Glasgow School of Art 2

Along with perhaps a few million other folk, I can fairly claim to have visited the MacIntosh Building at Glasgow Art School, albeit a few decades ago.

It was a fleeting visit. A school friend was studying at the place and I called round to help carry some paintings to a venue at the top of Sauchiehall street where said paintings were due to be exhibited. I have completely forgotten the name of the gallery, but I do recall being somewhat awed by the MacIntosh Building.

Of course, in those days, and we are talking 1970’s here, I had no real idea of the extant heritage. In fact, I had never even heard of Rennie MacIntosh and I suppose that I was not alone since not once in my decade living and working in Mungo’s fair city did I hear even a breath of civic pride regarding the man’s humongous legacy. I suppose it was all down to the grinding cultural poverty of the day and perhaps a fixation by the the city fathers on the precariously coupling lines: Here's the bird that never flew, Here's the tree that never grew, Here's the bell that never rang, Here's the fish that never swam.

The building I saw was simply the ‘MacIntosh Building’ and nothing more. Dank, dark, light and eerie in places, it did make an impression and I am sure that if I had been some 1970’s art student intent on carving pre-doctoral initials on some high-backed chair or stubbing out a fag on the hallowed lath and plastered walls, then I would have taken more care of the memories.
But, in the big scheme of things, I was there simply to help carry some adolescently-scented framed-pictures around the city. In later years, and as a tourist, I would have venerated the place as some pre-Gaudian masterpiece. But that is a different story, and of course its all a bonfire of the vanities now and the original is two times removed from the present.

Funding for the original building came from various sources including a 1907 grant award of some £15k from the Scotch Education Department.

Just one year later, in August 1908 the chronology of the building works records that: 'The old roof of the School has been removed and the new roof and also new fireproof floor are complete so far as the mason, joiner, steel and asphalt works are concerned'. In the light of the two recent fires, plus the blatant stubbing out of cigarettes over the intervening century by the buildings students, one has to wonder about the protocols involved in heritage re-constructive architecture.

Indeed, one can almost imagine the restoration architects being hauled before some parliamentary committee of enquiry or other and being faced with the question: "Erm, was there even a fire alarm installed within a building which, given it's history, should have been the safest in Glasgow?’ 

Duncan Harley is author of The A-Z of Curious Aberdeenshire.

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