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"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 cried when it went on fire, even though I chose to study architecture at Strathclyde University over 30 years.
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, 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 Mackintosh masterpiece, the decoration, was a mere beautiful bagatelle when sat alongside structure, form, scale, proportion, functionality and asymmetry.
My 35mm slides would walk them along the 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 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.
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.