UNTIL Friday night it had seemed that the fire which ravaged Glasgow School of Art in 2014 would simply become another part of the institution’s illustrious history.

After the shock in May 2014, fears about the continued existence of the building subsided and it appeared that, by some miracle, it was salvageable. Rather than devastation, the tale was shaping up take its place in history is a miraculous escape. It would take more than that to break a building which held such passion and history within its walls.

It’s difficult to articulate the richness of that history, and its importance to Glasgow. The Mackintosh building cements the place of Charles Rennie Mackintosh into the fabric of the city. It sits among the buzz of the bustle, both soaking up the Glasgow culture and helping define it.

The building has occupied its place in the Glasgow landscape since 1899, when the first half of the project was completed. It was designed by Rennie Mackintosh, then a junior draughtsman at firm Honeyman and Keppie, which submitted the plans as part of an architectural competition.

The school itself, as an institution, was founded more than 50 years before, and had already gained a substantial reputation in the field. Before it settled in its new home in Renfrew Street, in the glory of Rennie Mackintosh’s design, it had enjoyed stints in the Merchant City’s Ingram Street and the McLellan Galleries.

The prestigious institution went on to hold a number of academic schools: the Mackintosh School of Architecture, the School of Design, the School of Fine Art, the School of Simulation and Visualisation, and the Innovation School.

While maintaining its reputation as a revered place of study and continuing to appeal to international students as well as local, the School of Art, and in particular the Mackintosh building, has been popular with tourists as a place of historical and cultural significance.

Its relevance to modern art as well as history is undisputed. The School has been host to numerous winners and nominees of the Turner Prize in recent times, such as Richard Wright, Simon Starling and Martin Boyce.

Indeed, it boasts a strong roster of alumni. As well as its most famous son, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Glasgow School of Art has also counted artist Peter Howson, Travis singer Fran Healy, author Alasdair Gray, former Doctor Who Peter Capaldi, former Scots Makar Liz Lochhead and broadcaster Muriel Gray among its students.

While Rennie Mackintosh is celebrated in the modern age and he has secured his place in the history of art and architecture, he wasn’t always appreciated in his time. Despite his unexpected success with the Art School design, he struggled to get other major commissions in his time. The Glasgow School of Art is the most emphatic physical expression of his contribution to cultural history, and the building therefore represents something bigger for Scotland than just as a hub of rich art and cultural nurturing.

For the city of Glasgow, it hurts. Locals have dealt with several tragedies in recent years. While there is relief at the lack of any casualties as a result of the fire, the same could not be said for the disasters in 2013, when a police helicopter crashed into the roof of the Clutha Bar, and at Christmas 2014, when a number of people were killed in the bin lorry tragedy in the centre of town.

The first fire at the School of Art almost became a ray of light after the initial shock and sadness had calmed. For once it seemed the city may have caught a small break when it became clear that the School could be saved and restored. Now, the double blow feels like a knockout punch to the gut for a city looking forward to a grand re-opening of the Mackintosh building next year. And if it hadn’t already seemed like the planets had for some reason aligned to seal the famous building’s fate, the added salt in the wound is that the second fire happened on the School’s graduation day.

Perhaps one of the most difficult things to consider when thinking, when writing, about events since Friday night is accepting that we now may be discussing the Mackintosh building as something that once existed. It is not the chapter of history anyone could have imagined. It feels cruel and unfair. It’s hard to imagine it as something that was, but that no longer is. Glasgow will, of course, recover, and the School’s admirable reputation will continue. For now, however, the city needs a moment to mourn. Then, the questions, and anger, will inevitably come.