My unique Mackintosh - Holl experience

     Timing is everything – and I have been really lucky with mine, witnessing (and participating in) the unique Mackintosh-Holl development.

The year I came to the Glasgow School of Art saw the centenary celebrations of the C.R.Mackintosh building – a unique opportunity to learn about the icon in-depth, and see how it influences architecture even today. An amazing experience, and especially so for a first year Architecture Student. As a consequence, I became determined to learn all there is about Mackintosh’s masterpiece – and luckily, was soon presented with a chance to do so as a Tour Guide. Lectures, archive visits, constant discussions with people from all over the world – all this has been invaluable in my understanding of the Glasgow School of Art building, and consequently, good Architecture. 

This is why I took a personal interest in the development facing Mackintosh from the moment it was announced. The international competition launched to find the architecture team for the new Design Building at GSA has been remarkable because the jury were choosing a team rather than design  - so that the project for this sensitive context could be developed with the architect from start. The rumours about all the big names that entered the competition were fascinating.

Soon after the news that it was Steven Holl Architects with JM Architects that won, we had a big guest lecture by Steven – probably the first one by an architect that not only architecture students, but everyone at the school was talking about. Space was limited, so the event was ticketed and a lottery organised as a fair way to spread the tickets – which is great, except for the fact that I did not get any. So on the morning of the lecture, I stood in line of people hoping that someone will not turn up, and we can see the famous Steven Holl in person. Unfortunately, the closest experience I got (that time) was seeing the event live-streamed on a screen. 

Luckily, many more lectures followed as the project started to take shape. As an Architecture Student, I found it a fascinating experience: being able to follow the design development and draw parallels with my own studio work; learn about structures in lectures    then listen to engineers applying them ‘in real life’; design details and connections and see world-class architects tackle similar problems at the same time. The site visits were timed perfectly – right after our technical submissions – so that concrete formwork and construction sequence questions were still ‘hot’.

Construction site, the Vic and the Mack
Discussing the choice of concrete formwork
Facade mock-up

Even the demolition of the Newbery tower came at a great time: when the atmosphere in 3rd Year Studio became too intense, it was somewhat satisfying to stop and watch the machines destroy the giant concrete cliff, one bit at a time -  until the space in front of the Mackintosh building was unusually empty.

Demolition of the old buildings facing the Mack
Historic School Photo with a unique view of the Mack
And then, of course, I was extremely fortunate to secure the Part 1 placement with the studio behind all of this. Seeing how buildings at SHA are made; talking to the people behind the new GSA building design and hearing some of the ‘insider stories’; witnessing the final developments (some of which are really exciting, but kept secret until confirmed) – has added a new perspective to my understanding of the Holl building. 

It has also been extremely revealing and satisfying to discuss the GSA project, and its relation to Mackintosh, with Steven himself – no longer the live-streamed projection on a screen.

Finally, the timing could not have been better for the actual construction and completion date: the new building should be ready in September 2013 - just in time for my return to Part 2 in Glasgow. Meanwhile, I keep checking the live webcam showing the rapid construction process (see here), and enjoying the photos brought back by the partners. It’s all coming together really quickly now. The giant GSA model right next to my desk is becoming a reality, and I will soon be sitting in its cafe overlooking Mackintosh. Wow.

The GSA study model greets me every morning