A huge fire has caused “extensive” damage at Glasgow’s famed Mackintosh Building and hit multimillion-pound restoration work carried out in the aftermath of a previous blaze in 2014.
Scores of firefighters tackled a “significant” blaze that consumed the Glasgow School of Art building overnight and spread to nearby buildings, including one of the city’s leading nightclubs.
Flames and smoke billowed from the roof of the renowned art school throughout the night and into Saturday morning, the second time in four years that a serious blaze has hit the building.
The “extensive” fire has affected all floors of the historic building, Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) Deputy Assistant Peter Heath said.
Mr Heath confirmed early indications were that “up to 50 per cent of the building was involved directly in the fire”.
“The building in which the fire started has been extensively damaged,” he said. “It has reached from the ground floor right through to the roof. It has been significantly damaged. We are focusing our attention on preventing it from spreading.”
The fire at the Mackintosh Building rapidly spread to “several properties including the O2 ABC nightclub causing extensive damage,” the SFRS said. There were no casualties, they added.
The club is one of the city’s major venues, with the Foo Fighters scheduled to perform on Saturday night.
Around 50 firefighters are continuing to work to extinguish the fire affecting the art school and adjoining buildings, with a total of nine fire engines still at the scene.
The fire has now “largely been contained” however a few pockets of fire remain which crews are currently working to extinguish.
“This remains a protracted incident and our efforts very much continue at this stage to extinguish the fire and ensure the community is protected,” said SFRS Area Manager David Young. the officer in charge of the incident
Fire ravaged the historic building, one of Scotland’s most famous structures, in May 2014 and a multi-million pound restoration project, led by Hollywood star Brad Pitt and Dr Who actor Peter Capaldi, has been returning the art school to its former glory.
Alison Thewliss, the Glasgow Central MP, said: “It’s a terrible blow, especially on the 150th anniversary of Mackintosh’s birth.
“Having suffered with fire in 2014 and after all the effort that went into the rebuild, this is just awful.
“It’s a treasure of a building that many people hold dear. It’s one of the architectural jewels not just of Glasgow but globally it’s a very special place.”
More than 120 firefighters battled the “significant” fire throughout the night after being called at 11.19pm.
Deputy Chief Officer Iain Bushell said: “This is an extremely challenging and complex incident, but the response and professionalism of our firefighters has been exceptional.
“This will be a prolonged incident and crews will remain on the scene as they work to prevent further fire spread and damage.”
Graduation ceremonies had taken place earlier on Friday, while the May 2014 blaze came in the run-up to students’ degree show.
— Banpo & Monkey (@Banpo_Monkey) June 15, 2018
‘A building of world importance’
Stuart Robertson, director of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society, said the fire was a ‘massive body blow’. He said he was ‘heartbroken’ and it was deja vu from four years ago.
“This is a world class building,” he said. “With all the restoration work going on it’s just horrendous. I can’t really believe it.
“I’ve only seen glimpses and what the firemen are saying, reading between the lines, it looks bad. The last time they stopped it going into the east wing.
“This time it looks as though it’s gone from the east wing all the way through. I was hoping I was going to waken up this morning that I’d been dreaming last night…it’s terrible.”
Neil Baxter, an architectural historian, said it was a ‘tragedy’ as it was ‘by far’ Glasgow’s most important building and it has previously been voted the UK’s most architecturally significant building.
He said: “It is a building of world importance. It influenced the evolution of 20th century architecture across the globe and its loss, and that seems to be what we’re looking at, is just a tragedy for all of Glasgow.”
He added: “The fact that Mackintosh’s masterpiece, the most substantial building he created, seems now to be destroyed or substantially destroyed, in irony upon irony the 150th anniversary of his birth, this is just beyond belief. It seems unreal.”
Alan Dunlop, the school’s professor of architecture, said: “I am devastated by what has happened.
“The even more horrible thing about what’s happened now is the building does look as though from the inside it’s been totally gutted.
