Mackintosh and Materials

Ranald MacInnes, Head of Heritage Management, Historic Scotland

Overview     ^

Colour photograph of elliptical arch over ground-floor window

This essay discusses a selection of the materials and forms of construction Mackintosh used to create his architecture, outlines the context within which decisions were made about 'the nature of the material' to be used 1 and considers how this use contributes to our definition of Mackintosh as architect. Client preference, budget, building regulations and other factors all influenced an architect's choice of materials. How they were used was, by the second half of the 19th century, affected by the increasingly mechanized process of building construction. For Mackintosh this meant that his developmental working methods were frequently at odds with a tendency towards pre-construction precision and financial certainty. As the main item of cost, materials could be – and often were – a difficult issue for an artistically-oriented designer like Mackintosh.

Context     ^

The John Honeyman & Keppie / Honeyman, Keppie & Mackintosh (JHKM) job books testify to the complexity of putting up buildings, especially in the expanding city of Glasgow where the Dean of Guild Court was exerting an increasingly tight control over the process of development. 2 Safety in building, for example, had become a prime concern of the public authorities, especially in relation to the dangers posed by fire to physical safety and structural stability. The Factory and Warehouses Act (1895) included a schedule of 'fire-resisting materials'. We see Mackintosh experiment with a new 'fireproof' material – diatomite flooring – around this time at the Glasgow Herald building. The job books show that almost all of the firm's buildings were put up by a small group of contractors to whom they consistently returned. At this stage in the development of the construction industry there was typically no main contractor in charge of all the separate joiners, plasterers, plumbers, etc., and a key part of the architect's job was to marshal the building trades. Only very small jobs were handled by a single contractor. Consequently, there seems to have been a loyalty to and/or familiarity with some contractors, even to the extent that many of the buildings designed by JHKM outside Glasgow were also built by city-based firms. At Brechin Cathedral, and the adjacent house, Mary Acre, more than 100 miles N.E. of Glasgow, for example, more than half of the contractors were Glasgow-based.The architectural business Mackintosh entered at the age of 15 relied for its smooth functioning on a shared language of design, specification, materials and construction. For Mackintosh, the aspiring artist-architect, the practice of architecture was also theoretical and shaped by his studies at the Glasgow School of Art, which were largely based on classical architecture. Architectural theory had to mesh with the everyday business of building construction.

Scan of Ground, first-floor and roof plans drawing

So what materials were available and what drove the choices made by the architect in specifying one material over another, one form of construction? And what added pressure or scope did the increasingly large number of materials available to the late 19th-century architect create for Mackintosh? From the foundations to the roof, the materials available to and used by Mackintosh were stone (a fundamental design decision for Mackintosh), brick, plaster, iron, steel, glass, lead, paint, timber, asphalt, lime, terracotta, ceramic, cement and slate (mostly from the architect's preferred quarries at Ballachulish). A floor-plan drawing for 'Treeshill', a JHKM villa at Bridge of Weir (1906), includes a list of all the many materials to be used in this one, fairly modest project. 3 Mackintosh expressed materials honestly, in that they were what they appeared to be, but construction could be another matter. At Martyrs School, for example, where the rafters of the hall roof meet the wall, they appear to rest on pairs of brackets formed from beams projecting through the wall from the neighbouring classrooms and stairwells. In fact, the brackets have no structural significance and are purely ornamental.

B/W Advertisement for Ballachulish Slate, 'Glasgow Building Trades Exchange', 1896, p. 122 B/W Advertisement for Glasgow Portland Cement Co., 'Glasgow Building Trades Exchange', 1896, p. 124

There were many variations of course, but the basic building blocks of construction had been available to architects in Scotland for hundreds of years. Stone was the most important of these, an exceptional and abundant cultural and economic asset. At the other end of the scale was Portland cement, an expensive 19th-century innovation used by Mackintosh, which later led to significant problems, as we will see. Added to these materials were the many hundreds of patent products available by this time and advertised in the trade journals. In thinking about the business of architecture in Scotland in 1900, we can go back, briefly, 150 years before Mackintosh's time, to the 18th-century work of Robert Adam, who is occasionally presented as a kind of historical bookend with Mackintosh, appearing alongside him in a mosaic homage in the main entrance of the Glasgow School of Art. For Adam, specification, procurement and design involved detailing every element of a building's construction, if not necessarily the precise way in which it was to be constructed. Broadly, all of the materials used by Adam would be handmade for a particular function and constructed or extracted and worked close to the site. There are many exceptions, of course, especially where sea transport routes were available for prestige buildings, but for the most part local materials would be used where possible. These materials included everything from duck feathers for insulation to roof slates and glass. The scope or desire for expressing an architectural concept through materials, other than picturesque landscape buildings, was limited.

