Glasgow School of Art Scotland, 1899-1909

From the archive: Mackintosh's masterpiece

Glasgow School of Art Scotland, 1899-1909
Glasgow School of Art Scotland, 1899-1909

The news in May that Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s extraordinary Glasgow School of Art was ablaze shocked the architectural community and cannot fail to have saddened anyone who had passed through those elegantly proportioned doors. The result of a competition, the building was the architect’s first and most important commission, taking over 12 years to complete in two distinct phases. Though the design references Art Nouveau in much of its decorative detail, from the characteristic botanical-inspired glass panels to the wrought-iron birdcage finials on the roof, overall it is highly progressive. The interior in particular, designed in collaboration with Mackintosh’s wife Margaret McDonald, was thought by Pevsner to predict the spatial conventions that were later predominant in the modern movement.

In response to a complicated brief for a challenging, steeply sloping site, Mackintosh borrowed elements from decorated churches, the Tudor domestic vernacular and, most importantly, Scottish baronial architecture with its heavy masonry and sculptural tower houses. The true masterpiece was the library – now feared almost completely destroyed – a double height volume of dark wood with geometric pendant lights, glass bookcases and furniture custom-designed by the architect.

Justine Sambrook