“All that seems to remain is the stone walls. The deeply sad thing about it was yesterday was graduation day so they (the students) celebrated and were very happy and then to wake up the next morning, they will be very sad indeed about it.”
Asked if the school will be rebuilt, he said: “I’m sure there will be the will to reinstate it. “But then there’s the debate to be had whether if we reinstate it, rebuild it will it be an original Mackintosh building or will it be a copy of a Mackintosh building?”
He said there may be an upside if the contents of the Mackintosh library were being held in storage elsewhere while the restoration from the 2014 fire was completed.
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, said: “This is clearly an extremely serious situation. My first thoughts tonight are for the safety of people – but my heart also breaks for Glasgow’s beloved @GSofA.
“Once again, we are indebted to the bravery of our firefighters and other emergency services.”
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said the TV images of the fire were “difficult to watch”.
“These are iconic buildings in Scotland’s biggest city, and buildings I have often visited,” he said. “On behalf of the Labour Party, I would like to extend my thanks to the emergency services who reacted with such professionalism on Friday night and worked tirelessly through the night to save these buildings.
“Hard questions will be asked as to why and how the Mackintosh building has now suffered two serious fires within four years, in the meantime we can be relived that there appears to have been no serious casualties.”
Fire ‘much more extensive’ than 2014
Shadow Scottish minister Paul Sweeney, Labour and Co-operative MP for Glasgow North East, said he was “devastated” a fire had consumed the building again, calling it the “most architecturally important building” in the city.
He added: “Oh dear, the 1909 library extension, that was the origin of the 2014 blaze is now fully alight too. It looks like the entire interior space is now fully alight.
“The best we can probably hope for is structural facade retention and a complete rebuild of the interior. Devastating.”
He added: “The 2014 fire destroyed around 20% of the western wing of the building – a later extension completed in 1909, containing the spectacular library – with a further 30% smoke damaged. This fire appears to be much more extensive and affects the 1899 eastern wing of the building.”
There must be “a comprehensive national effort to ensure every possible option to salvage and restore what is one of the finest edifices in the history of world architecture is pursued in the wake of this latest setback”,” he said.
“I’ll be doing everything I can to promote that in Parliament,” he said.
David Mundell, the Scottish Secretary, said the Government “stands ready to help” the Glasgow School of Art “financially or otherwise”.
Susan Aitken, the city council leader, called the fire “devastating”.
Witness Aidan Dick said the fire and smoke grew in intensity “in the space of a few minutes”.
He tweeted: “Glasgow School of Art is on fire again. Heartbreaking. My thoughts go to all students and staff, and I hope no one was caught in the blaze.”
Police said a number of roads around the building were closed, including part of Sauchiehall Street from Charing Cross to Rose Street, while Renfrew Street from Garnet Street to Cambridge Street has also been shut. The public have been urged to stay away from the area.
Shock at ‘terrible’ blaze
Connor Neil said people had been evacuated from their homes and there was a “big orange light” which could be seen from streets away.
The 22-year-old chef from Glasgow said: “We’ve got just to the top of Renfrew Street and police closed off the road.
“You can just see a big orange light coming from the school and people are being evacuated from their homes.”
Bob, a product design tutor and former student and tour guide at the school, said: ‘It just seems like such a shame that a lot of people won’t get the inspiration and joy that he (Mackintosh) intended from the building.
“Now nobody else can experience that. I’ve got a daughter I wanted to take along. I feel it’s a shame for the future students who are coming here that they won’t get the delight of that building.
“I was stood here in the rain four years ago. For it to happen four years later is a body blow. It seems incomprehensible. “It looked like it had been bombed when I saw he pictures. I feel like I’m paying my respects.”
Ling, a 21-year-old imperial design student from Singapore, said: “It’s only my second week there and it’s a beautiful building. It makes me very sad.”
Alex Kapranos, singer of Franz Ferdinand, was among those on social media reacting to the “terrible” blaze.
Can't believe what's happening to the art school. Terrible.
