A building must be considered internally and externally as altering with every step you take. Now this necessity of giving a prophetic view of a non-existing structure requires some little artistic skill. . . . These drawings . . . give but a very poor idea of what reality will be.

—Charles Rennie Mackintosh, “Architecture” (untitled paper), ca. 1892

Between 1903 and 1909, Mackintosh worked on two major educational building projects: the Scotland Street Public School on the south side of Glasgow (completed in 1906) and the second phase of The Glasgow School of Art building (between 1907 and 1909). Mackintosh approached these large architectural commissions with determination and a commitment to create something inspirational. Because of their complexity and sophisticated design, these built structures are now viewed as his greatest achievements. They were also his last major architectural projects.

As Mackintosh mentally walked around the creations in his head to hone their three-dimensionality, his detailing and the interrelationship between the exterior and interiors would have come into focus. Multiple drawings show him developing his ideas for these two schools. Mackintosh drew on his study and understanding of traditional Scottish architecture, employing his preferred construction material—sandstone—which gave both visual solidity and structural stability to his buildings, as well as communicating a sense of history. Mackintosh made his buildings modern through a dramatic combination of imposing masses of stone and the expansive use of glass windows.

Scotland Street Public School: north elevation, August 1904
Designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868–1928), 1903–4
Office drawing by Honeyman, Keppie & Mackintosh Architects
Ink and wash on linen
Glasgow City Archives: Glasgow Dean of Guild Court, TD1309/A/520-6

In August 1903 the School Board of Glasgow commissioned Mackintosh to design a school for 1,250 children in the city’s south side. This drawing shows the slightly asymmetrical north facade of the building with separate entrances for boys and girls, located at the base of two light-filled Scottish Baronial-inspired stair towers. He created a smaller entrance for the youngest students (aged 5–7) in the center of this front elevation. Decorative elements—such as elaborate stone-carving, stained glass, and tiling—symbolically suggested Trees of Life and Knowledge. As Mackintosh developed his ideas, the building became increasingly ambitious, resulting in budget overruns and tumultuous exchanges with his client.

The Glasgow School of Art: east and west elevations, June 1907
Designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868–1928)
Office drawing by Honeyman, Keppie & Mackintosh Architects
Pencil, ink, and wash on linen
Glasgow City Archives: Glasgow Dean of Guild Court, B4/12/2/1964-12

This drawing shows the two phases of building at The Glasgow School of Art: the 1897–99 east elevation (outlined right) and the 1907–9 west elevation (colored left). Comparing these elevations—designed by Mackintosh ten years apart—helps demonstrate how bold and refined his approach to architecture had become in the course of a decade. The later west facade shows how his aesthetic had grown more modern, forcefully geometric, and restrained. By leaving a large almost-square expanse of blond sandstone unadorned to the left—interrupted by only one tiny window—Mackintosh created a dramatic contrast with the large windows to the right. The tallest windows of the west facade opened into the library, one of Mackintosh’s most striking interiors. The drama of his design was heightened further by the steep drop of the hill on which the School was built.

Door from the basement gentlemen’s toilet cubicle, Miss Cranston’s Ingram Street Tearooms, 1907–8
Designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868–1928)
Probably made by joiners William McCall & Sons
Stained wood, enameled opal glass, metal, and ceramic
Glasgow Museums: Acquired by Glasgow Corporation as part of the Ingram Street Tearooms, 1950, ISTR.14.NW.70

For the 1907–8 extension of Miss Cranston’s Ingram Street Tearooms, Mackintosh chose to clad the interiors in warm, brown-stained wood. By utilizing the inherent qualities of the materials—the sheen of polished wood, brass, and colored enameled glass—he illuminated even the darkest recesses in the interiors, playing with both natural and artificial light and the reflective effects they had upon surfaces to create his atmospheric spaces. Mackintosh’s ingenious approach undoubtedly drew from the lessons he had learned in 1891 when traveling around Italy, where he described the spectacle of sunlight hitting the gold and colored mosaic of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice as seeing “the darkest church in Europe . . . glorified by the sun.” The searing radiance of the deep indigo-blue inset and enameled glass in these much smaller tearooms—and restrooms—would have been captivating.

Light fitting, probably for the Billiards Room, Miss Cranston’s Ingram Street Tearooms, about 1907–8
Designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868–1928)
Probably made by Andrew Hutcheson, Glasgow
Brass, lead, and glass
Glasgow Museums: Acquired by Glasgow Corporation as part of the Ingram Street Tearooms, 1950, E.1986.112

Light fittings such as this reflector shade in brass, which probably hung over a billiards table in the Ingram Street Tearooms, maximized the radiance of early electric light. The shade’s deep-blue square glass inserts would have projected colored shapes onto the ceiling.

Mackintosh’s Architectural Accomplishments: 19001904
and Mackintosh’s Later Architectural Accomplishments: 1906–1917
© Culture and Sport Glasgow (Museums), 2019
Access and filming granted by kind permission of all building owners

Take a tour around some of Mackintosh’s key architectural achievements designed between 1900 and 1917:

Windyhill in Kilmacolm, 1900–1901
The Daily Record Building in Glasgow, 1900–1904
The Hill House in Helensburgh, 1902–4
After Dark explores Mackintosh’s designs for lampshades and how his interiors transform when illuminated by artificial light.
Scotland Street School in Glasgow: 1903–6
The Glasgow School of Art: 1897–99; 1907–9
78 Derngate in Northampton, England: 1916–17

Running time: 31 minutes, 30 seconds

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