By 1900, the situation had changed dramatically. Architecture had become a form of industrial production often presented, ironically, as craft. With the advent of railways and canals, stone could be specified because of preference rather than proximity and this new arena of choice applied across the board. The epoch of the patent product had also arrived: the ventilation grille, the 'granolithic' floor, the metal and double glazed window. Among countless other building products that Mackintosh used on prestige jobs were Anderson's patent Vulcanite roofing, Stoffert's Patent 'Fram' Beams and Arch-Block, Hart's Trap, and British Doloment Lithic Flooring. 4

A complex world of technical devices and high architecture emerged. In the 1860s, Mackintosh's scholarly senior partner, Dr John Honeyman, devised a 'ventilating trap drain'. Mackintosh's contemporary, Sir Robert Lorimer, designed a flushing lavatory that was put into production – the 'Remirol' (Lorimer spelled backwards). Many buildings, especially the cast-iron examples in which Glasgow had specialised from the earlier 19th century, could be more or less manufactured off-site and so in the early 20th century there developed an unease in some quarters about the status of the architect. The architect was required to walk a line between contractor and installer of basic services such as drainage and 'inside lavatories', which became mandatory in Glasgow after 1892 (see for example the work at 34 Carrick Street) and the aesthetic principles of 'high architecture'. 5 Glasgow had embraced commercial architecture, to the dismay of some more class-conscious architects. Mackintosh the artist-architect, with his connections to the European avant-garde, perhaps had little need for gentleman architect status.

It could be said that Mackintosh's work was an artistic reaction to 'assembly-line' architecture, but it can also be seen as an agglomeration of patent and ready-made products with some added handmade metal and timber finishing touches to suggest the immediacy and vigour of craft. Mackintosh's Glasgow School of Art, for example, can be read in both ways. On the one hand it contains upwards of 48 industrial products built into the fabric, including patent steel trusses, a 'master clock' system of centralised time-keeping, 'speaking tubes' for internal communication, a forced-air heating arrangement, and electric lighting. On the other, the building has been championed from the Modern movement on for its masterly use of space and light – architectural commodities which cannot be catalogued and sold – rather than his handling of materials.

Stone     ^

B/W Full-page advertisement for Baird & Stevenson's Locharbriggs Quarry, reproduced in 'Glasgow International Exhibition catalogue', 1901, p. xvi

Glasgow has long been regarded as a beautifully-built city with easy access to good quality building stone. A local industry in Glasgow and the surrounding area grew up in the 19th century around the quarrying, supply and finishing of stone, especially with the introduction of mechanised stone cutting. Later, stone – the soon ubiquitous new red sandstone, Corncockle, Gatelawbridge, and Locharbriggs, from Dumfriesshire –was brought from further afield by canal and subsequently by railway. However, during Mackintosh's career in Glasgow, stone from all over Scotland and parts of the North of England began to become available. Most of the stone used by Mackintosh came from the main sources available to all architects: Giffnock (brown sandstone) and Locharbriggs, often used as a generic for Dumfries (red sandstone). Other stone, for example rubble at The Hill House and Windyhill, was locally sourced. Occasionally decorative stone was specified. The Glasgow Herald building (1890–3) for example has a plinth of polished granite, which was by this time fairly typically used as a hard stone to beautify and to protect the ground floor.

Colour photograph of library window at The Hill House

In this context, Mackintosh's use of traditional stone for the main parts of buildings, the general walling, was unexceptional. It was at entrances and window reveals – where he designed one-off architectural details – that Mackintosh introduced innovative design. Such features would be ordered from the quarry in large pieces and finished on site. At The Hill House, Windyhill or the Daily Record, 'designed' stone elements were introduced. Some of these features today seem almost like abstract pieces of sculpture. Many of them pass between exterior and interior, presaging the modernist interest in breaking down the inside/outside barrier but also introducing a potentially problematic climate bridge. 6 By contrast, the forms of general stone construction were well-established within the local industry and Mackintosh used these, rather than specifying novel versions. The style of the main walls of red sandstone stonework we see at, for example, the Glasgow Herald, Queen's Cross Church, Scotland Street School, or Martyrs School conform to a local building pattern used by all architects. Mackintosh's own perspective for St Matthew's Church (now Queen's Cross) schematises the stonework of the church and its idealised tenemental neighbours.

The language of the stone mason's craft – snecked, random, bull-faced, or coursed rubble, stugged, broached or droved ashlar – was entirely embedded and codified within the architectural culture in which Mackintosh worked. At Auchinbert (1905–8), for example, the construction of the main walls under the eaves is very similar to The Hill House – except that the former was not rendered.

