Mackintosh’s masterpiece remains a gutted ruin after a lamentable six years of indecision in the wake of that dreadful second all-consuming fire. The world acclaimed art school remains still shrouded in its white protective catafalque on Garnethill.

Its run-down neighbours lie in desolation below in Sauchiehall Street with its shuttered-up shops, and graffitied walls in what was once Glasgow’s most elegant boulevard with thriving department stores of architectural distinction and Glasgow’s Fine Art Institute, now all long gone. 

Yet, believe it or not, there’s hope in the air, not from the secret deliberators of the self-governing School of Art, but from an enlightened initiative of the Glasgow City Council, with its City Centre Task Force, whose members come from the Council, the Scottish Government, and the core sectors of the area's economy. The CCTF has secured £1.95million from the Scottish Government.

Much has been written about the dereliction of Sauchiehall Street, but what it really needs is a world class centrepiece. Fortunately, there’s one just waiting in the wings. It’s called the Castle of the Arts, named by the artist Sir William Hutchison, who was also a director of the school.

It’s the most fitting description because Mackintosh derived the forms and details of the south façade from Fyvie Castle’s three different building periods, which he echoed in three separate but different bays. Sadly, over years, many of his details were hidden, but once the shrouds come down and the expensively hired scaffolding is returned, we will have a chance to see what’s been hidden from us.

Then by planting a grove of sauchs (willows) along the haugh (way) of Sauchiehall Street, we will have given voice, in our proud auld Scots, that the Sauchs have now returned to the Haugh of Sauchiehall Street in time for Glasgow to celebrate its one great genius of the place in the city of his birth, to the acclaim of the world.  

The Herald: Sketch of weeping willows (Sauchs) on the Haugh (the Way) of Sauchiehall Street Sketch of weeping willows (Sauchs) on the Haugh (the Way) of Sauchiehall Street (Image: Murray Grigor)

This is now the chance to revel and reveal our hidden masterpiece on the north side of Sauchiehall Street, close to the McLellan Gallery on the east, the Centre for Contemporary Arts on the west.  In short, we will have created a small but meaningful meeting place for Glaswegians and with our world-famous edifice in the middle, we will have the mother of all tourist destinations in all Europe.  

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Three years ago, David Cairns, who was then the hands-on President of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society and I joined Penny Macbeth, director of Glasgow School of Art to discuss these ideas. We left thinking we had planted a plan that might run, but sadly a few months ago I met Penny at a degree show and she had been told that our ideas were too expensive.  The original cost of acquiring the site from the Dublin developers was £18m – but that soon dropped to £6m when the height restrictions were put in place, following the rejection of that massive student bedroom block.

The Herald: Glasgow School of Art Mack building - devastated by two firesGlasgow School of Art Mack building - devastated by two fires (Image: Newsquest)

When students first began their studies in 1909 the threat of fire in the timber clad building was a constant concern, especially since smoking then was almost universal among both the staff and students. From the great Francis Newbery onwards the artist-directors of Glasgow School of Art loved and cared for the school that Mackintosh gave them and the tutors and students protected it through two world wars.  

The school survived a Zeppelin raid when a bomb failed to explode.  Cordelia Oliver, a painting student who was on fire-watch during the bombing of the Clyde was poised at the ready with her stirrup pump. in the 'Hen Run' when she met the director William Hutchison.

"If an incendiary bomb lands," he warned her, "leave this building at once - a far safer idea," he said, "would be to paint the roof in large letters: GLASGOW SCHOOL OF ART  BY CHARLES  RENNIE MACKINTOSH. Then no self-respecting Luftwaffe pilot would ever dream of bombing us."

In September 1967 a first year student described how he queued in a fog of cigarette smoke with a hundred others before entering the lecture theatre to matriculate.

As they all listened to the director Sir Harry Jefferson Barnes and the Registrar Lennox Paterson they were told about the courses and how the Mack worked. They were severely lectured about smoking. It was permitted, but we had to make sure that our fags were put out, because the Mack would go up like a tinder box. The student was John Lowrie Morrison who became one of the most successful artists, known affectionately to his many friends as Jolomo. 

The Herald: Murray Grigor believes that there is hopeMurray Grigor believes that there is hope (Image: Newsquest)

Alas, in 2014 in defiance of the safety regulations, a highly flammable degree show work was allowed to be built in the basement in spaces that were designed for clay modelling, metal work and sculpture. The fire report established that a slide projector, that was allowed to operate for hours, ignited the illegal materials.

The fire service came and within 18 minutes the fire was extinguished. Unbeknown to the extraordinary feat of those firefighters, original 1890s wooden framed ducts of the Plenum system of air conditioning which had been closed in 1945, had recently been re-opened to allow for the installation of a fire prevention sprinkler system.

The Herald: Glasgow School of Art South Elevation from the Mackintosh film, 1968Glasgow School of Art South Elevation from the Mackintosh film, 1968 (Image: Murray Grigor)

Thus, the hot gasses were funnelled up what was effectively an open chimney. Soon the heat was scorching the roof beams that even before the fire service left, erupted into flames. The fire service had of course come without extension ladders. When it did arrive the Library was ablaze, consuming all but thirteen of ten thousand books. Above, 150 priceless chairs, and Mackintosh's only two oil paintings and many other works of art were kindling the fire into an inferno.

How the heroic firemen managed to save what they did was miraculous. In a cruel industrial strength irony Liz Davidson and her team were within months of a total restoration, when on the night of the World Cup Mackintosh’s masterpiece was reduced to ashes within a few days of his150th anniversary.  The consequences of that all-consuming are still with us.

Murray Grigor is an acclaimed filmmaker and writer. Among his credits include the 1968 documentary on Mackintosh which he directed. He is also a former director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival​.