While the building of The Glasgow School of Art is rightly associated with the innovative work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh during the late 1890s, early 1900s, the origins of the School predate this by some 50 years.
The School was originally founded in January 1845 as Glasgow's Government School of Design. Forty years later in 1885 Francis Newbery became headmaster and under his energetic direction the Glasgow School of Art and Haldane Academy (as it was then known) expanded so considerably that a new larger building was required.
In 1896 an architectural competition took place for the building of a new Glasgow School of Art on a site offered to the School's directors by the Bellahouston trustees. Working to a budget of just £14,000, the Glasgow firm of Honeyman and Keppie submitted a design from the hand of one of their junior draughtsmen, Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Sympathetic to Mackintosh's intentions, the design was praised by Newbery and after being independently assessed by the educational authorities in London, was finally accepted.
It was clear, however, that the funds available were insufficient to complete the building as both Newbery and more importantly as Mackintosh had intended it. Somewhat reluctantly it was decided that work should proceed on the central and eastern half of the building only and that construction of the west wing would be entirely dependent on securing additional funds. Building work commenced in 1897 and by December 1899 the first phase of the School had been completed including the Museum, the Director's Room and Board Room.
It took Newbery and School's Board of Governors a further eight years to secure the financial means to complete Mackintosh's scheme. In the meantime, Mackintosh was invited back by the School to rework his original drawings and a series of alterations and extensions were made including the provision of a new second floor of studios and additional workshops accommodated into a sub-basement floor.
Work started on the second half of the building in 1907 and by December 1909 it had been completed. In total contrast to the earlier austere facades to the south and east, the west wing with its dramatic design and dominating windows heralded the birth of a new style in 20th century European architecture. Internally the most dramatic of interiors was reserved for the Library with its decorated balcony and central cluster of electric lights.
Today the Glasgow School of Art is widely considered to be Mackintosh's Masterwork.
Since completion over 100 years ago, the Mackintosh building at the Glasgow School of Art fulfilled its original purpose as a working art school, housing the fine art students and staff, at the heart of GSA's campus on Garnethill.
On the 23d of May 2014 a fire damaged the west wing of the Mackintosh building including some studios, the Library and some archival stores.
There will be no visitor access to the interiors of the Mackintosh building for the foreseeable future, whilst restoration gets underway. To find out more and support the restoration of the building please visit GSA’s fire fund.
There is still plenty for visitors to do and see at The Glasgow School of Art, including GSA’s brand new 'Window on Mackintosh' visitor centre and shop in the recently completed, state of the art Reid building opposite. Dynamic tours examining the Mackintosh building exterior, adjoining area and Charles Rennie Mackintosh's life depart daily, as well as the wider city walking tours where visitors can delve deeper into turn of the century architecture or uncover the booming contemporary arts scene in Glasgow.