Alice Milligan admires Glasgow School of Art’s main building, designed by aluminus Charles Rennie Mackintosh, but finds the neighbouring Bourdon Building lazy

Alice Milligan

The Glasgow School of Art by Charles Rennie Mackintosh was designed in the late 1890s when the architect was aged just 28. The internal spaces appear to be tributes to light and shadow, whereby light is treated almost as a finite resource. It is drawn into the building with craft and care.
It is inherently a hardy building, standing proud atop one of the tallest hills in Glasgow, designed to take the daily beating that only the Scottish climate and paint-wielding art students could provide. It is delicate but robust, decorative yet honest - filigree metalwork to the front facade may appear attractive yet the detailing is actually designed to support window cleaners reaching the expansive north facing glazing.

Corridor spaces become extensions of the studios, stairs become informal meeting points as the whole building becomes an interpretation of “student life”, still relevant over a century after its conception.

Conversely the neighbouring Bourdon Building, home to the Mackintosh School of Architecture, is a stereotypical example of reductive modernism, lacking any expression of the often frenetic energy concealed within. Built in the sixties it lacks adequate levels of natural lighting or ventilation to properly accommodate several hundred architecture students and their highly detailed work. Students don’t often need much of an excuse to socialise, but the lack of circulation space fails to promote any community structure. At best this building represents a lazy interpretation of the requirements of an educational facility, at worst a representation of the misguided arrogance of post-war design in the UK.

Alice Milligan is an architectural assistant at John Thompson & Partners


Former student Charles Rennie Mackintosh set out designs for the school in 1896. It was completed in 1909, with building work mainly funded by private donations. The school moved from it’s previous premises in buildings on Sauchiehall Street.


The last of Glasgow School of Art’s triumverate (along with the Foulis and Newbery Tower) of new academic buildings which took 17 years to build, the Bourdon Building was completed in 1979. It houses the Mackintosh School of Architecture.