Ideas about what to do with the charred remains of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s range from restoration to a building ‘fit for the 21st century’

An exterior view of damage to the Glasgow School of Art building.
An exterior view of damage to the Glasgow School of Art building. © Andrew Milligan/PA


To many, Glasgow without Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s finest work is unthinkable: his masterpiece must be reconstructed stone by stone, no matter the cost. But the extent of the destruction from the fire, which appears to have left only the stone facades standing, have led others to call for a new building to take its place.

“From what I’ve seen, restoration is not an option,” argues Alan Dunlop, a Glasgow-based architect and alumnus of the Mack. “We’d be talking about replication, which is totally against what Mackintosh stood for. He was an innovator, working at the cutting edge. He would want to see a new school of art fit for the 21st century.”

He has called for an international design competition, with the stipulation that the shortlist should include a Scottish architect “as a serious entry, not just a token gesture to make up the numbers”. Mackintosh was in his 20s when he designed the first phase of the school, he adds, and there are young architects capable of creating something just as powerful now. 

To many Mackintosh experts and conservation architects alike, Dunlop’s talk is anathema.

“I see no argument for why you wouldn’t rebuild the school of art as it was,” says Roger Billcliffe, author of a number of definitive books about Mackintosh. “It has been voted Britain’s most important building several times over, and we have all of the information needed to recreate every detail, following extensive laser surveys after the first fire. People are saying, ‘Let’s get a good modern architect instead,’ but we’ve already had one in theory, and we got that Steven Holl monstrosity across the road.” 


Some fragments may yet emerge from the ashes, if enough time is taken to sift through the site with forensic care. A pair of distinctive wrought iron finials still rise triumphantly above the burnt-out wreck, two floral orbs each crowned with a bird, standing as a defiant symbol on the horizon. “It’s as if Mackintosh is saying, ‘I haven’t brought to my knees yet,’” says Stuart Robertson, director of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society. “‘I’m still here, and I won’t be bulldozed that easily.’”