Glasgow School of Art unveils full size prototype of Mackintosh Library

Master craftsmen Angus Johnston and Martins Cirulis of Laurence McIntosh in the Mackintosh Library prototype. Credit McAteer photo
Master craftsmen Angus Johnston and Martins Cirulis of Laurence McIntosh in the Mackintosh Library prototype. Credit McAteer photo

A full-size model of a section of the Mackintosh Library has been unveiled by the Glasgow School of Art as work continues to restore the building to its original 1910 design.

Six months in the making, the prototype at the workshops of specialist carpenters Laurence McIntosh has been used to test and retest every aspect of the design and manufacture of the centrepiece of the Mackintosh Building restoration.

The process began with detailed research of items retrieved and information gathered in the archaeological survey complemented by detailed consultation of Mackintosh’s original designs, early photography, letters and other documentation. The challenge then was to translate this mainly 2D imagery into the 3D prototype.

Professor Tom Inns, director of The Glasgow School of Art, said: “Today marks a hugely significant step in the restoration of the Mackintosh Building. From the outset we said that we would restore the building and restore it well. The creation of this prototype which are unveiling today is underpinned by two years of ground-breaking and hugely detailed research ranging from information discovered in the archaeological survey to Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s original designs and paperwork and meticulous designs of every element, profile and joint to 0.5 millimetre accuracy which were created by our design team and then incorporated into a comprehensive set of drawings for the specialist carpenters to work from.

“The challenge was then to convert this research into the physical object. Months of testing and retesting of all aspects of the design and manufacture by Laurence McIntosh working in close partnership with our design team lead Page\Park have culminated in this final prototype. The calibre of the craftsmanship in every aspect of the manufacture is of the highest order and is testament to the skill of the specialist carvers and woodworkers here at Laurence McIntosh.

“For those of you who remember the library as it was in 2014 the biggest change you will notice is the colour. This is how we believe is how the library would have looked in 1910.

“One of the first discoveries after the fire was that much of the library was constructed from American Tulip wood. Samples from the bottom of a Library column and one of the shelves from the Library cabinets which survived the fire gave us the first clue as to both the colour of the library in 1910 and how the colouring has been achieved.”

Professor Inns added: “Highly pigmented oil-based paint had been rubbed directly on to the surface of the wood which once dried was polished with beeswax. As with every aspect of the work on the prototype many experiments were made using the closest product to the original oil-based paint – medium-burnt umber and raw umber artist paints.”

One of the design team who has been most closely involved with the research into the Library is architectural heritage and conservation expert, Natalia Burakowska, of Page\Page architects.

Speaking at the launch Natalia said: “The GSA’s decision to undertake a detailed archaeological survey of the library was crucial to the process of restoration. We soon realised that precious charred timbers had a considerable amount of information to reveal. 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 Library in a manner that nobody else had had a chance to do before.”

The team gathered information carefully and prepared draft reconstruction drawings using the latest 3d technology together with the production of the 1:10 and 1:1 physical models to test understanding of the construction in reality, and this process was supported by extensive archival research.

“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,” added Natalia.

Specialist woodworkers Laurence McIntosh then joined to team.

“This is a wonderful project to work on,” said David Macdonald of Laurence McIntosh. “We are privileged to be working as part of a team of people who are passionately committed to restoring the jewel in the crown of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s designs.”

“From tulipwood blanks we have seen the prototype emerging slowly through months of careful carving and re-carving, colouring and re-colouring. Fascinatingly, on occasion this has meant not so much a refining of the design so much as making something which was too perfect slightly rougher and more in synergy with the original craftsmen’s’ work.

“We are now looking forward to taking all that we have learned in the development of the prototype and applying it to the library proper.”

As work on the Mackintosh Building continues apace, Gordon Reid, regional business development manager for Kier Construction Scotland, who are managing the overall construction project said: “The intricate restoration work that we are carrying out at The Mackintosh Building is progressing well - the temporary roof has been removed and the new roof is now complete. The loggia have been restored and the work to reconstruct the iconic Hen Run is under way. Today marks another milestone in this very special journey.

“Importantly, we have been able to attract a diverse range of new talent to the construction industry to work at this iconic building. Working closely with the local supply chain, specialist conservators and other industry training and employment groups, we have already created 60 once-in-a-lifetime training, apprenticeship and employment opportunities.”

The Tulipwood for the Library is currently being sourced in the USA. It will be manufactured at Laurence McIntosh with installation on site expected to begin in spring 2018.

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