CHARLES Rennie Mackintosh's buildings, such as Scotland Street School and Glasgow School of Art, are of major importance to Scotland.
They are such an intrinsic part of Glasgow's cultural identity that it is hard to imagine the city without them.
Fortunately, we are a very long way off that point, but concerns raised by Mackintosh expert Roger Billcliffe about the state of repair of some of Mackintosh's architectural treasures serve as a timely warning.
Buildings are not immortal; they need to be nurtured and cared for if future generations are to enjoy them. That can be seen only too clearly in respect of the struggle to save important buildings designed by that other great Glasgow architect, Alexander "Greek" Thomson, like Caledonia Road Church.
Buildings by the more famous Rennie Mackintosh have fared better and a number are in the stewardship of public bodies. The National Trust for Scotland (NTS), for instance, looks after The Hill House in Helensburgh while Glasgow Life cares for Scotland Street School and has the Ingram Street Tearooms interiors in storage.
Councils do of course face difficult choices at a time of recession when funds to cover the cost of a range of vital public services are at a premium. Recession or not, however, Glasgow City Council and NTS have a duty to preserve and display such buildings for everyone to enjoy.
After all, these buildings have a very substantial ongoing economic importance to the city. An idea of just how much importance is clear from the success of the Mackintosh Festival in 2006 in Glasgow which brought in around 50,000 visitors and generated £5.6m. The fame and prestige of Charles Rennie Mackintosh resonates internationally and brings in an untold number of tourists to Glasgow every year, helping to support around 30,000 tourism-related jobs in the city. They come to see his masterpiece Glasgow School of Art up close and take tea at the Willow Tea Rooms, and they leave again with bags, jewellery, books and placemats bearing designs inspired by his work. On the foundations Mackintosh laid, an economic empire has been built.
The value of Mackintosh, however, cannot only be measured in financial terms. He made a key contribution to art nouveau, which, though not well appreciated at home during his lifetime, is recognised today worldwide. As part of "The Four", with fellow architect James Herbert McNair and artist sisters Margaret and Frances Macdonald, he helped develop the distinctive Glasgow Style. Glasgow, and Scotland, would indeed be worse off for the loss of even one of Mackintosh's precious works. Efforts must be made to prevent his legacy falling into disrepair for the good of the country as a whole.
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