Glasgow School of Art Fire: What Now? Blog by Karen Anderson

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In this blog Karen Anderson, Chair of Architecture and Design Scotland, writes about her reaction to the fire at the Glasgow School of Art in June 2018.

Like many, since I first heard the news about the Glasgow School of Art late on Friday night I have gone through a cycle of emotions:  astonishment, disbelief, horror, sadness and anger. All have left me reeling but as each day has brought news snippets of despair and hope the discussion about ‘what should happen now’ distracts me and others from the key question ‘how could this have happened?’ and as importantly ‘what can we learn from it?’ Both questions will be answered but in the meantime the debate on ‘what now?’

The building is truly ‘iconic’ in the most authentic definition of icon. It is revered, loved and its physicality  (rather than its image) has been a source of inspiration and comfort to generations of students, teachers and visitors whether on or off the architectural spectrum. What we do now will test our sensitivity and our values.

The voices reported to date suggest: start anew, renovate but innovate (like the Neues Museum) or rebuild.  Anyone who has listened to those in the wide team that have been bringing the western wing back into being could not contemplate tabula rasa. It is unthinkable when you hear of the love and learning that has come from the forensic work involved in the re-construction; the care in the craft of recreation.  The ‘innovate and renovate option’ may have merits: but strictly in internationally renowned and proven hands with full support from the concerned community.   Somehow I think the re-build solution will prevail but in answer to those who are concerned that this will ‘museumise’ the building?  Careful reconstruction stone by stone does not make a building sterile, nor does crafting the timber of the library anew  ‘privatise’ it for corporate entertainment.  Rather it is the management of the building that brings these things about.  In the re-built Glasgow School of Art, funded by donation and public money, we need to ensure the building lives again in creative use  – reconciling its preciousness with its purpose  – as Mackintosh intended, and over a hundred years of students have made their own.  That in my view will be all the innovation we need.

(Updated June 2018)

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