Early last week, forensic archeologists began to sort through the ashes of The Glasgow School of Art’s Mackintosh Library, housed in the Mackintosh Building, which suffered fire damage on Friday, May 23, 2014. Completed in 1909 and designed by alumnus Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928), Historic Scotland designated it an A-list building.
Robbie Coltrane, who played Rubeus Hagrid in the Harry Potter films, and Peter Capaldi, who plays The Twelfth Doctor on Doctor Who and (a highly fictionalized version of) Cardinal Richelieu on The Musketeers, are two of the famous artists, architects, and actors who studied at The Glasgow School of Art (G.S.A.). Located on Renfrew Street in the center of Glasgow, the Mackintosh Building is considered a masterpiece of Art Nouveau architecture and was the heart of the G.S.A.’s Garnethill Campus.
The historian Sir Christopher Frayling said, “It is the only Art School in the world where the building is worthy of its subject … a work of art in which to make works of art.” A fire broke out in the basement of the Mackintosh Building around 12:30 p.m. on Friday, May 23, 2014 after a projector exploded, as the B.B.C. reported.
Austin Yuill, a G.S.A. chef, told B.B.C. Scotland, “I was moved two streets away from the Mackintosh building but before we left the place was completely ablaze all down the west side of the building.” The Scottish Fire & Rescue Service had brought most of the fire under control by 7:00 p.m., but pockets of fire continued to burn.
Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond stated on Twitter, “Thoughts with staff & students at @GSofA – awful to see destruction of this iconic building and students work.” Iain Connelly, President of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, said, “It is a work of architectural heritage of world renown and its influence on 20th century architecture is immeasurable. Scotland has seen the loss of an international treasure which reflects the genius of one of our greatest ever architects.”
Broadcaster Muriel Gray, the Chairwoman of The Glasgow School of Art, burst into tears when she saw the blaze. She later said, “This is an enormous blow and we are understandably devastated.”
“The most amazing, almost miraculous news is that the majority of the building is still intact,” she said. “Due to one of the most astonishingly intelligent and professional pieces of strategy by the fire services, they succeeded in protecting the vast majority of the building, apparently by forming a human wall of firefighters up the west end of the main staircase and containing the fire.”
On Sunday, May 25, 2014, the B.B.C. reported, “The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service said more than 90% of the structure was viable and they had protected up to 70% of the contents.”
The B.B.C. stated, “The fire service has yet to confirm the cause of the blaze, which some students have suggested could have started in the basement when a spark from a projector caught a piece of foam.”
British Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander, a Liberal democrat who represents the constituency of Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey in the British Parliament’s House of Commons, visited the site on the afternoon of Saturday, May 24, 2014, said, “We’ve seen the appalling damage to the Glasgow School of Art. It’s a hugely important building not just for Glasgow and Scotland but for the whole of the United Kingdom.”
Mr. Alexander said, “The UK government will be willing to make a significant financial contribution towards the cost of rebuilding.”
He added, “Obviously at the moment we don’t know the precise extent of the damage or what the costs will be, so I can’t put a figure on it, but the chancellor and I have spoken this morning and we both think it is appropriate.”
On September 15, 2014, the B.B.C. reported the G.S.A. Library had replaced 22% of the books consumed in the fire. Librarian Duncan Chappell said, “In the three-month period since the fire we have successfully replaced 22% of the volumes we identified as a priority because they were in high demand and used regularly by our students, staff and researchers.”
He added, “We have been very touched by the generosity shown to us which is testament to the affection in which the Mackintosh Library was held by so many”
An anonymous donor gave Ver Sacrum (“Sacred Spring”) 1898-1903. Published by Gerlach und Schenk, the official magazine of the Vereinigung Bildender Künstler Österreichs (“Union of Austrian Artists,” also known as the Vienna Secession), it helped popularize Art Nouveau across Europe.
Blackwells Rare Books donated XXI Welsh Gypsy Folk-Tales by alumna Agnes Miller Parker (1895-1980). Published in a limited edition by Gregynog Press in 1933, it is number 216 of 250 copies. Agnes Miller Parker was an artist, and her book was illustrated with her original wood engravings.
Dean Herbert reported for the Scottish Express on Wednesday, November 19, 2014, “The library, which contained hundreds of rare periodicals and collections, was gutted and works of art and the roof of the west wing destroyed. The bill for the damage is estimated at £50million.” He added that the British Government and the Scottish Government have pledged £5,000,000 to the restoration fund. “Kirkdale Archaeology, which has previously carried out excavations at Stirling Castle, Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace and Linlithgow Palace, will work at the building.”
The G.S.A.’s Library reports that the Main Library in the Mackintosh Library was unharmed but the Mackintosh Library was destroyed. “The main GSA library and lending collections were unaffected by the fire in the Mackintosh Building on 23rd May. The main library remains open for normal hours and normal service.”
However the fire caused us to lose our dear and beloved Mackintosh Library and its precious collections. Since that tragic event, we have been touched by the many offers of donations we have received and continue to receive from individuals and institutions, for which we are very grateful.
The rebuilding of our lost collections will take many years. We intend to pursue a targeted rebuild, tightly aligned to both the illustrious history and future direction of the Glasgow School of Art. Just as the loss of the Mackintosh Library interior allows us to re-imagine the future use of the space, the loss of these collections, though tragic, provides the opportunity to revisit our collecting strategies and to rebuild in a highly strategic and targeted way.
In the short term however, we need to replace the volumes that were in high demand and used regularly by our students, staff and researchers. In particular, we need to replace those volumes required by our PhDs. In addition, we also seek to replace those volumes that complemented our Archives and Collections, including the many treatises and illustrated books written, designed and made by our past Directors, tutors, and alumni. The quick replacement of these volumes is a priority for the Library.
The G.S.A. librarians have compiled what they are calling a “wants list,” which they are updating on a weekly basis. One can see it online here.
The G.S.A. Library stated, “At this time, we are only seeking very specific titles that hold particular relevance to our history, our alumni, and our learning, teaching and research activities. If you hold any of the titles below and would like to donate them to the Library, please contact our Librarian Duncan Chappell.” His e-mail address is d.chappell [at] gsa.as.uk.
“Please note that the GSA Archives and Collections Centre also suffered some damage, however the bulk of the holdings are fine and have been removed from the site for an assessment of their condition,” stated the G.S.A. Library. “Unfortunately, the Archives and Collections service will be closed for the foreseeable future.”
One can donate to the Mackintosh Building Fire Fund online here. The Glasgow School of Art would like to raise £20,000,000.