The Willow Tea Rooms
The last three days have been an emotional rollercoaster after the terrible fire in the Mackintosh Building on Friday. While all this has been going on I have been taking a group on a Mackintosh tour of the city. The tour finished today at The Willow Tea Rooms. Despite the trauma of Friday the group have experienced the world of Mackintosh and the resilience of the people of Glasgow.
The Mackintosh legacy is small, vulnerable and irreplaceable, and the fire has prompted an outpouring of concern and support from around the world.
I love this beautifully written reflections by Page\Park Architects.
A little candle for hope in architecture was extinguished in all our hearts on Friday. As we watched the unfolding horror our first thought was: tell us there was nobody left in there. Then bit by bit, those who knew the building counted off what they remembered of the inside, from the outside of every room where the flames spread: please stop, don't go there. In that cauldron, there were moments for many of us when all hope seemed lost; flames raging across the 'hen run' then seemingly raging across the back roof. It's all lost. But some amazing Glasgow fire-fighters fought it with an intelligence and calculated bravery - and somehow they stopped it. We didn't know they had been stopping it from the beginning, just that they couldn't turn it off, they needed to work it out over the long hours of Friday afternoon. But in one vicious final twist, the room we prayed wouldn't be touched, the beautiful library, it's restoration just complete, the room we willed would not be touched, that seemed to unbelievably not have been consumed, just went.
We imagine for many who have had the privilege to enter the building regularly, it was somehow incredible that we could walk, use and share this amazing piece of architecture. Every sinew of it reminded us of the possibility of art and form shaping and inspired our actions. And in that incredulity many of us reflected this as priceless. Maybe we shouldn't be in here? How are we being allowed to walk these corridors and rooms without someone watching us from the corner, telling us not to go too close, don't touch that. And because nobody was watching, we did all go too close and we did all touch it. We could do that because it was still the Art School. For over a hundred years we had been allowed to work within it, make art and, indeed for a long time, make architecture within it. For folk from Glasgow it was that mystical place you aspired to, where in the arms of belief the potential of architecture and art could be nurtured into artistic life. You maybe weren't as good at maths but you could draw like an angel. And when you left, unlike any other place, the Art School stayed with you. Of course some of the rooms which were so precious had been made more challenging to get into and the need to balance art and visit skewed slightly towards protection. A lot of money and effort had been spent by the Art School and its supporters, taking the pressure off the interior and providing more space elsewhere. Indeed the last steps towards a protective system were being put in place. But despite all the niggles in our mind, it still remained an Art School. It remained a home for young artists to nurture their talents, to work and show their emerging skills to the city and beyond. It was a home we all vicariously shared. So in those flames on Friday, the hopes and dreams of some young people disappeared. What this building had been built for was taken away.
Thankfully the fire was stopped. The young artists will be helped to rebuild their start in art. But what of the building itself? What we realised on Friday was that with the careful stewardship and pedagogy of the last century, the true legacy of Newbery Mackintosh is both art in actual practice and, at the same time, the gentle monument to Art of Charles Rennie Mackintosh's Glasgow School of Art. That ideal should not be lost. Of course there will be more protection but it should remain a working building, otherwise we send a signal to society that architecture's role has become isolated to the point of being useless - other than to be admired.
In our favour, the Art School is one of the most recorded buildings ever: in photographs, drawings and archives. There is a vast catalogue of its anatomy and curatorial knowledge which can be the foundation for its reconstruction. In the early years of our practice we were invited to Warsaw in the white hot period of Lech Wałęsa and the Solidarity movement. There, everyone seemed to be a part of it: architects too. We learned that before the Second World War, fearing the destruction of their cities, every building in the 'old town' was measured and, at the outbreak of War, the drawings were extracted from the city and hidden in rural churches. The occupying forces tried to find them but failed and, from the wreckage they left, these drawings became the basis for rebuilding the old town. Today, we can't help but think back to those moments spent with the elderly archivist in Warsaw who recalled with such pride the rebuilding of a piece of living city.
The archive of the Glasgow School of Art has been saved by our Glasgow fire-fighters. It is the foundation for rebuilding this home of Art - one for us all to still get up close to.