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Debate Surrounds Mackintosh Building Reno

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

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The Scottish Parliament’s Culture Committee met recently to continue investigating last June’s devastating fire at the Glasgow School of Art’s Mackintosh building, turning its focus on the fact that a mist suppression system had been taken out of the building before the blaze.

Officials from the School of Art, however, maintain that the system had been rendered useless following the 2014 fire.

Fire Recap

The blaze broke out in the 110-year-old Mackintosh building after 11 p.m. on June 15, with 120 firefighters and 20 engines on the scene. By the time crews arrived, flames had spread to the neighboring campus nightclub and the O2 ABC music venue (one of the region’s most popular concert spots). No one was injured.

The building, designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and considered to be an art nouveau grade A-listed masterpiece, also caught fire in 2014 when a projector overheated and ignited flammable gases from a foam canister that was being used for an art project, destroying about a third of the building, including its library.

The building was still undergoing a 35-million-pound ($45.3 million) renovation from that incident, led by contractor Kier Group, and was set to reopen this spring.

New Probes

Officials said at the time there were no operational sprinklers at the site, but it recently came to light that the building’s preview system, an update for which was 97 percent complete before the 2014 fire, had been removed from the building before the newest round of construction began.

The committee spoke with Stephen Mackenzie, an independent fire, security and resilience adviser, about that decision, who said he was confused to hear that the system had been removed.

“There should have been a temporary or phased installation and that could’ve been part of that basis,” Mackenzie said. “I’m incredibly puzzled to now hear that this has occurred.”

However, a spokesperson of the school said that it had sought expert advice after the 2014 fire, which rendered the system unusable and that’s why it was taken out.

Pumps for the new system had reportedly been delivered to the site and were waiting to be installed.

The committee was also informed that the ventilation ducts that were blamed for the rapid spread of the 2014 fire had not yet been remedied at the time of the 2018 fire. Though conversation architect Dawson Stelfox did note that construction safety focuses on life safety and not necessarily building safety.

“It is worth the committee looking at changes to requirements and fire safety assessments during the construction period to also take into account fire asset safety and fire spread,” he said.

The committee is now preparing its findings for release.


Tagged categories: Architecture; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Fire; Historic Preservation; Historic Structures; Maintenance + Renovation; Renovation; Safety

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