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FACING UP TO MACKINTOSH

5 May 2014 |

That’s the Glasgow School of Art by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, if you’re not familiar. Apparently when RIBA ran a poll to find out the best British-designed building of the past 175 years, this was the winner. And it is pretty amazing, inside and out.

I’ve been taking it for granted, because the building – or ok, specifically the Vic student union – was the scene of a lot of weekends in my 20′s. My memories surround the music, the vibes, the artier class of clubbing nutter…

This sentiment probably underpins my enjoyment of the documentary Facing Up To Mackintosh, on BBC2 last week. The focus of the programme is the brand new Steven Holl-designed addition across the road from the Mac, built to house the design department and to replace a 60′s structure that was no longer fit for purpose, as the architects say. I say ‘addition’ as though the new structure is a little extension, when actually it’s a giant ice block of a building fattening up one side of Renfrew street – to some people’s horror, it turns out.

New Yorker Steven Holl is a Big Architect, and his £50m project (led by his partner Chris McVoy) has taken a lot of flak. But in the documentary, the focus is positive and as a viewer it made me feel positive about it. Holl, who studied in Washington and later in london, recalled an old tutor enlightening him about the Mackintosh building and he enthused about wanting to create something different, but in homage to the iconic sandstone design. He chose to build around the Vic student union, rather than do away with it, though I think it’s been remodelled inside. He referenced “driven voids of light,” influenced by the Mac building, where you enter and are drawn to the light at the top of the stairwell, where attic studios are top lit and there’s a clever treatment of natural light throughout.

One of the talking heads in the programme observed how nice it is that the first year students are at the top of the new building, so they have to pass all the years ahead of them. The huge beautiful voids intersecting the space, are also a point of criticism in the press, which has highlighted problems of noise crossing between studios.

Everyone seems in agreement that that the original art school, was a massively hard act to follow.

For me, the programme has reignited a parochial pride in Charles Rennie Mackintosh and a desire to go to the Vic again.

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