Sunday, 17 June 2018

Thoughts on the Big Fire

The internet is the place where serious events - like an iconic Glaswegian building burning down for the second time in the same decade - are subsumed to individuals' desire to variously virtue signal, reveal their ability to identify conspiracies or make it all about them. So here's my take on the fire that has destroyed the Macintosh Building that is round the corner from my house.

Note: I breathed in fumes from the flames and nearly got hit by a massive ember, so my opinion is totally valid.

1. Please don't rebuild it again. Rather, clear up the mess and leave it as a ruin. The amount of money it would cost to rebuild - and I hope that the insurance premiums would cover this - could be better deployed on other projects supporting the students and the art school. Sure, the Mac brings in the tourists, but leaving it as a ruin could do that, especially if it was treated as a site of historic interest. People go to ruined castles all the time, and they aren't so conveniently situated next to a shopping centre.

2. Please don't rebuild it again. I appreciate that the skills needed to restore the building to its former appearance are important to maintain, and I don't want the craftsmen and artists who would get work to lose out. But maybe they could be employed to embellish existing art spaces, or the new ones they could build with the insurance money. Little bits of Macintosh style scattered around the city. I hear that some of the interior work had not been put into the building before the fire, which would mean it is safe. Put it somewhere interesting. A nice wood panel or two would go well in the many contemporary buildings that have a surgical atmosphere. It could even become a tourist trail: find the Macintosh details.

3. Please don't rebuild it again. Contrary to popular opinion, the art school is not a building (cf. a church is its congregation). It was a beautiful building, and any new build on the site would be ugly by comparison (cf. the rebuild of the art school building on the other side of the street). But a complete remake of the Macintosh building would be an imitation, a copy that has more in common with a Disney palace than a slice of heritage (itself a commodified word). Use the insurance money to further the facilities for the students of the art school: do they have enough studios? 

4. Please don't rebuild it again. But don't put student flats in its place. Frankly, Glasgow has a reputation for things burning down. Not getting into the conspiracies about why so much of the architectural heritage of the city has ended up a hollow shell, but that lovely Greek Thompson church on the other side of Sauchiehall Street met Mr Flames not so long ago. There are plenty of spaces - old tenements and that - which could be converted. Use them, and leave the site of the Mac as a ruin. 

5. Please don't rebuild it again. This is a terrible thing to have happened, but I reject the sentimentality about objects - the most important thing is that no-one was injured in the fire, and the bravery of the fire-fighters who are still hanging about my street and keeping an eye on the aftermath (and a big up to the Salvation Army for giving them cups of tea and that from their emergency van). Glasgow has had a rubbish attitude towards its built environment for years - a big motorway through the city-centre, anyone - so the Macintosh has become an icon as one of the last great buildings left. Rebuilding it isn't a way of avoiding hard questions about how we treat the cities that house us, employ us and, sadly, oppress us with a plethora of potato-stamp quality new flats and offices. 

6. Other opinions are available. I understand that this might seem harsh and untimely. I know there is an attachment to the Mac. If it is rebuilt, I won't be sulking: hopefully, I'll be living here when it gets restored to its glory, and get to walk past it on my way to the office. 

7. Other opinions are available. Rebuilding the Mac would show how indefatigable Glasgow is. It could stimulate tourism, represent a pride in the city and a respect for its heritage. Of course.

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