Glasgow: Chas, His Buildings, His City

Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Not much cycling in this post, quite a bit about architecture but as I have never claimed to be an expert when it comes to writing about the former, I see no reason to hold back when it comes to waffling on about the latter. The best fact that I learned today was the great man of Glaswegian architecture and design (it’s difficult to avoid references – subtle and less subtle – to him in Glasgow) is that he was originally called Chas McIntosh but changed his name to Charles Mackintosh so as to impress. I quite like that and have been trying to think of how I can ‘upgrade’ Andrew P. Sykes. Andreas MackSykes? Some may say that’s going in the other direction…
Anyway, back to Glasgow. Arrived here on the train last night after the most beautiful train ride in Britain (I’m used to Reading to Paddington via Slough so I start from a low base) from Mallaig via Fort William. To say it was a journey of nearly five and a half hours, I wasn’t bored once. The scenery was everything you might expect it to be; beautiful, dramatic, isolated, wild… The navvies of the 19th century did a very good job indeed in creating a stunning tourist attraction for the 21st century (although I’m sure they were under the impression it was entirely for commercial reasons to bring fish and the like to the big city). I wasn’t on the ‘Harry Potter’ Jacobite train complete with steam engine at the front (although we did pass it en route); my journey was aboard a distinctly less glamorous ScotRail train that resembled a bus on tracks.
Once installed in the city centre hotel, I went on a short quest to find a laundrette. It was closed although it did give me a chance to experience a slice of life in one of Glasgow’s suburbs. Interesting. So I came back to the centre of the city and did the next best thing; bought some new ones. This sounds very extravagant, but it isn’t as I rarely buy new clothes and I was only delaying the inevitable of investing in a new pair of jeans, T-shirt, jumper, shirt and underwear that I would no doubt have done prior to winter kicking in big time back at home. I think it already has here in Glasgow; quite cold and very wet. It just means carrying a few extra things on the bike as I make my way south over the next few days.
This morning, I headed for the tourist office;
‘Are there any walking tours?’ I asked
‘How about this one run by students of the Glasgow College of Art?’ The young woman suggested. Brilliant idea! Who better to fill me in on the architecture of Glasgow than a couple of architecture students from the college of Chas/Charles himself? I signed up and at 11:15 we set off. They were Kitty and Fraser; we were a chap from Gloucestershire (who was an architect who designs school buildings) and, err… me. The ratio was 1:1. Not bad. Clearly the topic of the moment is the Glasgow College of Art Mackintosh building itself which suffered severe damage in a fire on the 24th May this year. It will be rebuilt but it will take at least five years to do so. It’s such a pity that the flames didn’t instead decide to take hold of the adjacent school of architecture building which is hideous beyond belief. The irony of its form (circa 1970?) versus its function (teaching the architects of the future how to create beautiful buildings, no?) is not lost on many I imagine. If I were in charge I would have called in the bulldozers more quickly than you could say ‘McIntosh’ (or indeed ‘Mackintosh’). But, more’s the pity, I’m not.
Over the subsequent two hours we wandered around the streets of Glasgow being filled in on the history of the buildings, Chas and his contemporaries. All fascinating stuff. It’s interesting to see how his influence has echoed down the last one hundred years of construction in the city; many more modern buildings nod in the direction of Mackintosh although it does, as times, edge towards the kitsch. Perhaps the architects of today should stick to their own style which is what they have done by the Clyde with a series of glass and metal constructions; the ‘Armadillo’, the SSE Hydro, BBC Scotland, the Science Museum and a couple of bridges all under the shadow of a large dockyard crane which is the only suggestion remaining as to what used to go on beside the river.
Times for a few pictures I feel. There is a bicycle in one of them. Can you spot it?imageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimage



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