Glasgow School of Art

The Glasgow School of Art (GSA) is Scotland's only public, self-governing art school offering undergraduate degrees; post-graduate awards (both taught and research-led) and PhDs in architecture, fine art and design.

Glasgow School of Art
Glasgow School of Art's Mackintosh building, photographed in 2005
TypePublic university-level art school
Academic staff
Administrative staff
Students2,195 (2016/17)[1]
Undergraduates1,585 (2016/17)[1]
Postgraduates610 (2016/17)[1]
Director (Interim)Irene McAra-McWilliam
AffiliationsUniversity of Glasgow

The school is housed in a number of buildings in the centre of Glasgow, upon Garnethill, an area first developed by William Harley of Blythswood Hill in the early 1800s. The most famous of its buildings was designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh in phases between 18961909. The eponymous Mackintosh Building soon became one of the city's iconic landmarks and stood for over 100 years. The building was severely damaged by fire in May 2014 and destroyed by a second fire in June 2018, with only the burnt-out shell remaining.[2]

In 2019, GSA was placed 8th in the 2019 QS World Rankings for Art and Design.[3]


Founded in 1845 as the Glasgow Government School of Design, the school changed its name to The Glasgow School of Art in 1853. Originally located at 12 Ingram Street the school moved to the McLellan Galleries in Sauchiehall Street in 1869.

In 1897, work began on a new building nearby to house the school on Renfrew Street, funded by a donation of £10,000 from the Bellahouston Trust, left from the will of Moses Stevens of Bellahouston.[4] The building was designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, chosen for the commission by the school's director, Francis Newbery, who oversaw a period of expansion and fast-growing reputation. The first half of the building was completed in 1899 and the second half in 1909.

The School's campus has grown since that time and in 2009 an international architectural competition was held to find an architect-led design team who would develop the Campus Masterplan and design the Phase 1 building. The competition was won by New York-based Steven Holl Architects[5] working with Glasgow-based JM Architects.[6] The Reid Building was completed in 2014 and sits opposite the now destroyed Mackintosh Building on a site previously occupied by the Foulis, Assembly and Newbery Tower Buildings.

The school has produced most of Scotland's leading contemporary artists including, since 2005, 30 per cent of Turner Prize nominees and five recent Turner Prize winners: Simon Starling in 2005, Richard Wright in 2009, Martin Boyce in 2011, Duncan Campbell in 2014 and Charlotte Prodger in 2018.

The School of Architecture is highly rated by the architecture profession[7] and the School of Design has been described by Design Week as "leaders in design education".[8]

The School is organised into five academic schools:

GSA also has a long-established portfolio of non-degree art and design classes for children and adults delivered through GSA Open Studio.

Disciplines within the five schools include fine-art photography (founded by Thomas Joshua Cooper in 1982); painting and printmaking, sculpture and environmental art, product design, product-design engineering, textile design, fashion design, silversmithing and jewellery design, interior design, communication design, interaction design, and architecture.


2014 fire

The original Mackintosh building was severely damaged by fire on 23 May 2014.[9][10] An initial fire service estimate was that 90 per cent of the building and 70 per cent of its contents had been saved.[11] The fire, which began in the basement, quickly spread upwards and, although it was brought under control quite quickly, significant damage was done to the historic studios and stairways. The renowned Mackintosh library was destroyed; the archive was water damaged, but was able to be air and freeze dried. There were no reported casualties.[12]

The fire broke out as students were preparing for their Degree Show. Eyewitnesses said that the fire appeared to have started when a projector exploded in the basement of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh building just before 12:40 pm.[9][13] Investigators later determined that the cause was not a faulty projector, but "a canister of expanding foam" used in close proximity to a hot projector, causing flammable gases to ignite.[14] According to The Scotsman newspaper, the use of aerosol cans is against school policy. The report from the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service found that the design of the building contributed greatly to the spread of the fire: "the number of timber lined walls and voids, and original ventilation ducts running both vertically and horizontally throughout the building" as well as "a vertical service void", which "ran the entire height of the building … [and] allowed flames, hot gases, and smoke to travel". Fire and smoke dampers, which are intended to prevent the spread of fire and smoke through ducts, had not been retrofitted. In addition, an intended fire suppression system for the building had not been completed. A school staff member was on hand when the blaze first ignited, but was unable to contain the fast-spreading flames.[15]


