A New Landmark for the Glasgow School of Art

October 19, 2010

By Tim McKeough

Glasgow School of Art
Image courtesy Steven Holl

Holl argues that his design “respectfully contrasts” with the century-old Mackintosh Building.


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Going up against an icon, Steven Holl has released his plans for a new building that will rise directly across from the Mackintosh Building at the Glasgow School of Art.

Holl says his design will “respectfully contrast” with Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s 1909 masterpiece, adding that he drew inspiration from the play of light within the neighboring landmark. “It is really one of the most important buildings” in the world, says Holl, who is working with Scotland-based JM Architects on the project. “The beginning of Modern architecture is there.”

Holl won an international competition for the commission in September 2009, beating out more than 150 entries, seven of which were short-listed. Construction is expected to begin in mid-2011, with completion by fall 2013.

The 121,000-square-foot building will hold studios, seminar rooms, a lecture hall, student galleries, and an interpretation center for the Mackintosh Building. A series of vertical shafts, which Holl describes as “driven voids,” will puncture all seven floors (five above ground, two below) and bring in natural light. They also will assist in natural ventilation by pulling air up through the structure and out the top. 

Ramps and stairs will wind through the center of the building, sometimes intersecting with the driven voids. As a result, Holl says, “everyone in the school will rub shoulders with everybody else.”

The contrasting relationship with the Mackintosh Building is most apparent in the application of materials. “That building has a thick, stone skin with thin bones, like steel straps and wooden beams,” says Holl. His building, in comparison, has a “thin skin” made of sandblasted, laminated glass and “thick bones” of white concrete.

Although some Scottish architects initially were upset that the commission didn’t go to a local architect, Holl remains undeterred. “The less nationalistic we are, the better,” Holl says. “Musical culture can go around the world, and art culture can go around the world.” So, he reasons, why not architecture? 

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