Context 138 - March 2015

26 C O N T E X T 1 3 8 : M A R C H 2 0 1 5 MICHAEL DAVIS Love architecture, hate dogma Reinstating the interior of the burned-out Mackintosh Library at Glasgow School of Art would be a great service to our continued enjoyment, to the building and to posterity. At 9.45 in the morning of 14 July 1902, the iconic campanile of St Mark’s, the signature of  Venice, col- lapsed with little prior warning.The only fatality was the caretaker’s cat. In less than a minute, one of the world’s great buildings had been turned into an irredeemable heap of broken rubble. Sansovino’s famous Loggetta to the tower was also effectively erased from the face of the earth. This building could be understood in simply material terms as lost, destroyed and gone forever, providing a vacant lot for a new creation. To very many people its significance was much more than that. It was the symbol of Venice, the image at its heart, and beloved of many throughout the world. It was known, understood, copied. It contributed a vertical accent, a giant punctuation mark to its setting, and to manyVenetians and visitors,Venice simply would have been less than Venice without it. It contributed to tourism, of course, in its way, but in an almost indefinable way it also brought beauty and magic. It still does, for that very evening the city government voted to restore it, exactly as it was, with some very necessary hidden reinforcement. In one sense, then, we have lost this great monument. In so far as authenticity rests in the actual materials alone, it is gone forever. But in another very real, palpable sense we have the campanile and its Logetta.We can see them, experience them, and even climb the campanile. We have its design, its contribution to the cityscape, its architecture, its power, its greatness and its delight.What philosophy would deny this, one of the great architectural statements of the world, to posterity? For very similar reasons, it would be culturally unforgivable not to put the Mackintosh design for the library back into the School of Art.We can not put the early 20th century original back into the building. But we can reinstate something very close to it, for cultural and for educational reasons. It will always be of the early 21st century, but if we do it well, successive generations will still be able to explore these spaces, directly experience the details, visit and work there, and be inspired by it. This is important on a number of levels.Mackintosh is important to Glasgow and Scotland, not just because of tourism, but because he is ours.He challenges, he inspires, and he has become part of our communities’ identity, engaging a wider public than merely architects, historians and cultural thinkers.There is little enough Mackintosh in this world and this is arguably his greatest work. When I say reinstate, I mean put back what was there in the same materials and with the same craftsmanship. During its lifetime, the original interior went through some minor changes. Reinstating gives us an opportunity to reverse or retain these. Since we know the interior so well because it actually existed, and since we have so much photographic as well as other documentary evidence, we know exactly how this building looked before its destruction. There are still questions to be resolved. Blistering of woodwork due to heat from the fire in the School of Art reveals what we really always knew: that repeated applications of shellac, varnish and polish darkened the wood. Of course, years of use has also patinated surfaces. We have to decide whether to return to the original appearance when new, which will not be the interior that people remember, and which they may find disturbing, The exterior and interior of the library at Glasgow School of Art before the fire