Even after half a century since the inception of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society, landmark buildings designed by the famed architect remain under constant threat of demolition or decay. The organization was established in response to imminent threats faced by four of Mackintosh’s buildings that were set to be demolished for Glasgow Corporation’s motorway project back in the 1970s.
Martyr Street School, one of Mackintosh’s buildings, was already on the chopping block when the Society convened its first meeting back in 1973. Stuart Robertson, the Society’s director since 2001, stated that the city was undergoing significant changes at the time, and these changes stood to significantly impact Mackintosh’s architectural legacy.
Although Mackintosh was not well-known beyond his circle of architects and designers, the Society took upon the critical task of preserving his buildings and amplifying his legacy worldwide. Martyrs Street School, Queen’s Cross church, and Scotland Street School were successfully preserved, despite the looming threat of the motorway project.
Alas, Ingram Street tearooms were not as lucky and were demolished in 1971, despite their rooms being carefully documented and stored, eventually finding a home in Glasgow Museums. Some pieces from the tearooms have been restored and are now on public display at the V&A Dundee, including the Oak Room.
Michael Dale, newly appointed chair of the CRM Society and director of several major Scottish cultural events, recognizes the societal and cultural value of these historical buildings. He insists that both local and national government should view preserving Mackintosh’s legacy as a worthy investment.
A 2015 survey by the Society revealed a “small, fragile, and precious” state of Mackintosh buildings, including the Mackintosh School of Art, which suffered two devastating fires in 2014 and 2018.
The Society is also planning a 50th-anniversary reception hosted by Glasgow City Council. But the global community of Society members realize that much work remains in preserving these precious buildings and preventing their loss forever. Robertson emphasizes the fragile state of these buildings, noting that if Mackintosh’s structures can’t be properly preserved, there’s little hope for other historical sites.
Dale suggests that CRM Society should expand its role to advising on conservation efforts in Glasgow, much similar to how the Cockburn Association operates in Edinburgh. “It’s time for Glasgow to be a powerhouse like that,” he adds.
The Society currently is responsible for several of Mackintosh’s best-known buildings, including the famous Glasgow School of Art, the Queen’s Cross church, and the Willow Tea Rooms. Nevertheless, efforts continue to secure and restore these national treasures, moving past current roadblocks and preserving them for future generations to admire and appreciate.