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Mackintosh or ‘Mockintosh’?

When I was asked by ‘Wealden Times’ to name a building that has been a particular inspiration and explain the choice in 150 words I had no hesitation in choosing the Glasgow School of Art (completed in 1909) by Charles Rennie Mackintosh for personal as well as architectural reasons.

I first visited the building in the early 1960’s as a small child with my father who taught drawing and painting there. It sits on a steep hill and I remember us standing looking over the city below from the glazed loggia at roof level. I returned in the mid 1970’s as an architecture student at the Mackintosh School of Architecture and spent all my architectural education in and around it.

It is a building of contrasts – simplicity versus decoration, large versus small spaces and dark spaces versus light airy spaces. It is both a landmark of early modern architecture and rich in traditional Scottish and art nouveau detail. Mackintosh used the skills of the various tradesmen and craftsmen to add a level of decorative detail to a rational design making it a fine example of what can be achieved on a limited budget through imagination, the skills of all involved and the true nature of the materials used.

Glasgow School of Art Library

Glasgow School of Art Library

The highlight for me is (was?) the Japanese inspired library with its intricate detail and exciting use of space, natural light and colour. Sadly when fire ravaged the building a couple of years ago the library was completely destroyed with only the masonry ‘shell’ into which it had been inserted remaining After much debate the decision has been taken to rebuild the library exactly to Mackintosh’s original plans. Some think that this will constitute a ‘Mockintosh’ copy and that the school should instead install a contemporary design that reflects the present time. But it seems to me that since there will be sufficient detail to create an exact copy this is the right course of action to return this little gem to the city. On any project detailed drawings are produced and then one of multiple potential building / craftsmen teams is selected to build it. Here we will have a second team going through the process again from full information just over a century after the original construction. In fact, since the library was inserted into a masonry ‘shell’, couldn’t multiple versions be created for insertion into suitable ‘shells’ in art galleries or libraries throughout the world? If licenced, these could help cover the cost at the Glasgow School of Art and allow more visitors to enjoy this unique space.

Iain Miller