— alex kapranos (@alkapranos) June 15, 2018
Fran Healy, singer for the band Travis, said it was “so so sad” to see the building on fire again.
it looks like the whole building has been consumed. Even the side they have been refurbishing. Dougie said the building has been empty during renovations so I doubt anyone was in there.
— Fran Healy (@franhealy) June 16, 2018
Sam Patterson, 30, vice president of the Glasgow Institute of Architects and studied architecture at the art school for five years.
Watching as firefighters hosed the building, he said there was a sense of “disbelief”.
Mr Patterson, who graduated in 2012, said: “One of the first architecture books I bought as a first year student about to move to Glasgow was 100 buildings of the 20th century and page one was Glasgow School of Art.
“It’s a shocker, especially in Mackintosh’s 150th anniversary and so close to being completed.
“It’s difficult really to say much until there’s an evaluation or report on the building but certainly the spread of the fire is far greater than previous years and from what I can see walking around this morning it’s going to be a far more challenging project to redo.”
Isabel Garriga, president of the institute, said: “The Glasgow Institute of Architects woke up this morning to hear the most horrific news about one of the most beloved iconic buildings in Glasgow, a building that is a lot more than a building, an architectural masterpiece, a place we love deeply, a place where a lot of us have studied, worked and grown as architects.
“The sad news that the Glasgow School of Art was ravaged once again, when it was finally recovering from the fire four years ago has shaken all of us and we would like to offer our full support to the Art School in these dark times.”
The institution is one of Europe’s leading art schools, while the listed Mackintosh-designed building is a tourist attraction in its own right.
?WATCH: A massive fire has engulfed Glasgow School of Art. We’ll be here throughout the night with updates. pic.twitter.com/2NONj09qev
— Radio Clyde News (@RadioClydeNews) June 15, 2018
Construction work started on the building in 1897 after Mackintosh won a design competition while working for Glasgow architects Honeyman & Keppie. It took around 10 years to complete due to funding issues and several alterations were made by Mackintosh during the process.
More than a century later, it still operates as a working building serving hundreds of students.
Peter Swanton, a former Glasgow School of Art student who also witnessed the 2014 fire, said it “hurts” to see the Mackintosh in flames again.
“The Glasgow School of Art was a home away from home for 4 years and still such an important part of my life. To see this from my roof hurts,” the designer wrote on Twitter.
“I was standing in front of the Mac 4 years ago as it burned. I had just finished my first year of art school. I never thought I would see the same scenes being repeated.”
Rachael Docherty, a former graduate of the art school, said it was “terrible”.
“This is a lot worse than the last one,” the 29-year-old told the Press Association.
“We were out earlier on and at 12am we came out it just looked like (it was) fireworks and now it’s just white smoke.
“The Mac building is a piece of Glasgow history, it’s not art school history, it’s Glasgow.”
Local resident John McInnes, 22, said: “I can’t believe that this has happened again to such an iconic building. It’s unbelievable. Questions need to be asked, they spent so much on renovation, but this seems so much worse than the last one.”
The Glasgow School of Art had gone to extreme lengths to restore the Mackintosh building after the 2014 fire.
The school described itself as “custodians of an iconic piece of world architectural heritage” with a responsibility to restore it for students and staff.
After the blaze significantly damaged the west wing, including the loss of the celebrated Mackintosh Library, the first stage of the restoration was to fit a temporary roof over the site.
A full-scale model of part of the library was later built to test if the original materials and techniques from Mackintosh’s 19th century design could be used in its reconstruction.
The specifications for the model bay were developed with “meticulous research” into every aspect of the original design and construction of the library. To rebuild the wooden library, the restoration team sourced wood from the US which was the same age as that used in Mackintosh’s 19th century design.
The first phase saw outer work with damaged stonework repaired and the roof replaced before the delicate process of restoring the west wing and upgrading the east wing interiors began last year.
Hollywood star Brad Pitt and Dr Who actor Peter Capaldi were made trustees of The Mackintosh Appeal to support the rebuild.
Pitt is a fan of building designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Capaldi is a former art school student.
Work was due to be completed in February 2019.