This year marks the centenary of the opening of the Glasgow school of art – the first commission of the Glasgow architect, designer and artist, Charles Rennie Mackintosh. To celebrate “the Culture Show” on BBC2 this week included a major feature on this iconic building. As I’d recently spent some time touring Art nouveau buildings in Brussels, and Mackintosh is associated with Art Nouveau style, I was particularly interested to watch this programme, especially as I went to have a look at the School of Art during a visit to Glasgow in April 2007.
Mackintosh was born in Glasgow and was a major architect and designer whose work combined the Art Nouveau style with influences from the Arts and Crafts movement and traditional Scottish architecture. The Glasgow school of art was his first major commission, granted when he was only 28. It was built on a sloping site, but his design made the most of this.
The school is an imposing building, constructed of granite, and the influence of the Scottish “baronial” style can clearly be seen. There is little evidence of the “flowery” organic elements normally associated with Art Nouveau buildings, although there are some restrained ornamental touches in the ironwork. Given its function as a building for teaching art, there are windows on all sides to let in the light – particularly important, I guess, given Glasgow’s northern latitude. Those on the main elevation on Renshaw Street are very large and take up a large proportion of the front structure. The windows on the side of the building are particularly distinctive – tall and thin, made up of smaller panels.
Mackintosh believed that a building should be an organic whole with every detail in harmony and this is reflected in the interior which he designed in collaboration with Margaret Macdonald, who he married in 1900. Although it’s still very much a working building – it’s still used for classes by the Art School – it is possible to take a guided tour to see the inside. Unfortunately as my main reason for visiting Glasgow was to attend a conference, I didn’t have much time available during the day and so, unfortunately, I couldn’t take up the opportunity of a tour. There are some pictures of the interior on the web, including here, where it is also possible to view some of Mackintosh’s plans and drawings. Many of the fittings and features inside have a much more clear-cut Art Nouveau style.