Support Hyperallergic’s independent arts journalism. Become a member today »

Still undergoing reconstruction from a 2014 fire, the Mackintosh Building was set ablaze again in June (image courtesy of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service)

A fire originating in the Glasgow School of Art’s renowned Mackintosh building tore through the edifice’s architectural infrastructure on the night of June 15, devastating the local Glasgow community. The tragic event came just four years after a smaller fire at the school in 2014. The institution was in the tail-end of reconstruction.

Residents said the heat from the flames extended, debris cast from the origin across several streets. The Guardian reports that firefighters were unable to enter the Mackintosh in fear the walls might collapse. A hundred and twenty firefighters were on scene to quell the blaze.

There were no reported casualties, but Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, spoke with live reporters on the scene and called the fire “heartbreaking” and said,“the damage is severe and extensive.”

Architect and GSA alum, Alan Dunlop, told The Telegraph:

… the building does look as though from the inside it’s been totally gutted. All that seems to remain is the stone walls. The deeply sad thing about it was yesterday was graduation day so they (the students) celebrated and were very happy and then to wake up the next morning, they will be very sad indeed about it.”

Hyperallergic contacted the Glasgow School of Art People of Colour Society after learning of their arts activism in the local Glasgow community and at the Glasgow School of Arts. Representatives of the organization told Hyperallergic in an email:

The undergraduates do not know how the access to resources will be affected when the semester starts in mid September as arrangements for classes and workshops have yet to be announced. However, all of us studied in the aftermath of the 2014 fire and we are acutely aware of the detrimental impact that the first fire had on our studies. The postgrad students of colour who have been immediately affected by the fire are still reeling in the aftermath but given the increased pressure they are under, do not currently have the capacity to fully process and publicly voice their concerns and frustrations. Students within architecture have been unable to access their portfolios which have caused them to miss deadlines for applications for their professional practice year out (PYOP).

They add:

With the academic year starting in mid September, we are incredibly nervous about how the school will manage the consequences of the fire. The first fire in 2014 provided a catalyst to expose the structural issues of the institution. Within two years, the relationship between the school and its students had deteriorated to a point where two separate protests were held in 2016 [including exhibition protest 25% EXTRA and This Is A Protest] … We hope that this time, the school holds itself accountable for its structural problems and put its responsibility for students’ education first.

Nearby residents and business-owners were prevented from entering their properties for 10 weeks following the fire, unable to collect items including passports, medicine, or keys. A total of 33 households were displaced, as well as 55 businesses.

The no-go zone was lifted this past weekend, for a half hour on Saturday, August 25. Some residents were given the opportunity to enter their homes and businesses, while others will be given access yesterday, Monday, August 27.

Citizens affected by the cordon told reporters at the Herald Scotland that their residences were met with the stench of molded food, insects, and break-ins by small animals in the 10 weeks they were sequestered.

Business owners expressed worries about the cost of reopening, having to fire part-time employees during the cordon due to economic restrictions, and worries that customers won’t return.

Representatives of the Govan Law Centre are discussing legal action against Glasgow City Council, the Glasgow School of Art, and Kier Construction (the company responsible for the building’s construction since the 2014 fire). They called the treatment of local residents in the wake of the devastating fire “abysmal.”

The BBC reports that a Glasgow council spokesman announced, “The council has acted under Section 29 of the Building (Scotland) Act 2003 in order to protect life. Our priority remains getting residents and businesses back to their properties safely.”

The Scotsman reports that Mike Dailly, solicitor advocate of the Govan Law Centre, says:

Glasgow City Council senior officers, Glasgow School of Art and privileged elites appear more interested in saving the MacKintosh building than saving the community of Sauchiehall Street and Garnethill, which have been around a lot longer and are a special part of our city’s heritage. Ordinary residents and local businesses are suffering and have lost a lot of money. It’s unacceptable to be locked out of homes for so long.

In a statement on behalf of the Glasgow School of Art, university director, Professor Tom Inns, said that the school is prioritizing the return of local residents to their homes and businesses. He concludes, “We hope very much that as people start to return to their properties this weekend this will be the beginning of getting the area back to normality.”

The Glasgow School of Art People of Colour Society told Hyperallergic:

Whilst people are romanticising the building and debating whether or not it should be restored, comparatively little attention has been paid to the residents who were locked out of their homes, the business’ in the surrounding area who have been unable to operate, the workers who have lost their jobs and the business’ outwith the cordon who have been affected by reduced footfall on Sauchiehall Street. There are a number of crowdfunders for the affected business’ and in terms of specific support for affected residents there is the Garnethill Displaced Residents Facebook group which is a good starting point.

Further, by romanticising the Mackintosh building, we ignore the fact that a large part of The Glasgow School of Art’s reputation depends upon this instead of its quality of teaching, with the institution coming bottom of the National Student Survey for the second year in a row. We cannot allow GSA to solely focus on campaigning for the rebuilding of the Mack, as this then permits the institution to shirk its responsibility on spending time and resources to overhaul structural and academic issues that have an unequivocal and direct impact on students. This is particularly pertinent for many students of colour as we do not see ourselves within the staff body and the curriculum actively omits our histories. In early 2017, we issued a set of demands that in part dealt with the hiring of more staff of colour and the decolonising of the curriculum, but eventually chose to disengage with the directorate by the end of the year as our attempts to initiate meaningful action from the school became increasingly futile. We worry that these conversations will become even more marginalised than before as the focus once again shifts entirely onto rebuilding the Mackintosh.

The Mackintosh building is considered “A-listed” in British history, and therefore of noted architectural or historical significance, “considered to be of national importance and therefore worth protecting.”

Architectural historian Neil Baxter told The Telegraph:

It is a building of world importance. It influenced the evolution of 20th century architecture across the globe and its loss, and that seems to be what we’re looking at, is just a tragedy for all of Glasgow … The fact that Mackintosh’s masterpiece, the most substantial building he created, seems now to be destroyed or substantially destroyed, in irony upon irony the 150th anniversary of his birth, this is just beyond belief. It seems unreal.

Hyperallergic attempted to contact the Glasgow School of Art Students’ Association, but has not received a response as they are closed due to the fire. We also reached out to the Glasgow School of Art Registry, but have not received a response.

Support Hyperallergic

As arts communities around the world experience a time of challenge and change, accessible, independent reporting on these developments is more important than ever. 

Please consider supporting our journalism, and help keep our independent reporting free and accessible to all.

Become a Member

Jasmine Weber

Jasmine Weber is Hyperallergic's news editor. She is an artist and writer based in Brooklyn, particularly interested in Black art histories and visual culture....