1909 - Art School
Designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and built in two stages between 1897-9 and 1907-9, Glasgow School of Art has a wealth of subtly worked detail, both inside and out, emphasising rather than concealing its structural and functional elements. Mackintosh created a building that was both dour and free-flowing at the same time - compare the industrial plainness of the windows with the elegant curves of walls and arches, the railings like delicate pencil-strokes. Throughout its corridors and rooms one sees exquisite touches - door handles, glass panels, tiles, furniture, decorative ironwork - that further enhance the feeling that this is a building designed to inspire. This, at the time, was an entirely new attitude to the architecture of education. Glasgow School of Art has been much praised but its greatest triumph is that, without major modification, it still performs the functions it was originally designed for. Does this building look its age?
New technology was everywhere in workaday Glasgow's shipyards and engineering workshops and the design of its School of Art, devoid of overt reference to traditional architectural values, reflects the progressive attitudes of the turn-of-the-century city. Here, it seemed to be saying, was the place where the designers, architects and artists for the industrial world of the future would be trained. From its rooms could be heard 'sirens and steam-whistles on foggy days, and the clangour of the shipyards'. Glasgow School of Art is one of the earliest examples of the 'modern style' of architecture in Europe and it stood, and stands still, in marked contrast to the solid Victorian Gothic of this most architecturally fascinating of cities. Mackintosh was only 29 when the firm of which he was a junior partner was awarded the commission, but he triumphantly overcame the obstacle of a narrow, steeply sloping site to create a distinctively asymmetrical fagade behind which are rooms and spaces beautifully tailored to particular purposes. The governors had especially asked for a plain building, though whether this was from modesty or a desire to make the School stand out from its elaborate surroundings is unclear. A building of this size can look intimidating but the Art Nouveau entrance seems domestic in scale - Mackintosh designed many notable private houses - and the flight of steps, funnelling the visitor towards the door, increases the sense of anticipation. On entering the building, one is faced with a spectacular staircase - here, it is plain, is an environment where imagination and a sense of daring are highly valued. This leads to a tall, vaulted space used for exhibitions; to either side are the studios with their giant windows. This is very much one man's work and it is a tribute to Mackintosh's thoroughness that, with only comparatively slight modifications, the School of Art continues to be used by new generations of students, rather than being cordoned off and admired from a safe distance.
|1878 - Board School|