Serious Burns

Glasgow School of Art administrators defend themselves after multiple fires

Architecture International News Preservation
Aerial photo of the Mackintosh Building fire in June of 2018. (Police Scotland Air/PA)
Aerial photo of the Mackintosh Building fire in June of 2018. (Police Scotland Air/PA)

After a fire ripped through the Glasgow School of Art’s (GSA) Mackintosh Building this June (while the landmarked library was undergoing renovations from an earlier fire in 2014), the school has been taken to task by local residents and Scotland’s Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee for apparent negligence. Now the school has shot back at critics, explaining that the rebuilding process precluded Park\Page Architects from fully fire-stopping the hall in both 2014 and 2018.

Following criticism over how well the school is equipped to try to rebuild the Charles Rennie Mackintosh–designed Mac building for a third time, GSA director Tom Inns resigned on November 2.

Inns’s tenure spanned five years and he led the institution during both fires, fueling concern over his ability to shepherd the school through another rebuild—and his resignation reportedly followed questions from senior figures at the GSA about whether the renovations may have voided the building’s insurance policy. Deputy directors Irene McAra-McWilliam and Ken Neil have taken over for Innis until the GSA finds a permanent replacement.

According to the Architects’ Journal, the school is preparing to face down questioning from Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) on November 15 over the lack of fireproofing measures in both incidents. In a submission to the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee, the GSA maintained that it would have been nearly impossible to prevent either fire.

The Glasgow School of Art facade in better times (Glasgow School of Art/McAteer Photograph)

Part of the issues, Page\Park maintains, is timing, as sprinklers were being installed in both May of 2014 and June of this year but weren’t fully operational. The discovery of asbestos in the building during a 2013 survey had pushed the construction timetable back, as the contractors then had to remove the asbestos during the summer when students weren’t at risk of exposure.

From the report obtained by the Architects’ Journal, the GSA wrote that:

To have provided effective compartmentation would have meant deconstructing the interior of the Mackintosh Building to find where voids existed. Only by stripping it back to its masonry structure could we have been certain of stopping all these voids and providing compartmentation […] comprehensive elimination would have meant stripping the building completely – thus destroying what we were aiming to protect and conserve.

The GSA also used the report to advocate for their continued stewardship of the Mac and that they were in the best position to lead the next restoration, arguing that they were a working, hands-on school.

The 2018 fire gutted nearly everything replaced in the $48 million renovation, and it’s unclear how much reconstructing the Mac will cost this time. However, whoever owns the Mac won’t be starting from scratch, as Page\Park’s extensive survey of the building created a comprehensive 3-D model of the entire library, including the original materials and techniques used by Mackintosh in 1898 and 1909. The next reconstruction is expected to take anywhere from four to seven years to complete.

Related Stories