Learning Center
Plans & pricing Sign in
Sign Out
Your Federal Quarterly Tax Payments are due April 15th Get Help Now >>

Open letter from William JR Curtis - The Architects' Journal


									From William J. R. Curtis

                            Sunday 20 March , 2011 (8PM French time)

The recent Council Report on the Holl scheme for the Glasgow School of Art is a preposterous
document full of slanted information and half truths. It is not worthy of an open democratic
society where transparency should reign. Why are people trying to hide so much in an effort at
sliding this totally inadequate architectural project through?? This document does not reflect
well on the Scottish establishment, its 'useful idiots' in academia, the Glasgow City Council or the
Glasgow School of Art itself. What does it say about the architect and his way of working? That is
for the reader to decide.

One of the most preposterous features of the Report is its repression of the truth concerning the
negative press that the scheme has received. I have rarely seen anything like this but we are told
in this zany document that the media have been 'laudatory'!! Black is white and up is
wonder these folks are having a hard time seeing what the average taxi driver can see, namely
that this building is totally out of place and out of scale. The mountains of verbiage in the Report
read like spells and incantations, a wish list of all the things that the Holl project is supposed to
be but is not. The path to architectural mediocrity is pathed with politically correct intentions.
But we are obliged to live in buildings not edifices spun with empty words.

As there is a propaganda effort in the recent Council Report at down-playing the criticism of the
Holl scheme in the media, it is important to set the record straight . I am quite used to being
the'invisible man' but the Report takes this denial of my widely published and discussed critical
positions of the Holl scheme to an extreme: I am quite simply not mentioned at all!! It is a bit
like one of those official photos where inconvenient individuals are airbrushed out!! Let us also
recall that my critical piece in Architects Journal of early November 2010 'Facing up to
Mackintosh' got 78% full approval from the readership; with 14% in large agreement; 8%

The piece in Architectural Record in February 2011 was also followed by an avalanche of severe
criticisms of Holl's problematic scheme, some very perceptive, some devastating...over 90%
critical . None were 'laudatory' and even the ones that had something positive to say about Holl
had doubts about this particular scheme!!

As for my 'Open Letter to the Governors, Director, Faculty, Students etc etc' of the GSA dated
28th February 2011, this was printed in Architects Journal and placed on the Architectural
Record site (reference above). It was also sent to the Glasgow School of Art and printed out on
large pieces of paper so the School certainly received it!!!!. Many of these posters were plastered
all over the walls and doors of the studios for students and faculty to read !!! ('officials' removed
them as soon as possible which maybe says something about the style of 'debate' and
'consultation' in the GSA).

In line with correct procedure I also sent into the Glasgow City Hall the enclosed 4 page letter of
Objections dated 4 March 2011. This went to their email site and reception was it got 15.44 hrs and 33 seconds on Monday 7 March 2011 to be very
precise !!
That same evening of the 7th March the Holl scheme was mysteriously withdrawn from the
agenda of the 8th March Council meeting.....and then last week the famous 'whitewash' Report
was put out by the Council....the 39 page committee report (Committee document 1a) via this

I draw your attention to this passage in the Report

Whilst this process and the originally conceived design ethos of the new building has been
lauded by the media,

it must be acknowledged that there has also been a minority view expressing some public
criticism aired in both

the national press and architectural journals which is unsurprising given the significance of the
site in relation to

its position directly opposite Mackintosh’s masterpiece. The comments mainly refer to the
materiality of the

building, its detailed form and refinement (sic!) its unconventional appearance and its
overbearing impact. However, it

should be noted that no such opinions have been articulated to the Council through the planning

process or directly to the School before, during or after the PAC process and, as such, regardless
of their

viewpoint cannot be viewed as a material consideration in the assessment of the planning

'Lauded by the media' !!! ???? Which media?? In fact the project has been assassinated in the
press (not least by myself) but also by Rowan Moore of the Guardian and Martin Filler of the
New York Review of books. Not to mention the hundreds of devastating rejections in the
comments sections, some of them dead on!!! Hardly a 'minority view' !!

Please also note that the above passage is wrong about the arrival of critical opinions. My Open
letter did indeed get to the GSA and my Objections did indeeed get to the Glasgow Council
Planning Office.....But there is no mention of my name anywhere in their entire Report !!! Just a
list of exaggerated claims for the project and one or two weedy suggestions for minor changes....

This is all very fishy as are many of the statements in the Report which desperately try to
answer the criticisms in mountains of verbiage. Suddenly this 'robotic' project (to reuse Rowan
Moore's word) has become chummy and civilised, bowing and scraping to Charles Rennie,
extending the'public realm' (ugh that cliché!)...Suddenly too it is supposed somehow to have
adjusted itself to the scale of Renfrew Street... But study those dimensions carefully, for there is
a sleight of hand...There is fudging on the crucial question of the relative heights of the buildings
and the key dimension of the cornice line of the Old Mac is conveniently ignored.....Holl's facade
still totally overwhelms Mackintosh !!
It is not in rewriting the menu that you alter the meal....The Holl project is fundamentally flawed.
The problems are far too basic to be solved by jiggering about with glazing, and inserting slots
between walls and glass where we assured insects will not dare to tread !! Remember that
when Holl was selected as architect the there was no obligation to go along with the interview
scheme. That was the moment when the client should have insisted upon a complete redesign to
make the scheme respond to the setting and, among many other things, respect the cornice
height of the Old Mac. This was not done so instead we have the obfusctaory fictions of the
Council Report.

I did not know that there were ostriches in Scotland but apparently there are a lot of heads
buried in the sand!!! Look at the long list of fancy institutions in Scotland cited in the Report
who support the motion. It is a sad comment really on the state of things. Do they realize the
damage that they are doing to the national hero Mackintosh and to his universal masterpiece?

I enclose my Objections Letter dated 4 March 2011 in full. Perhaps this could go on your site as
it may one day be seen as a historical document of some importance. People will be able to say:
at least William J. R. Curtis stood up for Charles Rennie Mackintosh's masterpiece in the face of
mediocrity! But the Glasgow Council makes no mention of this letter in its whitewash job.

Really it is quite sad when 'procedure' is introduced as a way of trying to squelch open debate
and deny inconvenient truths. The functionaries of the Glasgow School of Art and the Glasgow
City Council are in a state of denial about the very problematic nature of the Holl scheme which
is not at all in the long term interests of either Mackintosh or Glasgow.

'Quis custodiet ipsos custodies?' wrote Juvenal in his Satires: 'Who shall guard the guards

Best wishes

William Curtis

To top