Context 161 - September 2019

24 C O N T E X T 1 6 1 : S E P T E M B E R 2 0 1 9 Reconstructing the Mackintosh Liz Davidson, senior project manager at the Glasgow School of Art, gave a harrowing and per- sonal account of the events surrounding the two devastating fires at Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s masterpiece in her talk ‘Reconstructing the Mackintosh: the race between education and catastrophe’. Following the first fire, which destroyed the school’s iconic library in 2014, the project team painstakingly built up the skills, knowledge and resources to rebuild the lost interiors. Using documentary evidence and practical trial and error, the craftspeople showed extraordinary attention to detail, right down to the choice of square-cut nails struck at precisely the right angle. The grand reopening was scheduled for April 2019, but in June 2018 the unthinkable happened: lightning struck twice. The second fire was more intense and more devastating than the first. The fire service, which arrived within seven minutes, was soon forced to adopt a defensive stance. Despite the deep psychological impact of such a shocking event, the unfolding crisis demanded an immediate response from the civil authorities and the project team. Insurance assessors were rapidly on the scene, their wealth of knowledge, disaster management experience and access to funds proving invaluable in gathering together the necessary expertise.The scale of the incident resulted in the closure of an entire city block and the evacuation of neighbouring residents. Davidson’s heartfelt confession that the project team was in no state to handle the backlash from locals was particularly poignant. The need for speed, accuracy and surety of information in the early stages of the res- cue effort was strongly emphasised. Indeed, it proved essential in convincing building control officers that the remaining structure could be salvaged. A drone pilot was promptly brought in to assess the damage. Eight hundred tonnes of scaffolding was erected to brace the build- ing and mitigate against the hazards of falling masonry. Monitoring was put in place to assess the extent of structural movement, and test the local environment for contaminants such as lead and chromium. Modern technology played its part, with digital scanning equipment enabling detailed comparisons to be made between the condition of the building following the first and second fires. The creation of detailed digital models following the first fire showed a great deal of foresight and now acted as a vital basis for the painstaking salvage operation. Individual stones, a large proportion of which had developed micro-crystalline cracks from the intense heat, were tagged and meticulously recorded. Metal fixtures and fittings, providing vital physical evidence for door handles, light fittings, beam ends and finials – many of them never actually drawn by Mackintosh himself – have also been recovered from the debris. Mercifully all port- able items (furniture, sculptures and archive materials) had been removed from the building and were spared. Faced with such a gargantuan reinstatement project, the team now wrestles with the philosophical dilemmas. It would be easy, but dangerous, said Davidson, to idealise Mackintosh’s work and create a sanitised version of his original. Successfully recapturing the Mack’s soul, its nuances and imperfections, was now the challenge. ‘You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can choose not to be reduced by them’ – Maya Angelou Thomas Street SESSION 2: STRUCTURAL FAILURE AND HERITAGE AT RISK The art of the possible Ed Morton of the Morton Partnership gave a fast-paced run-through of projects that he has worked on. As a CARE (Conservation Accreditation Register for Engineers) engineer, his message was clear: there is always a solution, and most often one which does not involve calculations and starts with common sense. With the title of his presentation being ‘Structural failure and heritage risk: the art of the possible’, Morton whisked us through many wide-ranging examples of buildings and projects. He casually dropped in that he had