2018 marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, possibly the most famous architect to hail from Glasgow and a leading figure of the European Art Nouveau movement. This is a complete guide to Mackintosh architecture in Glasgow and tells you exactly which museums, shops and tours to add to your Mackintosh itinerary. A Glasgow city guide for architecture lovers!
The research for this article was supported by VisitScotland and People Make Glasgow.
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The grand anniversary year, Mackintosh 150, is filled with events, exhibitions, seminars and workshops themes around the architecture and designs of this true Scottish icon. Perhaps one of the most creative figures in 20th century Scotland, Mackintosh has left an incredible legacy and buildings designed by him spread throughout the city until this day.
For visitors it is easy to gain access to some of his most famous designs – but where to start? I went on a tour to discover the best Mackintosh architecture buildings in Glasgow, and found out which museums, shops, tours and events offer the most of Mackintosh to you. This guide covers it all and more!
Museums with Mackintosh exhibitions
Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum
Argyle St, Glasgow G3 8AG
One of the highlights of the Mackintosh 150 celebrations is a new Mackintosh exhibition at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum entitled Charles Rennie Mackintosh: Making the Glasgow Style. It runs from 30 March – 14 August 2018 and displays around 250 items from the full spectrum of media, including stained glass, ceramics, mosaic, book design, metalwork, furniture, stencilling, embroidery, graphics, books, interiors and architecture. Some of the objects have never been displayed before and the exhibition includes both loans from private and public collections.
Despite its name, the exhibition does not focus on Mackintosh alone, but situates his artworks, designs and collaborations in the context of his time. Where did his influences come from; who did he collaborate with; who invested in his talent and who did he support in return? Those are the kind of questions that are answered in the exhibition, and it really gives you a rounder and more human image of the genius that was Mackintosh.
Some of the pieces had to be treated with extra-ordinate care in order to be conserved well enough to be exhibited and the curators have done a great job to contextualise Mackintosh and his contemporaries with world history in an accessible way.
One of the permanent exhibitions of the museum also exhibits arts objects and interiors produced by designers and artists working between 1890 and 1920. The so-called Glasgow Style Gallery focuses heavily on Mackintosh’s influence in this perios and features several of his works.
While the Kelvingrove Museum (incl. Glasgow Style Gallery) is free to enter, the special Mackintosh exhibition has an admission fee of £7 (adults).
House for an Art Lover
Bellahouston Park, Glasgow G41 5BW
The House for an Art Lover is based on a design by Mackintosh and his wife Margaret MacDonald. It is located in Bellahousten Park in the Southside of Glasgow and was originally designed for an ideas competition in 1901. Construction started only in 1989 and the house was opened to the public in 1996.
The interior and the entire first floor of the building are created after the couple’s drawings. Because they were not always to scale, the architects had to guess some of the dimensions and find their own solutions, but really, it is a great example of what the house might have looked like in Mackintosh and MacDonald’s minds. Because it was designed for a competition, without any limitations set by a potential client, it is said, that House for an Art Lover is potentially the closest to what Mackintosh would have wanted a building to look like inside-out.
Today, House for an Art Lover combines an art gallery and exhibition space with events venue and cafe, and is one of Glasgow’s top architectural attractions. Visitors can view a grand hall (which is also used for weddings), a music room with an inbuilt piano and the oval room, which would have been used as a gathering room for the ladies of the house after meals. Admission is £6 (adults).
11 Mitchell Ln, Glasgow G1 3NU
The Lighthouse was completed in 1895 for the Glasgow Herald newspaper and got its name from the tower which reaches high above the city. The building was designed by Mackintosh and his contemporary John Keppie, but the design of the tower is largely attributed to Mackintosh. The building was mostly used for offices and storage space for the newspaper, and the tower held a large water reservoir for emergencies.
Today the Lighthouse houses the Scottish Centre for Architecture and Design and is open to the public. All exhibitions are free to access, and from the third floor you can climb the staircase to the top of the tower. From there you can enjoy some of the best views over Glasgow.
One of the gallery spaces in the museum is dedicated to permanent exhibition of Mackintosh’s designs, drawings and models, and gives an overview of his buildings in and beyond Glasgow. Admission is free.
The Mackintosh House
82 Hillhead St, Glasgow G12 8QQ
The Mackintosh House is a brilliant museum to experience what it would have been like to live in Mackintosh’s very own residential home. The original house stood on Southpark Avenue and had to be demolished in the early 1960s as it was built across old mining works. However, its fixtures were preserved and reassembled as part of the Hunterian Art Gallery inside a purpose-built concrete building – much like Mackintosh would have liked to see his own home to look like. The interior has been furnished with original own furniture and decorated as closely to the home of Mackintosh as possible.
Admission is £6 (adults), self-guided in the afternoons Tuesday to Friday and all day Saturday and Sunday, and with guided tours only Tuesday to Thursday before 1pm. The guided tour lasts for about half an hour, but is really worth getting up early for! Only with a guide, I felt like I really understood how every room was conceptualised as a whole piece of art in itself, with all fittings, pieces of furniture, lights and decorations working together.
Unfortunately, no photography is allowed in the house.
Mackintosh buildings in Glasgow
The School of Art
167 Renfrew St, Glasgow G3 6RQ
The Glasgow School of Art visitor centre, shop and exhibition spaces in the neighbouring Reid building are closed to visitors until 1 October 2018.
