Following an international competition to select an architect for the new Reid Building, the Glasgow School of Art selected American architect Steven Holl. Controversially, at the time, the project involved demolition of Keppie’s landmark Newbery Tower with calls for it to be listed, but Glasgow is the midst of a renaissance where post-war buildings are being replaced with new modern buildings of high quality such as the new City of Glasgow College campuses, with its Riverside Campus being a finalist in the Stirling Prize.
Demolition, carried out in 2012, involved removing the ten storey tower from a constrained site while retaining the inter-war Assembly building which now tucks into Holl’s building which was opened in 2014. Holl’s design seeks to be complimentary to Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s 1909 building though the outside is quite bulky and block-like, especially the way that it oversails the Assembly building, albeit it is the same height as Mackintosh’s building and is clad in a thin light material in contrast to the dark heavy masonry of the older buildings.
The exterior hides a masterful interior with studios arranged on the north side with the benefit of large northlights and offices, refectory and other support areas arranged along the south facing across to Mackintosh’s building, all planned around a sculptural central “street”, in which the staircases dive across the space from floor to floor around conical “driven voids of light” bringing light from the roof right down through the building, perhaps reminiscent of the towers on, say, Mackintosh’s Scotland Street School. . The ground floor of the street is open to the public for exhibitions and other events, from which the public gains a glimpse upwards of the world in which the students and staff work, part of the connectivity this building achieves with the city in which it sits.
Wherever possible doors are held back or eliminated through clever fire engineering so that the studios and other spaces flow off the central street enabling transparency and views out of the building, in particular through the two-storey refectory space which has a roof garden at the level of the studios in Mackintosh’s building opposite, and interchange between different art and design programmes. The use of light and space hides the fact that this is a tightly-packed and efficient 12,000 sq.m. building, with architectural episodes within the studios with staircases leading to informal study and meeting areas and with a sustainable ventilation solution through the central street and the light cones that minimises space used for ventilation plant.
Holl’s other building in the UK is Maggie’s Centre Barts, which, although it replaced a 1960’s building, has been highly controversial in terms of its relationship with the historic buildings designed by James Gibbs. It has similarities to the Reid Building in that the exterior does not reflect the interior, it is designed to contrast with the historic adjacent buildings and the primary focus is on the interior with a central space through which natural light will flow, housing the circulation (a curved staircase) with spaces opening off of it. Here too there is a roof garden, in this case on the top floor, with flowering trees open to a large room for yoga, Tai Chi and meetings.
Holl has brought an international quality of architectural design to the Glasgow School of Art and to Glasgow. It sets a challenge is for Glasgow University on its new campus to maintain the quality that has been achieved with this building and the new City of Glasgow College campuses and for the Glasgow to ensure a high quality of design to its new housing and community regeneration, following the demolition of many of the post-war residential tower blocks.