Glasgow School of Art – Mackintosh's masterpiece 23.05.14

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As firefighters battle to save the beloved art school, we revisit a piece by Douglas Murphy, in which he describes its significance

The fire at the Glasgow School of Art today has shocked the architectural world and praise for the beloved Charles Rennie Mackintosh building is pouring out across the internet.

Early reports suggest that the blaze started when a projector exploded in the building’s basement just before 12.30 this afternoon, but details are yet to be established.

The BBC has said that everyone escaped safely and that there have been no reports of casualties. Firefighters are working to put out the flames – after which we will no doubt find out more.

Meanwhile, here is an extract from a piece about Steven Holl’s nearby Reid Building from this month’s magazine, in which Douglas Murphy describes what makes the Mackintosh art school so special.

The epithets have a tendency to blur when describing the Glasgow School of Art. Masterpiece is usually one of the first to be used, referring both to the building's position in Charles Rennie Mackintosh's oeuvre and also to its relevance to the history of architecture as a whole.

The "Mac" is not just a stunningly modern building, pointing forward to the abstractions of the international style, it is also one of the most significant examples of art nouveau, and a consummate exercise in eclecticism. Whole PhDs have been written about the building's allusions, from its frequent homages to the Scottish baronial tradition to the Japanese influence of the later sections.

And that's not all – one could talk for hours about the asymmetrically industrial aesthetic of the north facade, the myriad ingenious strategies for bringing natural light into the building, and of course Mackintosh's very invention of "space" as a medium for architecture in the celebrated library.

All of which is to say that the School of Art is a very good building, one of the best in the world from the first decade of the 20th century. 

 

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The "Mac" is not just a stunningly modern building, pointing forward to the abstractions of the international style, it is also one of the most significant examples of art nouveau, and a consummate exercise in eclecticism

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