GSA Library Prototype unveiled

As the architects appointed to carry out the reconstruction of one of the most important designs by C. R. Mackintosh our starting point was to ask ourselves; “how much do we know”?

Unlike historical authenticity, which once lost can never be regained; the formal beauty of a work of architecture may be recovered, through restoration, reconstruction and by careful intervention. On that premise, it was decided that reconstructing the Library was necessary in order to restore the unity of the building, allowing the public and future generations to “read” and understand the building as a complete work of art. By virtue, this entails bringing back the authenticity and intention of the completed design.

In order to achieve this, we focused our attention and energy on the forensic examination of the library remains, and we soon realised that the precious charred timbers still had a considerable amount of information to reveal. We carefully disassembled the library into a number of individual elements, paying particular attention to those that were repeated multiple times within the room; the first example being a single bay and post of the balcony. By doing so we accumulated knowledge about principal elements of the construction and this allowed for further exploration of the other details.

We were excited to learn about timber joints, nailing techniques, timber sizes, and clever assembly strategies adopted by craftsmen working on site. We were privileged to look at the room in a manner that nobody else had had a chance before. We gathered all of the information carefully and started to draft reconstruction drawings using the latest 3d technology together with the production of the 1:10 and 1:1 physical models to test our understanding of the construction in reality.

This process was supported by extensive archival research undertaken by our dedicated research team and conservationists. We poured over the archives sifting through original plans, Records of Building Committee, receipts, financial records and specifications. Photographs taken by Bedford Lemere in 1910 and later images assisted in tracking the changes and amendments to the original design.

All this study and research identified that there were ‘gaps’ in our knowledge, however, we were able to overcome this only by the contributions of people who used to work, study and care about this room. To that end, the help of members of public was also invaluable – graduates of the school were donating photographs and their memories of the place were an important aspect of understanding the significance of the space. One example was that there was no physical evidence of the carved pendants. Whilst we struggled with this aspect out of the blue we were contacted by Robert Pollok, woodcarver and pattern maker, who donated moulds of the carvings taken while he was working on the House for an Art Lover.

The process of reconstruction would not be possible without the input of the various conservation specialists who analysed timber, glass and timber stain amongst many others. Identification of the appropriate finish was a challenging and time-consuming exercise and will be the biggest change to how we remember the Library. Layers of later stain, dirt, cigarette smoke, light damage and wear affected an almost ‘flat’ appearance of the timber where Tulipwood grain was concealed. The Library will appear much lighter than how we remember prior to the fire, but will be as intended in Mackintosh’s design.