I was one of the first journalists allowed beyond the scaffolding and white wrapping that protects the charred remains of Glasgow School of Art's world-famous Mack building.

What was I expecting to see? The answer is not much - with the knowledge that the second fire that ravaged the world-famous building, on June 15 2018, was far worse than the first, four years earlier.

Complex engineering works had to be carried out to stabilise and make the remaining structure safe before investigators could access the site for physical examinations.

The fire was so fierce and all-consuming that the cause will never be known conclusively and most of the treasures within were destroyed.

The Herald:

I spent many Saturday nights as a student in the 1990s queuing to dance the night away on the black and white chequered floor of the student union.

We weren't GSA students so this involved persuading one of its own to sign us in and long waits on dark and drizzly nights dressed to the nines in our latest finds from Virginia Galleries.

However, it's to my regret that I only visited the Mack building across the road once despite calling Glasgow my home and the fact that my sister Lorraine was at one time a tour guide, who was surprised one day to find Brad Pitt listening in.

It's not that unusual to ignore the treasures on our doorstep.

What I recall from that one visit is taking in the Mackintosh Library and imagining sharply-dressed students of old burning the midnight oil under the cluster of electric lights that cascaded from the centre of the ceiling.

The Herald:

I remember walking across the ‘hen run’ - whose name is believed to be related to the female students who used studios in the Mackintosh Building’s top floor.

Returning to the Mack, 20 or so years later in January last year (this time in a hard hat and boots) the reaction from our group of journalists was shared surprise that more of the structure remained that we might have thought possible.

The Herald:

There are now only rectangles where the architect’s trademark windows peppered the exterior walls, and fragments of the famous steps leading up to the school, but it did feel as if the essence of the building was still very much alive.


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The front door, where students including Alasdair Gray and Robbie Coltrane passed is still visible as well as the wrought iron railings and distinctive art nouveau finial.

Eleanor Magennis, who is helping oversee the project to restore the world-renowned building by 2030, said most people given access to the building were taken aback that so much of the original brickwork and structure has endured.

The Herald:

She said work, by hand, to remove 5,000 tonnes of fire-ravaged building involved 12-hour shifts and was “painstaking and robustly done”.

What we didn't know at that time when we were invited to see the wreckage of the building is that more of the structure would be demolished weeks later. No mention was made of it. 

The west wall and the pillars holding up the iconic library, which was rebuilt after the first fire, had to be taken down.

That visit perhaps gave us the false impression that more of the structure had been saved than is the reality.

Nonetheless, I think the minds of those who say that the Mack shouldn't be rebuilt again might be changed if they had gone on that tour.

It is possible to imagine that Mackintosh's most famous building will rise once more from the ashes, hopefully for the last time.

The Herald:

"It's the little glimpses you get of the building you knew and love, " said Ms Magennis.

"The concrete stair with the little cut-outs, the ironwork., the entrance porch with the guardians over the door, all these glimpses of Mackintosh, combined with the drawings we have, show we can bring the building back."