Sunday, 25 May 2014

The Flames of Opportunity

Glasgow School of Art - the old (in flames)and the new
Glasgow School of Art - the old (in flames)and the new

You know, when I heard the news on Friday that the old Glasgow School of Art building had been badly damaged by fire I knew immediately what my post would be this week. I was literally burning with ideas and glued to the edge of my seat at the same time!

First of all, before people get too upset by what I have to say, I feel terribly sorry for the students who will have lost all their work, most of which will be irreplaceable. It's a tragedy for people so young to experience such loss, especially at such a critical time in their studies. I remember when I was a wee boy on holiday in Lossiemouth with the family when the tide came in and destroyed a magnificent sandcastle I had built. I was inconsolable. On another occasion, my mother threw out a model of a dog that I had carefully constructed from a Fairy Liquid bottle and some drinking straws - I was distraught.  So I know how it feels.

I was also sad to see Muriel Gray so visibly upset at what was happening around her on Friday. I gather that she is very closely involved in the School of Art so it is not surprising that she was in tears. She's a fine Scottish lassie and talked a lot of sense about the institution and its future - it is more than a building. Exactly!

In contrast, I'm very unsympathetic to the hordes of twittering middle class numpties drowning in their sentimentality, wringing their hands and talking about loss, heritage, poor Toshie and all the rest of it. A blizzard of unwanted and unfocused nonsense from people who probably have never been near the building in their lives far less studied there. It certainly has been an opportunity for overweight women in colourful cardigans to cry into their ghastly homemade soup or for thin bearded men to start talking about their philosophy of restoration.
Smoke from the GSA Fire partly obscuring the
excellent Dental Hospital Building on Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow

Of course Glasgow School of Art was the UK's best loved building. But nothing is forever. It seems careless of GSA to lose so much of this building in an afternoon and questions will be asked. Doubtless there will a great wave of enthusiasm for restoring the famous library together with what was the most uncomfortable lecture theatre anywhere in the world but of course it won't be the same. Like the grim, lifeless 'meticulous reassemblage' at the Hunterian Gallery at Glasgow University with its hum of air conditioning - or even worse, the construction of the House for an Art Lover in Bellahouston Park on the south side of Glasgow - it would and will be an exercise in stultifying architectural necrophilia. A Poundbury on Renfrew Street - I hate these places!  You know, it strikes me that there are plenty of photographs and drawings of the building and any intelligent person should be able to reconstruct in their own minds what it was like rather than being spoon-fed an ersatz copy.

Perhaps the time has come, and here I have to make references to my previous posts on the development of the School of Art campus, to consider something new and radical that can act as a receptacle for the wonderful creative minds that will drive artistic innovation in a future Scotland and indeed oil the gears of enterprise. After all there is a model for this new approach across the road at the Seona Reid building - even to the extent of a business park aesthetic over-sailing the remains of the old refectory. Imagine a new building over-sailing the remains of the Mackintosh building - exciting prospects indeed! It's all work for our wonderful development industry of course and I'm hopeful that Halliday Fraser Munro will be involved in the new build. I'm sure John Halliday is sharpening his big pencil as we speak.
the flames of opportunity

And speaking as an expert planner, I noticed in some of the photographs that large parts of the old Mackintosh building had flat roofs. I'm sure that Glasgow City Council planners will try to correct this anomaly and insist on a large pitched roof together with sash and case windows in the restored building. Also it may be possible to accommodate car parking in some of the basement space of the new building. Or perhaps an extra floor could be added so that it would be a better match for the towering Reid Building across Renfrew Street.  These are inevitably the sorts of things that GCC planners will be considering.

I may return to this subject in due course but for now, let's hope that Glasgow School of Art can look to the future rather than the past. Best wishes to all my fans and remember, you're always welcome to drop in at Auchterness any time. Cheeriebye for now!

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