Story of the week: Behind the scenes at the Glasgow School of Art

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* Something a bit different this week in response to the sad news of a major fire at the Glasgow School of Art. I toured this very building just a few weeks ago on a visit to Glasgow and stood in the now burnt-out library.

I look forward to visiting again when the building re-opens.

As ever, follow me on Twitter, or subscribe to the RSS, for weekly updates from my travel-writing archive in the months to come.

The Glasgow Miracle was a hybrid of the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau movements, which flourished in Glasgow from 1890-1905. It drew on the materials of the industrial age but merged them with romantic flourishes.

The pioneering Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh was the leading figure in the movement and the Glasgow School of Art (GSA) is considered to be his masterwork.

Two city walking tours, the Glasgow Miracle and the Glasgow Style (running May to mid October) both look at Mackintosh’s legacy on the city.

Many of the buildings Mackintosh designed remain open to the public, notably the Willow Tea Rooms and the Mackintosh House, a reassembled family home at the Hunterian Art Gallery.

But the GSA remains the cornerstone of Mackintosh’s legacy to Glasgow.

When I was there in late March, the Reid Building, the light-filled new design school designed by the American practice Steven Holl Architects, was about to open.

Current students or graduates of the GSA lead the tours. The School has an illustrious list of alumni, including the sculptor Martin Boyce, who won the Turner Prize in 2011, and David Shrigley, a nominee in 2013.

The Turner Prize will be staged in Glasgow in 2015.

I joined 19-year-old Jamie Snedden [pictured, above], a first-year architecture undergraduate originally from Inverness, for a behind-the-scenes look into hidden nooks and crannies.

The young Mackintosh, he explained, studied at the GSA himself and then worked on designs for the new building as a young draughtsman in a Glasgow firm.

As such, he built lots of personal touches into the building, such as no door handles but swing doors – ideal if you’re carrying a large portfolio of drawings and sketches.

“As a designer, what impresses me is his vision to design a bold new building before even the age of 30,” says Jamie.

“This building showcases he cannot be slotted into a single category.”

We climbed staircases, passing walls of Glasgow granite (polished concrete in fact) and colourful mosaic designs built into the walls by Mackintosh as some sort of secret design code.

Many of the doorframes have shelves built into the wood. This, I discovered, was Mackintosh’s idea to place a single red rose (his emblem) into the slot each morning, a trend revived by current students each Valentine’s Day.

On the top floor I find the Hen Run, the place where the then segregated female students would be watched by the male students below. The south-facing floor-to-ceiling windows overlook Sauciehall Street, home to the Willow Tea Rooms, another of his signature designs.

The piece de resistance, however, is the library, a three-storey space dating from 1908 and still enveloped in the rich musty smell of old, leather-bound tomes.

We ended the tour in the furniture gallery, admiring a curved, lattice-back chair of ebonised oak from 1904. It was once the manager’s chair at the Willow Tea Rooms.

“Mackintosh believed in form, not function.”

“That’s why,” he laughs, “So many of his pieces are incredibly uncomfortable.”

* Liked this? Try A cultural feast in Glasgow.

More details of the damage from Channel Four News; more about tours and guided walks from the GSA.

And post your comments below.

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