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Putting Holl and Mackintosh in multi-perspective: the new building at the Glasgow School of Art

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 November 2013

Johnny Rodger*


The announcement that American architect Steven Holl had won the competition to design a new building for the Glasgow School of Art opposite Charles Rennie Mackintosh's original (built 1897–1909), and the revelation of his plans to the public, provoked plenty of criticism about the possible relationship between the two buildings. Professor William Curtis first wrote on the topic in the Architects' Journal almost a year from the announcement, and his opinions on the relationship were forthright: ‘Rather than dialogue’, he argued, ‘there is a dumb lack of articulation in construction and material.’ A response came in the following issue of the AJ from David Porter, then Professor at the Mackintosh School of Architecture. He disagreed with Curtis, claiming that the new building will have ‘an extraordinary spatial richness’ and that ‘the original sketch Curtis saw in Glasgow last December has progressed very rapidly’, for it was but an early stage in ‘a design strategy driven forward with a mixture of poetics and ruthless pragmatics: qualities that are singularly appropriate in this context, and developed with artistry and skill’.

Curtis subsequently wrote a further open letter to ‘the Governors, the Director, the Faculty, Students, Staff, Alumnae and Alumni’ of Glasgow School of Art, which was published in facsimile in the Architects' Journal on 3 March 2011:

What a disappointment then to contemplate Steven Holl's proposed addition. It is horrendously out of scale, it dominates Mackintosh, it does not create a decent urban space, it fails to deal with the context near and far, it is clumsy in form and proportion, it lacks finesse in detail, has no relationship to the human figure, and is a stillborn diagram dressed up in Holl clichés such as ‘iceberg’ glass.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2013 

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