Glasgow School of Art: Architect fears iconic building is 'irreparable' after devastating fire

Chiara Giordano

An architect who studied at Glasgow School of Art fears the iconic Mackintosh building is “irreparable” after a fire tore through it for the second time in four years.

The world-renowned art school was engulfed in flames after another huge blaze took hold of the Category A (Grade I)-listed building at about 11.15pm on Friday.

The art school, designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and built between 1897 and 1909, had been undergoing restoration work after being damaged by a fire in 2014.

But Glaswegian architect Alan Dunlop, who studied at the Mackintosh School of Architecture, believes the building has been too badly damaged to be saved this time.

“I think the damage is irreparable,” he told The Independent.

“The difference from the damage in 2014 is that, although it was terrible and although the library was destroyed, the original wing that Mackintosh built wasn’t affected really, but now the whole building has been gutted.”

Mr Dunlop, director of Alan Dunlop Architect Limited, said he had seen from aerial photographs that there “is nothing left of any of the interior” of the building.

“I was down at the site yesterday [Saturday] and as an architect looking at it, it doesn’t look to me to be restorable at all – although I’m not a conservationist,” he said.

The historic building was erected in the late 1890s by Charles Rennie Mackintosh (Getty)

“There are techniques you can use to restore a building and after the fire in 2014, every single nut and bolt of it was digitised and put on a computer, so there should be information available.

“There’s a possibility it can be restored but that will bring about another debate: if they do bring it back, is it still a Mackintosh building?

“I think devastating is the word that’s being used a lot and I think it is just that – not just for the city of Glasgow and students and famous artists, but internationally as the building is world-renowned.

“The building shows the stages of Mackintosh’s development from a young architect to an international name and is extremely important.”

Mr Dunlop said he understood a sprinkler system was in the process of being installed in the building before the fire broke out.

“After the 2014 fire a lot of the conversation and criticism was that there wasn’t a sprinkler system installed,” he said.

“I had heard that they were putting a sprinkler system in now but again, because the building was 90 per cent complete, I don’t think it was actually engaged.”

More than 120 firefighters were initially called to the scene at about 11.15pm on Friday, and around 50 firefighters, six fire engines and two high-reach appliances remained at the scene on Sunday.

Aerial view of the smouldering roof of Glasgow School of Art (Police Scotland)

A Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) spokesperson said the fire had been largely contained on Sunday, but crews were using thermal imaging cameras to identify any hotspots and continued to damp down the building.

The neighbouring O2 ABC music venue and other properties were also damaged by the fire but no casualties were reported.

SFRS group manager Martin Hill said on Sunday: “This has clearly been a protracted incident and today we are still very much in a fire-fighting phase.

“We will remain on scene for as long as it takes; we are absolutely committed to preventing damage to any surrounding properties and ensuring the area is made safe.

“I would like to express a sincere thank you to the crews on the ground, our firefighters in operations control for effectively coordinating resources, as well as partners and the wider community.”

Nicola Sturgeon said the Scottish government was “ready to offer any help and support we can”, and described the scene as one of “utter devastation”.

“Once again, we are indebted to the bravery of our firefighters and other emergency services,” the first minister wrote on Twitter.

“This is clearly an extremely serious situation. My first thoughts tonight are for the safety of people – but my heart also breaks for Glasgow’s beloved [School of Art].”

The fire service told The Independent it was too soon to determine the cause of the fire.

A spokesperson said she did not have any information about whether a fire suppression system had been installed in the building when asked.