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Some time ago I started a series of blogs about my trip to Glasgow where I attended the fascinating RANN conference The Conservation of Art Nouveau Interiors. I omitted to finish the series though. Too busy. But I don’t like loose ends. So I’ll continue my sequence now.

If you want to refresh your memory, or didn’t read the first blogs at all, here’s a link to the IntroductionDay 1 and Day 2And here’s finally what happened on day 3…

Glasgow School of Art in Scaffolding

Glasgow School of Art in Scaffolding

This third day of our conference took place at the Reid Building of the Glasgow School of Art. The Reid Building is located opposite the well-known Mackintosh Building that was severely damaged during the 2014 fire. And believe me, having to walk past that ravaged Mackintosh building stirred my emotions. What a saddening picture to look at.

The Conservation of Historic Interiors – Glasgow, Scotland & Europe

  • Welcome – Prof. Tom Inns (Director Glasgow School of Art)
  • Introduction of the Réseau Art Nouveau Network – Breda Mihelic (Vice-President RANN, Director of the Urban Planning Institute of the Republic of Slovenia)

The Morning Session was chaired by Robyne Calvert (Mackintosh Research Fellow, GSA)

  • Keynote Speech – Ranald MacInnes (Head of Special Projects, Historic Environment Scotland)
  • Closer to Home: The Restoration of Leighton House Museum – Daniel Robbins (Senior Curator, Leighton House Museum)
  • The Restoration of the Mansfield Traquair Centre – Elizabeth Cumming (Curator/Historian)
  • Conservation and restoration decisions at the Willow Tea Rooms and Queens Cross Church – John Sanders (Partner at Simpson & Brown Architects)
  • Panel/audience discussion “Authenticity in Historic Interior Conservation”

The Afternoon Session was chaired by Peter Trowles (Mackintosh Curator, GSA)

  • Horta Museum Brussels Belgium: conservation of the interior of the former house and studio of architect Victor Horta – Barbara Van Der Wee (Architect, Brussels)
  • Historic interiors in the Art Nouveau architecture in Lombardia – Dr. Sonia Pistidda (Politecnico di Milano)
  • Restore or restart: questions of the reconstruction of three private interiors – Zsuzsa Margittai (Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest)
  • Panel Discussion & Closing remarks

Maison Horta in different construction fases

As you can guess from the above program, the conference took all day. I’ll therefore stick to the most interesting issue that was addressed by each of the above speakers.

As it turned out all these accomplished experts struggle with the same problem: the buildings they are restoring have been subject to changes over the past 100 years. And to which phase do you then restore? To phase 1, when the building was just completed? Or to a 2nd phase, when alterations were made by the original architect? Or, like in the case of the GSA Library, to the last phase before the fire?

John Sanders advised to find a balance between restoring back to original, and if necessary, replacing. To determine the original situation of the Willow Tea Rooms, his team researched for instance descriptions in old publications to colour-in original photo’s. Barbara Van Der Wee explained that her team, when restoring the Horta House, decided to restore back to the phase when the house was most harmonious, between 1909 and 1911. Things that had been added after 1911, like the garage, would not be restored back. And Sonia Pistidda added that sometimes you have to find a balance between conservation and usability.

All in all, I found the question that was raised by the speakers – to which phase do you go back when restoring a historic building – fascinating. I hope the team responsible for restoring the GSA Library may be inspired by todays suggestions as they are facing an almost impossible task.

Library Glasgow School of Art March 2016

Library Glasgow School of Art March 2016

During our lunch break we had a tour of the Glasgow School of Art Mackintosh building and the agonizing sight of the library almost brought me to tears. Such an iconic room, totally destroyed by that devastating fire on 23 May 2014. Gone forever. The only thing reminding us of the former interior were 4 carbonized pillars…

If all goes well though, the restoration of the Mackintosh building is expected to conclude by 7 June 2018, the 150th birthday of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. I can hardly wait to go back there and see the result of 4 years of meticulous research as well as endless days, months, even years of ordinary elbow grease.

The Willow Tea Rooms facade

At the end of the day all RANN-members were invited by The Willow Tea Rooms Trust for a presentation about their project. The Willow Tea Rooms Trust was established in 2014 as a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (SCIO) following the purchase of Miss Cranstons’s Tea Rooms by Celia Sinclair. The Trust acquired the Tea Rooms with the objective to restore them to Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s 1903 design whilst ensuring their preservation for subsequent generations.

The Willow Tea Rooms Trust Celia Sinclair

The Willow Tea Rooms Trust – Celia Sinclair

“The Willow Tea Rooms is an iconic building and I couldn’t simply stand by and watch it deteriorate,” explained successful commercial property entrepreneur, Trustee of Glasgow Art Club and lifelong admirer of Mackintosh’s work Celia Sinclair. “I’m a proud Glaswegian and I want to see its heritage preserved for the generations to come.

It was exiting to hear Celia talk about her plans and I found it enormously reassuring to know that someone who actually cares is now in charge of the Tea Rooms. If you wish to read more about The Willow Tea Rooms Trust, please visit their website or Facebook page.

If you would like to comment on the issues addressed in today’s seminar, please let me know in the comments below. In the mean time I’ll conclude this post with some more pictures of the exterior of the Willow Tea Rooms.


Read more
Art Nouveau European Route
Charles Rennie Mackintosh – wikipage
Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society
Glasgow School of Art – photographic tour
Glasgow School of Art – wikipage
Glasgow School of Art – The Guardian Chronologic timeline
Hillhouse, Helensburgh
House for an Art Lover
International Institute for Conservation pressrelease
The Conservation of Historic Interiors – Glasgow, Scotland and Europe
The Conservation of Art Nouveau Interiors Symposium 2016
The Lighthouse
Oradea in Coup de Fouet Magazine
Reseau Art Nouveau Network
Riga Art Nouveau Museum
Villa Darvas-La Roche
Willow Tea Rooms
The Willow Tea Rooms Trust

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