Scotland’s Big Mac
A Glasgow Boy
The second son of eleven children, Charles Rennie Mackintosh showed a flair for design from an early age. Deciding against following his father into the city police force, Mackintosh became apprenticed to Glasgow architect John Hutchinson. That work would have been hard enough, but Mackintosh also enrolled in night classes at the Glasgow School of Art where his talent was quickly recognised, winning prizes, including a travelling scholarship to Italy, France and Belgium.
It was as a student that Mackintosh rejected Roman and Greek classicism in favour of a Baronial style. Although this was rooted in Scotland's past it was far from backward looking. Mackintosh used traditional architecture in a way that fitted with the contemporary mood, experimented with light and space and created spectacular but functional buildings. This Scottish version of Art Nouveau was wonderfully ornate and very much in keeping with the optimism of the dawning twentieth century. Mackintosh drew influence too from Japanese art, with his frequent use of motifs such as the stylised rose, which became the hallmark of his design.
In 1889 the young man of the moment was recruited to architects Honeyman and Keppie as a draftsman. For Mackintosh this was his big break, and over the next twenty-five years he made his visions real. Visitors to Glasgow can still marvel at Mackintosh's imagination. From the external magnificence of Scotland Street School now a museum to the interior ambiance of the Cranston Tea Rooms. There you can still sip scented tea whilst taking in the grandeur of furniture, fixtures, and wall hangings. The atmosphere that Charles Rennie Mackintosh created has made the Tea Rooms as chic and fashionable today as they were in Edwardian times.
Perhaps the most remarkable of Charles Rennie Mackintosh's Scottish architectural creations was his winning design for a new School of Art in Glasgow. Constructed between 1897 and 1909 it firmly established his international reputation. A century on and it has just been voted the best British building of the last 175 years beating other magnificent structures such as Londons Crystal Palace and the Festival Hall.
The editor of the Royal Institute of British Architects Journal, Hugh Pearman, called it A mysteriously beautiful building that manages to be rugged and delicate at the same time.
Looking to the Future
Architectural styles come and go, but the endurance of the Mackintosh brand is never more than now, as the Glasgow School of Art embarks on an international competition to design a new wing. The cream of architectural talent in Britain, and further afield is likely to be attracted and it is hoped that the new structure will be in place by 2013. Who knows, the winning designer may one day be as famous and as influential as CRM.
Mackintosh's memory is kept alive at his old firm, now called Keppie Design, where plans for a major piece of art in memory of the great man have been enthusiastically backed. Leading Scottish artist Andy Scott has already constructed a bust to show what might be achieved. Charles Rennie Mackintosh created the Glasgow brand as we now know it, he said. A statue would be a reminder of a great man who was, to some extent, not given the recognition that he truly deserved in Scotland when he was alive.
It would be fitting if in this, the 100th anniversary of the completion of Mackintosh's masterpiece of the Glasgow School of Art, a permanent monument were to be erected to one of the most monumental figures in twentieth century Scottish architecture and design. Scotland's original Big Mac.
Last updated 27 Nov 2012