributes to the Mack from public figures together in this article here. The Guardian has produced some fantastic comment on the fire, including this piece from Kevin McKenna reflecting on how the Mack can continue to fulfill its purpose, Penny Anderson’s piece asking what can be done after this devastating fire, and a brilliant editorial. Paul Sweeney, the MP for Glasgow North East, has called for a rapid, wide reaching, and honest review of how the city preserves its historic buildings.


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