Day two in Glasgow was time-tabled like a military procedure; we had a lot to cram in and, although I knew it was physically impossible to do it all, there’s never any harm in trying.
After a quick breakfast, we headed across town to the Necropolis. What a cheery way to start the day. The cabbie clearly thought I’d lost the plot when I gave our destination and asked me to repeat myself several times. This cemetery is impressive and, as we explored the endless paths at sunrise (9am), the graves shimmered in the early morning light. The Necropolis is one of the most significant cemeteries in Europe, both in size and design. Built on a hill, it has a close relationship to the cathedral and a spectacular vantage point over the whole city. It was designed as a botanical and sculpture garden ‘to improve the morals and tastes of Glaswegians’ and act as a historical record and reminder of past greatness. The map at the entrance showed a web of tangled paths and, instead, I made my own way around, trudging up steep hills to get to the best and most beautiful stones.
Glasgow Necropolis. Own photograph.
The 13th century Cathedral is mostly intact and, although it is an obviously dominating structure, it has an unobtrusive presence, with a calming atmosphere. The lower church houses the tomb of St Mungo, Glasgow’s patron saint, who appears in visual imagery across the city.
The Cathedral. Own photograph.
After all that walking, it was time for a rest and it seemed only appropriate to combine this with a cultural visit. Willow Tea Rooms, was designed in 1904 by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. It was the only tea room building where he was given complete control over every aspect of the design, right down to the cutlery and uniforms. The building is located on Sauciehall Street, meaning alley of willows, and, although often abstracted, the willow imagery features in every aspect of the design. I enjoyed some hearty Scottish porridge while admiring Mackintosh’s attention to detail (sadly, they don’t still use his cutlery today). Upstairs, the Room de Luxe is the most magnificent part of the design and, when the tea room first opened, customers paid extra to use this room.
The Room de Luxe, Willow Tea Rooms. Own photograph.
Just a stone’s throw away is the Glasgow School of Art where Mackintosh studied, graduating in 1893-4. In 1898, his designs (as part of the firm Honeyman & Keppie) were selected to use for the new GSA. Built at the turn of the century, this remarkably modern building was at the forefront of new expression and a celebration of materials found in Glasgow. The incredible detail in this building cannot be underestimated; Mackintosh was a perfectionist and, for him, the unity of design completed a project properly. He designed buildings as a whole and, although fire regulations have necessitated the insertion of interior doors, this space was intended to flow uninterruptedly leading people forwards. In this same vein of movement, Mackintosh controlled the light throughout the building; the corridors were dark, encouraging people to their studios which were filled with natural light from vast windows. This was the second public building in Glasgow to have electricity, helping to extend working hours. In order to help students be in the right place at the right time, there are clocks across the whole building, ensuring that tardiness was never an option.
The Mackintosh Room. Image courtesy of Eric Thorburn and via www.gsa.ac.uk.
Mackintosh’s gorgeous library at the GSA is described as the masterpiece within the masterwork. It is a realm of architecture unparalleled, except maybe by Soane. The space is ingenious, intended to be quiet and sombre, conducive to study. Formed from three connecting spaces, although only two are immediately apparent, the height of the library is the same as that of the main studios. Now, absurdly, only the librarian and archivist are allowed upstairs as the library corridor is 1.1m wide rather than 1.2m which means it is officially unusable (health and safety rears its head again). There does appear to have been some dubious conservation in this space, with the wood upstairs being restored in a darker stain and some of the library furniture being handled less than tenderly, but it is incredible all the same.
Detail of the Mackintosh Library. Image courtesy of Eric Thorburn and via www.gsa.ac.uk.
Amazingly, the GSA is still a working space, used as Mackintosh intended it to be and tours are run twice daily by students of the art school. We went on a tour led by Maya, a 4th year interior design student, who certainly knew her stuff. It was lovely to hear about the building from the perspective of somebody who is lucky enough to use it on a daily basis.
The Glasgow School of Art. Own photograph.
The GSA holds over 200 pieces of Mackintosh furniture and the final room covered by the tour is the furniture gallery, a room of wonderful Mackintosh chairs. One, a curved lattice-backed chair from 1904, is from the Willow Tea Rooms where it acted as a semi-transparent divider between the front and back salons on the ground floor. Used by the supervisor, the chair has a secret compartment under its seat for the takings, meaning that she was effectively sitting on her assets. Unifying the design scheme, the chair casts a shadow of a willow onto the floor.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Willow Chair, 1904. Image via http://upstagedbydesign.com.