Glasgow School of Art © People Make Glasgow
The Glasgow School of Art shows some of Mackintosh’s most intricate designs. The west wing of the building was destroyed in a fire in 2014. The restoration was in full swing and the building supposed to be reopened in 2019, but another fire hit the School in June 2018. Is is unclear, whether the building can be safed at this stage and the future of the Mackintosh design is uncertain.
Mackintosh at the Willow
217 Sauchiehall St, Glasgow G2 3EZ
The original Willow Tea Rooms building at 217 Sauchiehall Street was opened in 1903 and designed for Kate Cranston, one of Mackintosh’s biggest supporters and local tea room entrepreneur. While Mackintosh also designed elements at other tea rooms owned by Ms Cranston, this is the only one he designed both, the interior and the exterior.
In 2014 the building was bought by the Willow Tea Rooms Trust and has been restored to its original state. The aim was not just to reinstate the tea rooms, but also Ms Cranston’s Salone De Luxe and a visitor centre with an interactive exhibition area, retail, conference and learning and education facilities and a dedicated tours and information desk.
All the furniture and fittings of the interior were reconstructed from images and drawings, as close to the original as possible. The Trust worked with an Expert Advisory Panel and the restoration was under the close scrutiny of the leading Mackintosh experts in the world. Even the most knowledgable Mackintosh expert will have a hard time telling the difference between the original furniture in the museums and the replicas in the tea rooms.
Mackintosh at the Willow opened in July 2018.
Mackintosh Church (Queen’s Cross)
870 Garscube Rd, Glasgow G20 7EL
Queen’s Cross is the only church designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and was built in 1987. It is located in Maryhill, slightly off the beaten track – if such a thing even exists in Glasgow. It’s design is rather unusual for a church, lacking a tall spire and looking more like a Norman castle.
Today, the church is home to the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society and exhibits beautiful stained glassed and relief carvings on wood and stonework after Mackintosh’s designs.
225 Scotland St, Glasgow G5 8QB
This school was built between 1903 and 1907 to serve the densely populated Tradeston neighbourhood. The building is really magnificent and shows a lot of interesting features, like the glazed towers that light the staircases.
The school was operated until 1979 and the building re-opened as museum of education in 1990. One of the rooms is dedicated to Mackintosh’s drawings and designs of the building.
Other Mackintosh buildings in Glasgow include the Daily Record Printing Works on Renfield Lane, Martyr’s School on Castle Street, Queen Margaret College on Queen Margaret Drive (partly demolished and awaiting redevelopment), The Mackintosh House in Hillhead and The House for an Art Lover in Bellahousten Park (more below).
Want more? At the tourist information in the Buchanan Galleries you can pick up a little leaflet called ‘Mackintosh at a glance’/’Glasgow at a glance’ which lists the highlights of Glasgow’s architecture, including 11 buildings by Mackintosh.
There is a number of guided and self-guided tours in Glasgow that focus entirely on the life and designs of Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
Self-Guided Mackintosh Tours
The aforementioned Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society has created three downloadable maps for self-guided walking tours around Glasgow’s city centre and west end. The tours include some of Mackintosh’s buildings, but also a few other architectural highlights of Glasgow.
You can download all three maps here.
Mackintosh’s Glasgow Walking Tours
This tour is currently on hold, due to the June 2018 fire at the Glasgow School of Art.
Offered by the Glasgow School of Art, Mackintosh’s Glasgow Walking Tours introduce you to the best of Mackintosh architecture in Glasgow. You get to see some of his his lesser known architectural gems and buildings by his contemporaries, all working in the acclaimed ‘Glasgow Style’ Art Nouveau.
Tours last 2 hours 15 minutes and run from Thursday to Monday (April to September). Tickets are £19.50 (adults) and it’s wise to book ahead as the tours are limited to 20 people.
Mackintosh at the GSA
This tour is currently on hold, due to the June 2018 fire at the Glasgow School of Art.
The student-led Mackintosh at the GSA tour is also offered by the Glasgow School of Art. It includes everything you want to know about the architects own journey from student to master, as well as the history of the building and exhibits from the School’s Mackintosh furniture collection.
The great thing about Mackintosh designs is that they are super versatile and can be used in almost any shape or form you could imagine. From bookmarks and post cards to umbrellas, t-shirts, re-usable shopping bags, silk scarfs, wall hangings, art prints and intricate jewellery – there definitely is a Mackintosh souvenir for every taste.
The best places to shop for them are museum shops, particularly at House for an Art Lover, Mackintosh House, the Lighthouse and of course the Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum.
The Willow Tea Rooms at 97 Buchanan Street and at Watt Brothers, which are inspired by Mackintosh architecture and designs, stock some beautiful Mackintosh jewellery, art prints and everyday-use articles. This is a separate business than Mackintosh at the Willow.
Leave some space in your suitcase!
Where to stay in Glasgow
Unfortunately, Glasgow does not have a boutique “Mackintosh hotel”, where all the furniture, decorations and fittings are inspired by the artists designs (the avid reader will smell a business opportunity here).
There are two hotels who call themselves Mackintosh hotels, but the reviews aren’t great and except for a few decorative details in public areas of the hotel, they don’t seem to look any different than other 3-star hotels in the city.
The city might not have a medieval castle, but Glasgow’s architecture and design really is well-worth a visit. Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his contemporaries have left a legacy of beautiful buildings, designs and artworks around the city, which make Glasgow top-notch getaway for art lovers.
Have I inspired you to plan a trip to Glasgow to explore some of its Art Nouveau architecture?
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