A careful restoration process began soon after the fire; work on restoring and recreating the Mackintosh design, including the famous library interior, started in 2016.[16] The restoration was performed with historical accuracy, including the use of original wood species such as longleaf pine and tulipwood.[17][18]

2018 fire

A large fire broke out in the Mackintosh Building on 15 June 2018, causing extensive damage. Emergency services received the first call at 11:19 pm BST, and 120 firefighters and 20 fire engines were dispatched to the fire.[19] No casualties were reported. The cause of the fire is not yet known.[2][20] Alan Dunlop, visiting professor of architecture at Robert Gordon University[21] who studied at the Mackintosh School of Architecture, was contacted by the press immediately after the fire and stated: "I can’t see any restoration possible for the building itself. It looks totally destroyed."[22] This point of view was not supported by the early external building surveys, which appeared to indicate that much of the exterior had survived, though extensively damaged. Drone footage enabled a clearer assessment of the extent of the interior damage, and a programme of partial dismantling was established to stabilise the portions of the facade at risk of collapse, notably the south elevation.[23] A Glasgow City Council spokesperson said: "There is a consensus emerging that the intention of the building control people, HES (Historic Environment Scotland) people and the art school is to save the building... Right now, people are operating on the understanding it will be saveable."[24] It was also noted by Roger Billcliffe that "It has been voted Britain’s most important building several times over, and we have all of the information needed to recreate every detail, following extensive laser surveys after the first fire."[25]

The first opportunity for the school administration to visit the site happened on 19 June 2018. Muriel Gray, Chair of the Board of Governors, stated: "This was the first opportunity for the expert team to see the building and begin what will be a long and complex process of determining the future of the Mack, but we remain optimistic. There is a huge desire to see Mackintosh’s masterpiece rise again, one which we all share. We have incredibly detailed information on the building collated over the last 4 years, and have worked with teams of talented craftspeople who were doing a tremendous job on the restoration."[26] In a subsequent statement to the BBC, Professor Tom Inns, director of the school, affirmed that "This building is not beyond saving. It will be saved in some form." He continued to support his firm belief that the building should continue in its function as a working art school, rather than a museum.[27]

Risk factors

At the time of the fire, sprinklers had yet to be installed in the building. Components for the fire suppression system had been delivered the day before, but were weeks away from assembly and testing. Building control officers have expressed concerns that the end walls may collapse. The building remains cordoned off and affected residents have been offered accommodation by Glasgow City Council.[28]

On 28 June 2018 it was announced that work is being planned to take down parts of the building that are in danger of collapse. Compensation for local residents and businesses will be made available by the Scottish Government.[29]

On 29 June 2018, Glasgow School of Art terminated its £25 million restoration contract with Kier following the Mackintosh Building fire.

Scottish Campuses

Glasgow Campus

The school has a large footprint across Glasgow: From the date of the first fire of May 2014, until September 2019 the School of Fine Art was temporarily housed in a campus at the Tontine Building, Merchant City, Glasgow.[30] The School of Design, The Innovation School and The Mackintosh School of Architecture, along with the GSA Library are all located in and around the Garnethill area, where the Mackintosh Building sits.

The Stow Building, bought from Kelvin College (hence retaining the name, Stow) - has been refurbished and fitted out. Stow opened to the general public for the first time for the 2019 degree show, and opened as a functioning academic building, housing all of the Fine Art courses, in September 2019.

