As It Happens

Iconic Glasgow School of Art building must be saved after second fire, says Scottish MP

For the second time in just four years, the Mackintosh building has been destroyed by fire.

The Mackintosh building was being restored after a major blaze in 2014

Fire fighters battled a blaze at the Glasgow School of Art for the second time in four years on June 16. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Anything short of a full restoration of the Glasgow School of Art's Mackintosh building would be "unacceptable", says local member of Parliament Paul Sweeney.

The 110-year-old, world-renowned Mackintosh building was gutted by a fire over the weekend.

The fire broke out late on Friday night, when the city centre was full of people enjoying a night out. Among them were many School of Art students celebrating their graduation, which took place earlier.

Huge flames engulfed the Mackintosh and spread to adjacent buildings, including a nightclub and a theatre.

It was just four years ago, in 2014, that another fire destroyed much of the landmark. Restorations were still underway, and the Mackintosh building was due to open next year. 

Fire fighters worked through the night to put out the Mackintosh building's second fire in four years. (Jeff J Mitchell/ Getty Images)

"It was just shock, and then also fury about what sort of incompetence could have allowed this to happen again," Sweeney told As It Happens host Carol Off.

The building was designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh in 1909 and is considered one of the finest examples of art nouveau architecture, and an iconic part of Glasgow.

Restoration from the previous fire was expected to cost approximately $61 million Cdn, and Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon says that the damage to the building in the most recent fire was "much, much worse."

Structural engineers will likely not be allowed into the building until Wednesday, but Sweeney was able to get close enough to see the extent of the damage.

He explained that the heat from the fire was so intense, the stonework around the building's windows exploded, as did the windows opposite the Mackintosh.

"It's clear that the fire has totally destroyed the interior space of the building," he said. 

But Sweeney says the most appalling aspect was that there were no temporary safety precautions put in place during the restoration to make sure another fire didn't happen. 

"One has to question the level of scrutiny and oversight and the robustness of the supervision of the refitting of the building at this point," says Sweeney.

"And that is going to be part of this investigation that will take place in due course."

Sweeney proposes that, if the building is to be restored, a serious change needs to be made to how Glasgow protects its vulnerable heritage buildings.  

"I think we now need to take a reality check about how we manage our historic assets and our heritage for future generations," he said. 

"And part of that is things like incorporating technology like sprinkler systems, like fire curtains and temporary measures to suppress fire."  

The Mackintosh building library after the last fire, in 2014. Sweeney says the interior of the building is completely gutted. (Jeff J Mitchel/Getty Images)

The Guardian reports that a consensus is emerging between the Glasgow city council, the art school and Scotland's conservation agency that the landmark should be saved.

For his part, Sweeney says that he will be advocating for a complete restoration of the Mackintosh building.

"As the member of parliament for Glasgow, I will be pursuing that with vigour in parliament, and making sure that the UK government and the Scottish government combine to make sure that this building is saved — not just for the UK — but for the whole of human culture."

Written by Sarah Jackson with files from Reuters. Produced by Chris Harbord. 


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