Glasgow School of Art: Ten years on from fire that devastated building

The first of two blazes engulfed the Mackintosh building, regarded as one of the city's finest architectural gems, in May 2014.

Glasgow School of Art 2014 fire: Ten years since first fire devastated Mackintosh building

On May 23, 2014, the first of two fires devastated the world-renowned Glasgow School of Art.

The fire began in the basement of the A-listed Charles Rennie Mackintosh building, regarded as one of the city’s architectural gems.

The flames spread rapidly, severely damaging the west wing and the Mackintosh Library along with its important collections.

It was estimated around 10% of the building was destroyed in the blaze.

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - MAY 23:  A firefighter works to put out a fire at the Glasgow School of Art Charles Rennie Mackintosh Building on May 23, 2014
GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - MAY 23:  Fire crews tackle a fire at the Glasgow School of Art Charles Rennie Mackintosh Building on May 23, 2014

Investigations indicated the fire began when flammable gases from a tin of expanding foam came into contact with the surface of a hot projector – before spreading through the walls and ducts into the library.

Glasgow School of Art director Professor Tom Inns said the fire was a “horrible accident” and confirmed a review would take place.

Muriel Gray, the then-chair of the board of governors, said it was their “absolute worst nightmare.”

The fire prompted floods of tributes from alumni, art lovers, and cultural institutions, lamenting the immeasurable loss of a Mackintosh masterpiece now reduced to rubble.

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - MAY 23:  Ms Gray reacts as a fire engulfs the Glasgow School of Art Charles Rennie Mackintosh Building on May 23, 2014
GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - MAY 23:  Students and members of the public react as a fire engulfs the Glasgow School of Art Charles Rennie Mackintosh Building on May 23, 2014

Restoring the Mackintosh Building

The Scottish Government pledged up to £5m in funding for the restoration with donations from famous names across the world of arts and culture

Brad Pitt, a well-known fan of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and former student Peter Capaldi agreed to be trustees of The Mackintosh Appeal to bring the building back to its former glory.

Meanwhile, temporary facilities were set up for staff and students to continue academic activities. A Phoenix Bursary scheme was also launched, allowing students affected to rebuild their practice.

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - NOVEMBER 18: Forensic archaeologists begin sifting through the ashes of the fire damaged Mackintosh Library at the Glasgow School of Art on November 18, 2014
GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - MAY 28:  Members of staff and specialist removers continue the retrieval of student art work from the Glasgow School of Art on May 28, 2014. Firefighters managed to save much of the building's contents from Friday's fire including archives and collections which needed immediate conservation.

Planning and restoration began after the £25m building contract was awarded to Keir Construction in 2016.

A two-year design plan outlined how the new library would look, with chiefs aiming to retain original materials and techniques along with modern safety measures.

Work was due to be completed in February 2019.

Second blaze rips through art school

Tragedy struck twice in June 2018, when the building was ravaged by a second large fire as the £35m restoration efforts were nearing completion. 

Flames had also spread to the nearby O2 ABC building, which suffered severe damage.

Scottish Fire and Rescue described the impact to the Mackintosh building as “exceptionally significant”, which fuelled discussions over whether the cherished landmark could be fully restored again.

The second blaze was described as “de ja vu” by director Stuart Robertson of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society.

Chiefs were criticised by Holyrood’s culture committee amid claims they did not sufficiently safeguard the building.

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - JUNE 16:   The Mackintosh Building at the Glasgow School Of Art is ablaze for the second time in four years on June 16, 2018 in Glasgow, Scotland. In May 2014 it was devastated by a huge fire leading to a multi-million pound restoration due to complete in 2019. It was built in the late 1890's by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, then a junior draughtsman, and is widely considered to be his masterpiece. (Photo by Robert Perry/Getty Images)Robert Perry / Stringer via Getty Images

The report cited examples such as carrying out a risk assessment prior to the 2014 fire and failure to install a modern mist suppression system during restoration.

The fire service were unable to find a cause for the 2018 blaze, with almost everything in the building consumed by fire according to its report.

Possibilities unable to be ruled out include wilful fire-raising, an electrical fault or failure and accidental ignition through some other cause.

Following the second fire, the decision was made to “faithfully” rebuild the Mackintosh, while ensuring innovation and sustainability is “at its heart.”

GSA chiefs aim to reopen the building between 2027 and 2032, following construction and renovation work.

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