There is uncertainty over the future of Glasgow School of Art’s iconic Mackintosh Building after a second fire in four years caused “extensive” damage
Around 50 firefighters battled to extinguish the blaze which began late on Friday night, destroying multi-million-pound restoration work as well as badly damaging a nearby music venue.
Visiting the site yesterday, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the fire was “heartbreaking.”But she said the Scottish Government would do everything it could to make sure the building had some sort of future.
It is just four years since the Charles Rennie Mackintosh building was badly damaged in another blaze.
The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) said the building had been “extensively damaged,” although no one is reported to a have been injured.
SFRS area manager David Young said: “This remains a protracted incident and our efforts very much continue at this stage to extinguish the fire and ensure the community is protected.
“There will be disruption around Dalhousie Street, Sauchiehall Street and Renfrew Street and I would advise the public to avoid these areas. I would like to thank our firefighters on the ground and our operations control firefighters for working effectively with our partners throughout the night.”
Sturgeon visited the scene yesterday afternoon to meet firefighters tackling the blaze.
She said: “It’s heartbreaking. The fire as I think everybody could see from the pictures last night, has been a devastating blaze, much, much worse than the one that took hold of the Mackintosh building four years ago so the damage is severe and extensive.
“It’s actually quite hard to find the words, given what happened four years ago, the fact that it was so close to being reopened after the restoration that this has happened.”
“My heart goes out to everybody associated with the art school but – and I think this is an important point – there was no loss of life last night. Nobody was injured. Sometimes I think we take that a bit too much for granted and that’s down to the speed of response and skill of the firefighters that we’re not mourning loss of life today.”
Asked if the building had a future, she added: “I’ve spoken to the principal of the art school already and the Scottish Government stands ready to do anything we reasonably can to help ensure that the building has a future.It’s too early to say what that might entail or what that might look like. We don’t know yet what the structural condition of the building is. It’s simply too early to give definitive answers.”
Former students at the art school spoke of their disbelief and sadness.
Margaret Archbold, 48, a Glasgow artist who studied fine art at the school and graduated in 1994, said she had come down to the cordons around the building to “say goodbye”.
She said: “It just keeps getting kicked in the teeth. It shouldn’t have happened again. It was graduation day yesterday for this year’s students. I just feel really sorry for the fire brigade because they worked so hard to save it the last time.
“I came down to say goodbye actually, I thought there was nothing left, and it was quite an important time in my life. I’m an artist and my uncle’s an artist – he studied here too – and I just needed to come and see it.”
Sam Patterson, 30, is vice president of the Glasgow Institute of Architects and studied architecture at the art school for five years.
Watching as firefighters hosed the building, he said there was a sense of “disbelief”.
Patterson, who graduated in 2012, said: “One of the first architecture books I bought as a first-year student about to move to Glasgow was 100 buildings of the 20th century and page one was Glasgow School of Art. It’s a shocker, especially in Mackintosh’s 150th anniversary and so close to being completed.
“It’s difficult really to say much until there’s an evaluation or report on the building but certainly the spread of the fire is far greater than previous years and from what I can see walking around this morning it’s going to be a far more challenging project to redo.”
Isabel Garriga, president of the institute, said: “The Glasgow Institute of Architects woke up this morning to hear the most horrific news about one of the most beloved iconic buildings in Glasgow, a building that is a lot more than a building, an architectural masterpiece, a place we love deeply, a place where a lot of us have studied, worked and grown as architects.”
A restoration project, which was set to cost between £20 million and £35m, had been returning the celebrated art school to its former glory after a devastating fire in 2014, with Brad Pitt and Peter Capaldi among those lending their support.
Stuart Robertson, director of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society, said the fire was “terrible” and a “massive body blow” and would be “sending shock waves around the world”.
He said: “This is a world- class building. With all the restoration work going on it’s just horrendous, I can’t really believe it.
“To see some of the work and the beautiful craftsmanship that’s gone on and I’d seen a glimpse of the new library taking shape and the studio work and all the painstaking work that’s gone into the restoration is just...people must feel sick.”
In a statement published on its website, the Glasgow School of Art said: “Whilst the fire in ‘the Mack’ is devastating news, the Glasgow School of Art’s immediate focus is on our students, and on the continuing operation of the GSA to ensure minimum disruption to students and staff. The GSA and all of its buildings will remain closed for the next week, and we will provide updates as and when information is available.”