The School of Simulation and Visualisation (formerly the Digital Design Studio (DDS)) is based on the southside of Glasgow in The Hub, at Pacific Quay by the River Clyde.[31]

The Mackintosh Building was the heart of the campus and continued to be a functioning part of the school until the first major fire on 23 May 2014. The building housed the Fine Art Painting department, first year studios and administrative staff. It houses the Mackintosh gallery which held many different exhibitions throughout the year. The Mackintosh Gallery (also known as the Mackintosh Museum) was the only part of the Mackintosh building open to the general public; all other areas of the school were only viewable by guided tour.[32] An exception to this rule was the Degree Show where all the studios within the Mackintosh building were opened to allow people to view the graduating year's final artworks. while the Mackintosh Building underwent restoration and the newly acquired Stow Building is refurbished.[33]

An international architectural competition was launched in March 2009 to find the design team to prepare a campus masterplan and detailed design of the first new building phase.[34] The winner of the competition was Steven Holl Architects,[35] working in partnership with Glasgow's JM Architects and Arup Engineering. Work commenced in 2011 and continued until 2013. The building was structurally complete in 2013.[36] The new building was named the Reid Building after the Director who was in post at the time of the commissioning: Dame Seona Reid, and won Building of the Year at the 2014 Architect's Journal awards – the AJ100 Awards in May 2014, and the Award for Arts or Entertainment Structures at the IStructE's 2014 Structural Awards.

Forres - Altyre Estate Campus

The Innovation School also has a base in Forres, Morayshire; focusing on research-led teaching at post-graduate level.

Singapore Campus

Since September 2012, the GSA has delivered years 3 and 4 of its Bachelor of Arts (Hons) Programmes in Communication Design and Interior Design in Singapore, in partnership with the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT), based at the Temasek Polytechnic Campus in Tampines.

The programmes enable Diploma students from the Singapore Polytechnics to progress from a Diploma to a BA (Hons) degree.

Students studying in Singapore benefit from the same programme of study and award as in the home institution, along with resources and equipment according to the GSA specifications.


The GSA has been ranked in the top 10 of specialist educational institutions in The Guardian University Guide, ranking it the top specialist visual arts institution in the UK.[37] Its degrees are validated by the University of Glasgow. Of its 1,900 students, almost 20 per cent are international, 20 per cent from the rest of the UK and approximately 20 per cent are postgraduate. The GSA is placed 8th in the 2019 QS World Rankings for Art and Design[38] and 2nd in the nationally ranking 2016 Complete University Guide league table for Art and Design.[39] HESA statistics show the GSA to have one of the lowest student drop-out rates in the UK.[40][41]

In 2002 the funding councils published figures which placed Glasgow School of Art as having the second-lowest number of students from a working-class background out of a list of UK higher education institutions. With 7 per cent of its students coming from social classes IIIm, IV and V (skilled manual, semi-skilled or un-skilled workers), the figures put it above Oxford and Cambridge in terms of exclusivity. Glasgow School of art disputed the figures, explaining that the majority of its applicants did not come through the UCAS system on which the statistics were based so the numbers involved were very small. This was reinforced by HEFCE, which said the figures should be treated with care.[42]

In March 2016, the Commission on Widening Access (CoWA) found the percentage of Scottish-domiciled full-time first degree entrants from SIMD 20 (20 per cent most deprived areas of Scotland) at the GSA was 22.2 per cent. This is the second highest in Scotland, according to CoWA's report, with only University of the West of Scotland having more.[43]


The Glasgow School of Art is host to a number of high-profile research projects, funded primarily through the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, and the Economic and Social Research Council, although other UK research councils have funded projects in the past.

At the last Research Assessment Exercise in 2014,[44] the GSA had the largest art and design research community in Scotland and with 23 per cent of research evaluated as world leading. The GSA has a number of research centres including the Digital Design Studio, Mackintosh Environmental Architectural Research Unit, Institute of Design Innovation,[45] Centre for Advanced Textiles and the Glasgow Urban Lab[46]

Research professors include Professor Thomas Joshua Cooper, Professor Alastair Macdonald, Professor Tim Sharpe, Professor Irene McAra-McWilliam OBE, Professor Sally Stewart, Professor Henry Rogers, Professor Johnny Rodger, Professor Christopher Platt, Professor Steve Love, Professor Paul Chapman and Professor Brian Evans.

Strike Action

2019 UCU Strike

Notable alumni


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