Culture House Daily

In pictures: Fire engulfs Glasgow School of Art

23 May 2014

The footage of fire tearing through the Mackintosh building of the Glasgow School of Art on Renfrew Street is more than unnerving.

The best known interior of the School of Art is the library

The best known interior of the School of Art is the library

Though it’s too early to say how much damage has been caused to the building, it is evident that much of the original architecture has been destroyed.


(Photo: @STVGlasgow)

No building is replaceable, but this one is particularly precious. It is without doubt the most important building Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928) designed.

The Charles Rennie Mackintosh Building on fire (Photo: Getty)

(Photo: Getty)

We are more inclined today to think of Mackintosh’s stylish interior designs – the kind of monochrome-and-rose prints that remain ubiquitous in interior design shops – but his Art School has also stood the test of time.

(Photo: @AudreyGillan)

(Photo: @AudreyGillan)


As one of the first manifestly ‘modern’ constructions, it emerged as a monumental gateway between the nineteenth century and the future. It was completed in 1909.

(Photo: @PamelaByrne)

(Photo: @PamelaByrne)

At a time when Glasgow was praised as the ‘second city of the Empire’, it put Scottish accomplishment and ambition firmly on the map.


(Photo: @afneil)

When Mackintosh himself took classes at the school as a young man, it was based in buildings that had far outlived their purpose. A competition was held to design a building for a newly purchased site in Renfrew Street, large enough to cater for the growing student body. Mackintosh’s design won. As fire continues to engulf the Mackintosh Building of the Glasgow School of Art, it’s worth reflecting that none of the drawings he entered for the competition survives.

Also worth considering as smoke billows from the rooftop is the fact that the interior of this building was as important, if not more important, than the extraordinary façades. The approach of Mackintosh and his team to this project was entirely practical. You can see that in the ground plan, and you can see that from the street. The building is shaped like a giant ‘E’, with purpose-built studios arranged along the perpendicular lines and behind inordinately large windows to give students maximum natural light.

Perhaps that’s part of the reason why the school has so many impressive credits to its name. David Shrigley, Martin Boyce, and even Peter Capaldi studied there.

Particularly catastrophic, to my mind, is the reported destruction of the three-storied library on the west side of the building. This was Mackintosh’s crowning glory, a light, airy – but wood-heavy – space dominated by triple-tiered windows.

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  • transponder

    How dreadful. I believe D. Dimbleby gave us a guided tour in his documentary on British art. Terrible shame.

  • John

    Heart breaking.

  • Kitty MLB

    How absolutely heart breaking, such a beautiful library, I can see from the pictures.
    I do hope no one was injured.

  • jack

    It’s a heart breaking event. Much more so than the Windsor fire. The high temple of Scottish modernism:

    • Gwangi

      How on earth can you make a judgement that one bad fire is worse then another? So fires in Scottish places of interest are superior to those in English places of interest? Are you Alex Salmond’s secret twin perhaps?

      The Windsor fire was devastating – and more people internationally will have visited Windsor then Glasgow.

      I heard yesterday that the fire looked worse than it was – the building is 90% still there and 70% of the contents are OK too.

      I look forward to the sound of heads rolling when we get the names of those numpties who allowed flammable foams to be stored in the basement (foam that would not be allowed in the average domestic sofa because of the fire risk), and who allowed an ineffective sprinkler system – if any – to risk such a building. The fire should never have spread – its spreading as a man-made event. Human incompetence and mismanagement. An omen for Scottish independence maybe?

      • The Lobsters

        Well done for hijacking this thread to tenuously spew a political agenda.

      • Matt

        I think turning the destruction of a great work of art, as the library undoubtedly was – I´ve been to many of Europe´s great buildings over the year and it withstood comparison to most of them IMO – into an opportunity to make cheap political points is seriously cheap. The person expressing the comparison was simply expressing a personal view based on personal tastes. Assuming he was making some kind of nationalistic jibe (because all Scots are rabid, foaming at the mouth English haters, naturally) looks like a case of what Freud would term “projection”, at least based on the rest of your post.

        The whole thing is tragic.

  • judyk113

    What a tragedy. Particularly devastating if the library has gone.

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