Chipperfield warns of ‘enormous cost’ of Mack rebuild

The Pritzker Prize-winning architect, speaking as part of the NORR Ed lecture series, also cautioned that the complex project to recreate the 1909 architectural masterpiece will need ‘total buy-in from everybody’.

After delivering a wide-ranging video presentation on architectural practice, Chipperfield, the architect behind the much-heralded rebuild of the partially ruined Neues Museum in Berlin, was asked what he would do with the fire-ravaged Mackintosh gem.

Describing the current situation as ‘a terrible tragedy’, he said: ‘[Making a copy] is not where I’d go to originally [if I was looking at the project] because you’d like to find something some other solution.

‘But I’ve been there [to Glasgow] and I don’t think there is any other solution.’

However, he said he felt an exact rebuild, though potentially problematic, would be meaningful. He said: ‘You can rebuild it as a very high-class copy. There are enough drawings and evidence and photographs. We know enough about it.

‘It won’t have the resonance of the original building, of course. But I don’t see the point of inviting contemporary architects to do their version of the Mack. You just might as well do a completely new school.’

Chipperfield went on: ‘So I don’t think it’s a technical question. I think it’s financial. It requires enormous scholarship and diligence to do such thing and, I’m sorry to say, an enormous amount of money.’

The architect predicted it would be ‘very difficult’ for the educational community or politicians to justify the expenditure for such a costly rebuild in the current climate and at a time when ‘schools needed new roofs’.

Chipperfield said its current condition the Mackintosh building could not be compared with that of the Neues Museum when he took on that job, meaning a different approach would be needed in Glasgow.

He said: ‘You can’t do a Neues Museum. Fifty per cent of the building was left and 50 per cent disappeared. It had been a ruin for 60 years, so it had status as a ruin. The Mack has no status as a burnt-out shell.

‘The Neues Museum was quite romantic – it was quite extraordinary when you walked around. But the Glasgow School is not.’

In 2021, the GSA ruled out constructing a contemporary work of architecture to replace the landmark, which was gutted by fire six years ago while undergoing a £35 million restoration programme led by Page\Park Architects, following an earlier blaze in 2014.

A year later the school began looking for an architect to oversee a ‘faithful reinstatement’ of the building – on the lines that Chipperfield has suggested – a project then priced at £62 million.

However, in early 2023 the GSA scrapped this procurement process, blaming a ‘technical error in the scoring matrix used’. The school said a new invitation would be issued ‘in due course’ following a review and that it remained committed to its original restoration timetable with the scheme scheduled to complete in 2028. However, the school has yet to relaunch its search for a design team.

Christian Werner

Source:Image by Christian Werner

David Chipperfield




Responding to Chipperfield’s thoughts, architect Alan Dunlop, who has previously been critical of a rebuild project, calling instead for a new scheme, said: ‘His experience and expert opinion is the most valid of all the commentators who have expressed their view on what should happen now to the school of art, including my own.

‘Also the most valuable, given that he has successfully and sensitively restored a building of historic importance to much-deserved international acclaim.

‘However, given what Chipperfield has said – that it will be a money issue not a technical one – I don’t know how that will be possible without government support and public funds.

‘In my estimation a faithful reinstatement will cost at least £100 million and I can’t see how that will be raised by the school alone.’

The GSA has been contacted for comment.

What is a faithful reinstatement (statement from 2021)?

The GSA’s preferred way forward comprises a full reinstatement of the Mackintosh Building including retaining and reusing the remaining structure. This includes the reuse of the existing foundations and remaining stone/masonry external walls and remaining internal walls and floors where possible.

The existing external walls will be supported by a new temporary façade retention structure, if necessary, to allow the construction of a new internal frame which the external walls will be tied back into to create a new solid structure.

Iconic spaces, such as the library, board room, director’s office, Mackintosh Room, Lecture theatre, Studio 58, the Hen Run, loggia, museum and Studio 11 will be reinstated together with all the other spaces including studios.

This option also takes account of being compliant with the latest building regulations.


Mackintosh library in 2014 before the fire