Mackintosh Fire Recovery

On the 23rd May 2014, a major fire in the west wing of the Mackintosh Building at The Glasgow School of Art resulted in the loss of parts of the School’s built heritage, art and furniture holdings – and damage to some of its paper-based archives and textile collections.

The majority of our paper archives and artworks on paper, including 100 works by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, were unharmed by the fire. A small percentage of the archives suffered water damage but these items were either air dried or frozen and are now stabilised and conserved. Our textile collections suffered water damage, but these textiles were also air dried and stabilised and have now been conserved. Our plaster casts suffered smoke damage and some water damage.

Some items from the School’s archives and collections were lost. Almost all of the oil paintings on canvas in the School’s collection were stored above the Library and were therefore destroyed. Items from our Mackintosh furniture collection which were in use in the Mackintosh Library or held in the store above this space were either destroyed or very badly damaged by the fire. As part of the 2014 fire recovery project, we compiled a full list of all Archives and Collections material lost or severely damaged.

Many of our most important Mackintosh pieces were on display in a Furniture Gallery and in the School’s Mackintosh Room in the east wing of the building and were therefore unaffected by the fire. Between 2015 and 2021 a programme of collections management and collection development work took place to stabilise and rebuild GSA’s Archives and Collections, focussing on collections management, documentation, conservation, digitisation and outreach activities.

The Archives & Collections team wrote regular blog posts detailing the progress of this project.

Key Achievements

  • Working with conservators across Scotland, 130 water-damaged paper items, 21 fire-damaged objects, 31 water-damaged textiles, 13 clocks and 135 fire-damaged plaster casts were restored and stabilised
  • The entire Textile Collection (557 items) was re-packaged, labelled and re-housed into custom-designed receptacles, housed within bespoke storage cabinets
  • 53 Mackintosh Lights were reconstructed from salvaged and new material, and a central array hung in the Reid Building, following a student competition within the School of Design
  • All objects, textiles, artworks and key archive records were photographed or digitised producing 65,000 digital images
  • An additional 29,000 images will be made available online
  • All catalogue data was cleaned and migrated to a new system which now holds 61,331 records, with 53,099 available online to service users
  • Documentation processes were streamlined and a new documentation manual was developed
  • Key areas of the School’s archive records including Governors papers, Academic Council records and early Directors papers were catalogued, making much of this material accessible for the first time
  • Number of users of the online catalogue increased by 35% since its launch and unique pageviews of the new WordPress site increased by 53% since its launch in May 2022
  • 115 wall-mounted plaster casts were installed in the School of Fine Art at Stow, six Cantorie panels installed in the Reid Building and six large casts installed in the Library
  • Nine pieces of Mackintosh furniture were digitally reconstructed and presented through a Virtual Reality app
  • Two Virtual Reality projects, The Story of Laocoön and Studio 39, delivered in partnership between the School of Simulation and Visualisation and ISO Design
  • Significant partnership projects and relationships were developed across the School and with external bodies, including: the Mackintosh Building Restoration Project; the School of Simulation and Visualisation, ISO Design Studio, The University of Glasgow, The University of Edinburgh, Historic Environment Scotland and The University of the West of Scotland
  • 60 engagement activities, directly related to the Recovery Project, were undertaken by the Archives and Collections team
  • Seven films were created to document the Recovery Project
  • 44 individuals engaged in the volunteer / work placement programme, providing almost 4300 hours of support
  • 27 individuals involved in the volunteer / work placement programme secured employment within the archives and museums sector
  • A new website was designed and developed offering new interpretation around people, themes, materials, collection highlights and online exhibitions.

2018 Mackintosh Building Fire

During the restoration project following the 2014 fire, there was a second fire in The Glasgow School of Art’s Mackintosh Building on 15th June 2018. This caused severe damage to the Mackintosh Building and also affected a small number of The Glasgow School of Art’s collection items that had remained in the Mackintosh Building for restoration purposes, following the 2014 fire. The majority of the School’s archives and collections had been moved to a new, secure and accessible storage facility at The Whisky Bond and as such were not impacted by the second fire.

Unfortunately, due to their size and fragility, or because they were fixed to the fabric of the building, 29 items from GSA’s collection of plaster casts, as well as a memorial to Sir James Fleming, were in the Mackintosh Building at the time of the fire, and were lost. A metalwork coat of arms was severely damaged. 

The Archives and Collections team compiled a list of all material lost in the 2018 fire.

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