MACKINTOSH - TRIUMPH AND TRAGEDY

Just about everyone with whom I've been in contact in the last 72 hours - regardless of why they were in touch - began their conversation or message with a discussion of the Glasgow School of Art fire. Everyone who knew it and loved it - and thouands more who only revered it from afar - seems to have experienced a collective sense of bereavement. Not again! Not the Mack. Please not the Mack.  For a few years I was in the privileged position of being a Governor at the GSA - experiencing the joy of meeting in a  CRM designed space, and of going entering those iconic swing doors through which had passed so many generations of varied talents.

For schools of Art  are special institutions.   They turn out not only artists and designers, painters and sculptors, but lateral thinkers and perpetrators of brilliant ideas.  So many GSA alumnae didn't continue in the visual arts, but instead unlocked their potential in writing, poetry, broadcasting, drama. For it seemed to be the antithesis of an institution, rather a space in which free thinking radicals could spread their intellectual wings. And few of them failed to be motivated by the very fact of doing so within a consummate work of art in itself.  And now, looking at the shell of that great building, it's difficult to see how a phoenix could rise from such comprehensive ashes.

Yet already the debate has become fiercely articulated across social media.  Is there a rally to demand a re-build, inquired one tweet which promptly found dozens of echoes. For myself it's a period of agnosticism.  The House for an Art Lover, built post Mackintosh from his drawings, is a lovely place to visit, but somehow lacks the soul of the Mack. Somehow too pristine; to pretty ever to rival its cousin in Garnethill.  It's not just about the cost, or the logistics.  One person posted that Glasgow, a poor city, had lost the only thing which gave it world class status.  That's not my view.  The city is about more than one building however iconic. The slogan may seem trite, but People Make Glasgow has the ring of truth about it. 

Amidst the mourning there has been the odd but inevitable burst of ignorance and insensitivity. Like the comment from the Sky News host who wondered whether it might have been an insurance job.  Which was treated with the utter contempt it so deserved. But there will be anger from other quarters, and endless speculation. Some have asserted the fire began elsewhere and spread to the Mack. Some have muttered about the co-incidence of the fire starting amidst graduation celebrations. Fingers of suspicion were swiftly pointed at the building company and its security arrangements.

But the only people qualified to make a definitive judgement are the forensic experts attached to the Fire Service.  And, as we saw from Grenfell, that is a long and laborious process.  The report from the 2014 blaze empahised the role of elements like venitlation ducts, but it seems doubtful that the re-build would have reprised any architecture which replicated that particular risk. For now nobody knows.  Perhaps we never shall. 

But  we are  all of us acutely aware of the irony of this disaster occuring during the 150th anniversary of CRM's birth. Within just a week or so of the re-opening of the Willow Tea Rooms in Sauchiehall Street, and months before the re-construction of another is unveiled in Dundee's new V&A.  It may be that the latter will also be able to feature some of the Mack building interiors which were being constructed off site.  Let's hope so. 

I have many friends who are currently involved with GSA, or were very recently.  I can only imagine their particular sense of devastation being so much closer than the rest of us to the plans for the upcoming re-opening.  They have my heartfelt sympathy.