A little overdue, posting this diary from Dr Stuart Jeffrey, research fellow in International Heritage Visualisation at the Digital Design Studio…
In May, a fire destroyed some sections of The Glasgow School of Art’s A-listed Mackintosh Building.
In response, two symposia have been planned to address the entire range of issues surrounding the restoration of the building. The first symposium took place in the city of Venice last month, timed to coincide with the Venice architectural biennale , an ideal venue in which to stress the international significance of Mackintosh as an architect and The Glasgow School of Art Mackintosh building in particular as an outstanding example of his work. It was also important for the symposia to have as broad an audience and set of contributors as possible and the biennale is already a major attraction for architects and architectural conservationists from around Europe and beyond.
My presentation was part of a series of 10 minute talks from an eclectic mix of speakers who gave a very broad range of perspectives. These talks set the tone for the symposium, making clear that all aspects of the fire and the School’s future response to it were open for discussion. Particularly successful in this regard was Kate Davidson, who opened the session by asking the audience to contemplate the psychological effects of grief and to consider the loss of the Mackintosh library in this context. This was followed by a range of scholarly and thoughtful presentations on topics such as the original construction processes, the reconstruction process, potential uses of the building in future and the place of artistic practice in planning a response.
I was given the opportunity to present to this large and diverse audience on the potential uses and re-uses of 3D digital data in the process of thinking about the future of the building. The GSA has benefitted from the unusual position of having existing 3D laser scans of the exterior of the building from 2009/10 and were also in the position to call upon Digital Design Studio scanning teams to start internal and external scanning as soon as it was safe to enter the building. This work took place within hours of the fire starting and was carried out by a joint team from Historic Scotland and the DDS, who have long experience of working together through the Scottish Ten project . It was gratifying that the potential uses of this data (as well as the uses it has already been put to as part of the building stabilisation process) were warmly received by the audience. Proposed uses included the visualisation of alternate rebuilding/reconstruction schemes, analysis of building material and techniques, and the development of a scan-to-CAD-to-BIM workflow to underpin all technical aspects of building work.
More speculative uses of the scanned dataset (and proposed new datasets) were also discussed and research avenues centring on disaster planning and disaster management were prominently highlighted. In addition to the utility of the data for the management of technical aspects of reconstruction schemes, I was also given the opportunity to discuss the potential for these data, and models generated from them, in engaging communities of interest such as the student body with the reconstruction process as it develops.
Overall, this event was challenging, thought provoking and enjoyable. For me personally, it was an rare opportunity to be exposed to the world of professional architecture and the types of arguments and debates that this world engages with and as I result I came away both better informed and inspired.