Blog: A bigger Mac
Following the news that the Glasgow School of Art is choosing to rebuild the fire-struck Mackintosh Building, architect Russell Wardrop thinks the project should instead be used as a great opportunity to rebuild Sauchiehall Street.
“The power the artist possesses in representing objects to himself and their tendency towards symbolism illustrates the hallucinatory character of his work. But it is the creative imagination that is much more important. The artist cannot attain mastery of his art unless he is endowed, to the highest degree, with the faculty of invention.” – Charles Rennie Mackintosh
The faculty of invention, now there is a phrase that resonates. Mackintosh was saying that drawings are just the vehicle that allow you to build, but it is the ability to envision the future that sets the visionary apart.
I doubt that the man who designed it would want the Mackintosh School of Art rebuilt. It is a long way from visionary. He would think us scaredy-cats and he would want the chance to do something better: jeez he was redesigning the original up to the last minute.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan. I saw smoke to my left as I drove along the motorway on 25 May 2014 on my way to a gig at The House For An Art Lover and the news confirmed the Mackintosh School of Art was ablaze. I cried, even though I chose to study architecture at Strathclyde University over 30 years earlier (It seemed friendlier: on such whims are entire career choices made).
What might the bold Charlie want done today, given the opportunity, once again, to make his mark? Well, as a member of the same profession who as a student in the 1980s wore similar gear but without the moustache, much of belonging to my wee sister, let me have a go.
I used to lecture engineers on the Design Of The Mac. It was a favourite class. It was a joy to see these rational mathematicals realise that what they knew of the Macintosh masterpiece, the decoration, was a mere beautiful bagatelle when sat alongside structure, form, scale, proportion, functionality and asymmetry. I imagined I was giving every future architect they dealt with an easier ride because this hour took the scale rulers from their eyes. My 35mm slides would walk them along east corridor until they found the dark library, bathed in light from tall elegant windows; we would take in the north lit studios, still functioning as intended after 100 years; they would see how those studios manifest on the north elevation, the rhythm created by structure was home turf.
So I say keep the library, the studios and the front elevation, or more accurately rebuild them faithfully. Purchase the O2 and all the buildings fronting on Sauchiehall Street, or more accurately the fag end of Sauchiehall Street.
Demolish the lot.
Have an international design competition to find a Mackintosh for the 21st century.
The transformation of that part of Glasgow would be a given, the ripple effect across Glasgow would be assured, the excitement created throughout Scotland would be palpable. We might even have decent site security on such as big project. There would be debate to be sure, in fact we might start a national debate and have a referendum, since they are always such fun. The world would take notice and I cannot think of a better way of showing that Scotland is a forward looking, savvy, risk-taking, fearless wee country than ruthlessly keeping the best bits of the Mac, binning the dodgy parts and taking the opportunity to build a stonking campus that will contain the best of every kind of design we need in the 21st century.
I was at the opening of the Willow Tearooms recently, another Mackintosh Jewel a stone’s throw from the Mac. Faithfully restored at eye watering cost it is a museum piece, with the advantage there is no need for a separate coffee and gift shop. Bravo, once you have decided to do up the tearooms everything, right down to the menus, must be faithful to the original, otherwise why bother. But they still have an extension out the back for a kitchen and other services.
Let’s not do that with the Mac. Let’s be bold and brave. Let’s use our creative imagination and exploit the faculty of invention of the greatest designers in the world to transform the fag-end of Sauchiehall Street. Let’s come up with something Charlie himself would be proud to stick his century old library on to.
In an age where portions are getting smaller let’s have a bigger Mac.
- Russell Wardrop is co-founder and chief executive of Kissing With Confidence Training