We took a quick stroll around the nearby area to take in Tenement House (a typical Victorian building of 1892) which is currently closed to the public for winter, before hurrying off for lunch at Brian Maule.
Tenement House. Own photograph.
But, we didn’t have long as we had to be in time for the afternoon tour around the City Chambers. Now, this doesn’t sound that exciting as the building is home to the City Council but…wow! You wouldn’t even know you were still in Glasgow. This is a perfect example of Victorian civic architecture, designed by Glaswegian architect William Young, and an imposing symbol of the city’s political strength and historical wealth. Completed in 1888, it incorporates many styles: pillars of marble and granite lead to staircases of Carrera marble, freestone and alabaster (one is reputed to be the largest white Carrera marble staircase in the world); three sumptuously decorated rooms lead up to the magnificent banqueting hall which is 33.5 metres wide; and, as you come out of the minstrels’ gallery, a Wedgwood ceiling adorns a display of portraits of past Lord Provosts.
Staircase at City Chambers. Own photograph.
This was the most unexpected place I visited in Glasgow and shows that you can’t judge a book by its cover. If you’re offered a tour of the Council then rush to it!
And rush we did but this time to House for an Art Lover. In 1901, Mackintosh entered a competition, set by a German magazine, to design a ‘House for an Art Lover’. 35 entrants submitted designs but Mackintosh was actually disqualified from the competition for not submitting the correct number of drawings. Still, his entry was awarded a special prize in recognition of his work that pushed the boundaries of architecture.
House for an Art Lover. Image via www.houseforanartlover.co.uk.
The vision of consultant engineer, Graham Roxburgh, led to Mackintosh’s ideas coming to fruition and over one hundred years after he first drew his designs, they now stand completed. Working with skilled professionals from the Glasgow School of Art, the team of architects had to turn 14 competition drawings into 500 working drawings to create the house. In the exhibition rooms, you can compare Mackintosh’s original designs with what actually stands today. Although some of his plans are remarkably detailed, he also left large areas unresolved which resulted in research into existing buildings to decide how to complete each section. They have done a grand job and every detail has been considered; even the carpet has been split into sections according to what sizes would have been available to Mackintosh in the 19th century.
Dining Room, House for an Art Lover. Image via www.houseforanartlover.co.uk.
My favourite room has to be the music room. Contrasting the spacious and lofty main hall and intimate, darkened dining room, this is a bright long interior with dazzling white walls, flooded with natural light. The longest wall becomes a symphony of the imagination, the room a symbolic glade in a forest.
We were lucky enough to have a private tour and soak up the space to ourselves. This is a house that never was, a house for an art lover, a house for a Mackintosh lover or a house for anyone who fancies a party and entertaining. Mackintosh’s vision has been beautifully crafted and brought to life and the house is now used in very much the way he would have intended, showing the power of vision – both his and that of today’s craftsmen.
Although quite compact, House for an Art Lover really gives you a feel for what Mackintosh was doing and was one of the highlights of our trip.
Music Room, House for an Art Lover. Image via www.houseforanartlover.co.uk.
Everything in Glasgow seems to shut at 5pm but I wasn’t content to call it a day so decided that, since it was pitch black and raining, it had to be the perfect time for a walking tour to take in a couple more Mackintosh buildings and the Egyptian Halls – sadly, the scaffolding prevented us from seeing this. Sometimes, even I know when enough is enough and as the rain got heavier, we gave in and headed to a cocktail bar next to GoMA where I could have a better look at all my new Mackintosh books (I didn’t think three was excessive at all) and re-energise for dinner at Ubiquitous Chip.
The Egyptian Halls and its scaffolding. Own photograph.
It was nearly midnight when the Caledonian Sleeper departed from Glasgow, heading back to London. What an exciting way to travel. All aboard!
To see more of my pictures from the trip, visit www.facebook.com/chloenelkinconsulting. For information on all the buildings and galleries visited on day two see; www.glasgownecropolis.org, www.glasgowcathedral.org.uk, www.willowtearooms.co.uk, www.gsa.ac.uk, www.nts.org.uk/property/tenement-house, www.glasgow.gov.uk/en/YourCouncil/CityChambers/guidedtours.htm and www.houseforanartlover.co.uk.