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Mack to begin new architect search as spat with insurers heads to arbitration

Architects Journal by Gino Spocchia – 10 May 2024

The Mackintosh building will remain under wraps for two years before restoration work begins.  Source: Alan McAteer for GSA

The Glasgow School of Art (GSA) is set to begin a new search for architects to restore its fire-ravaged Mackintosh building but has revealed it is locked in a dispute with its insurers

In a major announcement made today (10 May). the school said it is, once again, seeking architects to restore the Mackintosh Building. However, this is now set to be delivered in stages, the AJ understands.

Meanwhile the institution has revealed it is heading to arbitration with the company that insured the A-listed gem (see full statement below). The Charles Rennie Mackintosh-designed 1909 landmark was extensively damaged by a major blaze in 2018. At the time, it was nearing the end of a £35 million restoration following a previous fire in 2014.

The Glasgow School of Art confirmed that work to date on the stabilisation and rebuild work, totalling around £18 million, has been paid for by interim payments from the insurers.

The latest procurement process comes more than a year after the AJ revealed the leading contenders in the original, bungled and then scrapped, tendering process.

As an addendum to the strategic outline business case (SOBCC) for restoring the building, a design team will be named by July to work to identify ‘the appropriate route to delivery’, the school said.

The amended business case is expected to bring cost consultants and economic impact experts together with a design team to outline an alternative vision for the project. Its conclusions will be made public in early 2025.

A procurement process for detailed design work and delivery will then be launched at a later date. However, any future restoration will likely be delivered in phases – and not by the original 2030 deadline for completion. The £62 million price tag is also expected to rise.

Glasgow School of Art director Penny Macbeth cited economic challenges as well as difficulties with insurers as reasons for the change of approach. But she stressed that the school remained committed to a ‘faithful reinstatement’ of the Mac as an arts school.

‘We are committed to the faithful reinstatement of the Mackintosh building, and for that to be done in an exemplary way, returning it as a working art school building at the heart of Glasgow’s creative and cultural eco-system,’ she said.

‘What we are now doing, through the SOBC Addendum process, [is] robustly testing our previous assumptions, economic impact, timelines and approaches to delivery, while initiating arbitration with our insurers …

‘[The SOBC] will ensure we can make strategic, evidenced-based decisions, ensuring the Mackintosh Building is successfully rebuilt and contributes to the regeneration of Sauchiehall Street and this part of Glasgow city centre.’

The update comes 14 months after the school scrapped its search for an architect to lead the restoration of the Mackintosh after admitting to a ‘technical error in the scoring matrix used in the procurement process’.

John McAslan + Partners and Hawkins\Brown were understood to have originally been awarded first and second place in the tendering process before the result was challenged and procurement process shelved.

Although the school committed to restarting the search for architects ‘in due course’ following a ‘thorough’ review conducted last year, the dispute with insurers effectively stalled progress for nearly a year, the AJ understands.

Stabilisation works were completed last year and a fire retardant wrapping has been covering the building since last summer to allow the structure to dry out. This means work is unlikely to begin before 2025-26.

The Mackintosh Building was the historic home of the school, which now has 2,500 undergraduate and postgraduate students studying art, design and architecture.

Few original features remain following the 2018 fire, although much of the façade is intact and stabilised after the removal of 5,500 tonnes of debris.

After a ‘complex and resource-intensive investigation’, which took the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service more than three and a half years to complete, firefighters admitted they still didn’t know how the fire started.

In October 2021, the school ruled out constructing a new building to replace the fire-ravaged structure and instead opted for a ‘faithful reinstatement’ of the 1909 architectural masterpiece.

Glasgow School of Art statement on insurance situation

We have chosen to enter into arbitration proceedings with its insurers. Since June 2018, the Glasgow School of Art has been working through the very complex insurance claim, supported by a team of external legal and insurance professionals.

Following publication of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service Fire Investigation Report in January 2022, insurers requested further information which the Glasgow School of Art provided to enable them to confirm policy cover.

In the absence of this confirmation, The Glasgow School of Art has chosen to initiate arbitration.

The arbitration process is subject to a confidentiality provision which means that we are not able to disclose any further details.

Work to date, totalling around £18 million, has been funded by interim payments from the insurers.