Four years ago, I watched in horror the news stories reporting the fire at Glasgow School of Art. A few days ago, history repeated itself with a vengeance. After years of painstaking restoration, the Mackintosh building was due to re-open soon. But after the devastating fire of June 17th what little remains of this magnificent building is under threat of collapse or demolition.
Already, there are discussions all over social media and traditional media about the future of the building. Disagreement about its future because of the structural risk the gutted shell poses and the potential costs involved if rebuilding were to be considered. Arguments about whether there are better ways to use the money that it would cost. People are angry that this has happened again and are naturally seeking to apportion blame for this terrible event.
Watching the pictures of the burning building and the neighbouring buildings, it seems to me a miracle that no one was hurt or killed. After the tragedy of Grenfell Tower, we can at least be thankful for that. But while it cannot compare to that terrible, terrible event, this second fire in the Mackintosh building is a devastating blow for Glasgow. Considered by many to be Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s masterpiece, the art nouveau building was a working art school, a landmark, a tourist attraction, part of the rich cultural heritage of Glasgow and a source of pride for the city. I know there will be many people with connections to the Mack who will be shedding tears for it.
The art school features in my novel, The Backstreets of Purgatory. I don’t want to make this post about the book but I do want to mention something that is bothering me, which may be trivial in the scheme of things but feels important to say nonetheless. The original version of the opening chapter was set in the Mackintosh building. After the fire in 2014, it took me a while to be able to rewrite it but, by the time I did, restoration was well under way and the future looked optimistic for the building. I had my main character make a throw away comment about the fire. He isn’t supposed to be the most sensitive of people but now his remarks seem even more crass and sad than I originally intended. Had I known, I would have written it differently.
But, of course, there was no way of knowing.
At the moment, it is too early to predict what the future holds for the Mackintosh building. Who knows, perhaps we will hear the stonemasons and the carpenters working on it again. Perhaps the stunning iron work and the stained glass will be remade. Or perhaps, this time, the Mack will be gone for good. Either way, these are sad times for it.
Featured Image: The Mackintosh Building, Holly Hayes, flickr
Image: Classic Rennie Mackintosh, Ross G Strachan, flickr