The fire-hit iconic Glasgow School of Art could cost “hundreds of millions” of pounds to rebuild, experts have warned as firefighters work to extinguish the last traces of the blaze that destroyed it.
Bill Hare, professor in construction management at Glasgow Caledonian University, said it was looking “increasingly” likely that the entire facade of the Mackintosh Building – which was nearing completion of a £35 million renovation following another fire four years ago – would have to be destroyed. Prof Hare, who visited the site yesterday, said a brick by brick reconstruction would cost upwards of £100m and warned that costs could rocket to more than double that.
A sprinkler system is believed to have been installed before Friday night’s fire but was not operational.
Calls for a public inquiry have been rejected as premature by both Scottish Secretary David Mundell and Scotland’s culture secretary Fiona Hyslop.
Firefighters are using thermal imaging cameras to identify smouldering pockets of fire in the building, designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh more than 100 years ago.
The blaze began at 11:20pm on Friday, with 120 firefighters called in to battle the fire at its peak. No-one has yet been able to enter the building to analyse the damage due to health and safety concerns that what remains of the structure could collapse.
Prof Hare said that if the entire building is destroyed, the art school would have three rebuild options: either an entirely new, modern building; an attempt to retain some of the facade behind a new construction or a brick-by-brick reconstruction of the original art school, based on a digital 3D model created by Historic Environment Scotland (HES) during the past renovation works.
He said: “The modern building across the road, the Reid Building, was recently constructed for £50m. If you want to retain the facade, you can add another £50m to that. If we are talking about painstakingly rebuilding it as it was, as a replica, then that is potentially a money pit, it is an open cheque book.”
He added: “Taking it apart and reconstructing it brick by brick would be at the very least £100m, but it could easily be double that.”
However, he said some architects could fight to block a replica being built on the site.
Alan Dunlop, professor of architecture at Robert Gordon University and a practising architect in Glasgow, said he believed that Mackintosh himself would favour a modern building on the site.
He said: “The complete interior looks to have gone. The masonry of the facade is still standing, but because so much water has been pushed into it, there would have to be a structural survey done to see if it could be kept. There is a debate to be had as to what should replace it if it cannot be kept.
“I am sure there will be people who want a brick by brick replica to be made, but if you reconstruct it, is it a Mackintosh building, or a replica of a Mackintosh building? To me, it would not be authentic.”
He added: “I firmly believe that if Mackintosh was around, he would want something that was more reflective of contemporary architecture.”
Ms Hyslop told the BBC’s Sunday Politics Scotland programme yesterday that no-one had yet been able to enter the building. She said that once it had been declared safe, building control and HES officials would assess the situation and the exterior of the art school.
On calls for a public inquiry, she said: “I can understand people want lots of their questions answered but clearly we’ve got to have the process in place first, we have to have the fire investigation first and I think we should give people the time to carry out those duties to best effect and that will give us clarity of what is possible going forward.
“The sensible thing to do is to find out what the source of the fire was and how that spread.
“All these questions will be addressed by the fire investigation. We need them to do their job initially and that is very, very important.”
Around 50 firefighters and six fire engines, as well as two high reach appliances, were still battling the flames yesterday afternoon.
Scottish Fire and Rescue Service group manager Martin Hill added: “We will remain on the scene for as long as it takes – we are absolutely committed to preventing any further damage to surrounding properties and ensuring the area is made safe.”
The organisation has said it is “too early” to identify a cause of the blaze, which also affected the O2 ABC on Sauchiehall Street, which has been forced to cancel or relocate gigs.
Firefighters were working to control the blaze on all four sides of the buildings, from Dalhousie Street to Sauchiehall Street and into Renfrew Street. It is believed that it is likely the fire started in the upper levels of the property, due to the roof appearing well alight in the early stages.
The Holyrood and Westminster governments have said they stand ready to provide support, including financially, to the art school as it assesses what the future may hold.