The creator of the iconic 1899 Glasgow School of Art building in Scotland, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, graduated from the school before designing the famed structure. As a student, he was in a club called the Immortals. This audacious name turned out be a prediction—Mackintosh was immortalized by his design, though it now seems the edifice itself may not be not destined to survive.
Mackintosh’s building, which was so unpopular upon construction that its designer wasn’t invited to the opening ceremony, became a symbol of the innovative and distinctive Glasgow Style—an international icon of art nouveau architecture. Now, the beloved building, most famed for its library, may never be restored to its former glory after a fire that began on June 15 caused possibly irreparable damage to the stonework. Ironically, restoration after a less severe 2014 fire was just being completed when this new inferno began.
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, who visited the scene today (June 16) says the damage from the latest “heartbreaking” fire is “much, much worse” than the previous blaze. Calling it “severe and extensive,” she said it’s too early to tell whether the building can be restored again, noting that structural assessments are underway now, the Guardian reported.
The fire began near midnight on June 15, just hours after the annual graduation ceremony. More than 120 firefighters were called in to put out the blaze that destroyed the roof and upper floors. Fears that the building would collapse prevented them from entering the flaming building.
Witnesses said the heat from the blaze could be felt a few streets away. The fire spread to a nearby club but it appears that no one was hurt, despite a rain of burning debris falling onto adjacent streets. Jane Sutherland, who graduated from the art school in 1982 and is chair of the local arts council, watched the flames from her nearby apartment. “The fire was immense,” she told the Guardian. “People were dodging fist-sized flaming embers last night. All the neighbours were out; we were all worried all the roofs were going up.”
The Glasgow School of Art issued a statement about the fire today, noting that the building—affectionately known as “the Mack”—hasn’t been in use for four years due to restoration efforts following the previous blaze. “Whilst the fire in ‘the Mack’ is devastating news, The Glasgow School of Art’s immediate focus is on our students, and on the continuing operation of the GSA to ensure minimum disruption to students and staff,” the statement provides. All of the school’s buildings will remain closed for the next week.
Long-term prospects for the Mack don’t seem hopeful right now. “The building does look as though from the inside it’s been totally gutted. All that seems to remain is the stone walls,” observed Alan Dunlop, an architecture professor at the school. Immortality turns out to be a tall order—even for a building.