Why Charles Rennie Mackintosh was ahead of Google

Restoration of the Glasgow School of Art’s historic Mackintosh Building, devastated by fire in 2014, has begun. And the project’s leader has spoken about how the architect’s masterwork was an early example of a space that encouraged creativity through social interaction.

“He’s known as one of the first modern architects,” said Liz Davidson. “The more you look at what he did here – the cleverness throughout the building and the future-proofing he put in and the way he used seating as social spaces; that’s what you find in a Google headquarters now. He built little social spaces all over.”

During a tour of the site for journalists Davidson, the restoration’s senior project manager, added: “It was so ahead of its time. We think that to go back to Mackintosh’s vision is actually giving us back a really modern building which has kind of been cluttered up over the last 100 years.”

For example, Mackintosh furniture had been replaced over time and wooden and brass features painted over. Under the project’s plans, the interior of the restored building will be much closer to the original than recent generations of students and art lovers have known.

But before Mackintosh’s vision of a creative space can be recreated, major structural work is required. Specialists have begun the process of removing the massive stone piers between the iconic windows on the west wall of the building, so that they can be inspected and where possible reinstated.

“We will be working closely with the Glasgow School of Art, local suppliers, specialist conservators and craftsmen and local artists,” said Gordon Reid, business development manager at Kier Construction Scotland, the project’s main contractor, “to provide specialist training, apprenticeship and employment opportunities on the project,”

Research to source authentic replacement timber is underway and specialists have begun the painstaking job of re-assembling 600-plus fragments of the original innovative electric lights retrieved following the fire.

“It’s taken a year of work by the restoration team, with our colleagues from Archives and Collections, to develop our conservation methodology and sort the fragments into light ‘kits’,” said Sarah Mackinnon, project manager.

The kits are now being transformed – into 29 completely original lights and at least a further seven, partially using original glass fragments and brass parts – by specialist lantern maker Lonsdale and Dutch in Edinburgh.

But, when “the Mack” reopens in 2019, there will be some modern touches not available to Mackintosh; the lamps will be fitted with LED lights and the building will have underfloor heating and WiFi.

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