Photograph of Auchinibert from N.W.

Both The Hill House and Auchinibert are built mainly of traditional split-boulder rubble, which is a vernacular treatment used both in Scotland and England but in Scotland rarely employed in post 17th-century prestige house-building as a finishing material. The colour and use of the random rubble at Auchinibert recalls warm, cream-coloured Cotswold stone in line with the style of the building. Thomas Howarth recounts the story told to him by the 'mason in charge' at Auchinibert that 'when work on the site began Mackintosh stood by him until he had obtained the precise bonding required'. Thereafter he frequently lent a hand, and often selected the stones himself. 7 Mossyde, built in three phases (1906–7; 1908–9; 1913–15) represents an intriguing use of 'designer' rubble by Mackintosh, the only project of its kind in the architect's work. This keep-like house has random, often oddly-shaped windows and a massive, externally expressed chimney stack. Howarth describes the building as a 'fairy story house'. 8 In terms of its design it seems to group with 20th-century, determinedly archaic, country houses of a later period such as Oliver Hill's Cour (1922) or Lutyens's Castle Drogo (1911–30).

Colour photograph of N. front of Glasgow School of Art

The main elevations of the Glasgow School of Art were built of the more refined 'snecked rubble' sandstone (not granite as noted by Kenneth Frampton) from Giffnock, and another sandstone called 'Whitespot'. Giffnock is an area just south of Glasgow which was quarried until around 1912. 9 This was a traditional use of stone with 'free' ashlar dressings of an ever-elaborating type which the contractor, John Kirkwood, had no difficulty in accommodating. The use of this material in the first phase and in the later library wing at the School of Art may have been a consciously 'archaising' move away from red sandstone, referring to 17th-century Scottish architecture, such as the celebrated Kilbirnie Kirk, where snecked rubble contrasts strongly with the overscaled, highly worked, but plain, decorative elements. Alexander Thomson had noted the architectural effect of mixing the rough-hewn with the precise in stonework detailing. 10 The expense of working decorative stone on a large scale, as at the N.W. elevation of the School of Art, was considerable. The south half of the School's Scott Street elevation was built at the higher levels in polished ashlar, an effective but expensive way of creating a contrast and therefore the effect of a soaring tower on the building's corner. Mackintosh also used overscaled, polished stone on the ziggurat-like door architrave on this elevation: the School of Art's Governors, visiting the site in 1908, were horrified at its 'extravagant' treatment. 11

Scan of W. elevation drawing

Clearly Mackintosh had a tendency to elaboration of details once work had commenced on site and this was always going to be problematic in respect of financial control. For Mackintosh the architectural drawing appears to have represented a framework for completion rather than an exact representation of a finished design. For example – and it is a very severe example – Howarth describes how Mackintosh summarily ordered the rounding-off of all the precisely cut arrises (edges) of the studio windows at the School of Art after the work was complete. Precision-cut arrises of square cut stone were rather problematised in the later 19th century. 'Chamfer fever' was the Gothic Revival's reaction to the issue. Mackintosh's rounded reveals may have been a Scottish reaction to the same phenomenon. General walling was predictable in terms of cost and would normally be specified rather than drawn except in the most summarised way, but we can occasionally see Glasgow's ubiquitous snecked rubble stonework with ashlar dressings graphically expressed by Mackintosh, for example, in his perspective of Martyrs School or in the main elevation of the unbuilt scheme for an Artist's town house and studio (1899–1900), in that case with render above. This seems a largely practical device. The Artist's house and studio in the country (1899–1900) is all render apart from the entrance itself.

Good local building stone was, even by the 1880s, a diminishing resource, impacted on by the high costs of finished stone and difficulties in quarrying as the quarries were built over in the lucrative expansion of towns and cities. In these circumstances, the new red sandstones from Dumfriesshire and, to a lesser extent, Ballochmyle and Mauchline (Ayrshire) sandstones, now made available and affordable by industrial stone-cutting process and transportation by railway, became the material of choice. It is the 'red sandstone' of which so much of the city of Glasgow is built. In 1901, James Hamilton Muir commented that the 'last few years have seen a change come over the town; to-day the eye is uplifted at every turn by great picturesque erections of red stone that are adding a kind of jocund quality to the life of our streets ... the newest comers are breaking up the skyline with an almost startling variety of profile.' 12

Mackintosh's creative handling of the new material is remarkable and remains a staple of publications on the architect, which use high quality close-up photography, thereby isolating the details from the context of the composition and tending to lay stress on Mackintosh as decorator rather than architect. Gradually, however, the ubiquity and familiarity of red sandstone led also to a reluctance on the part of more artistically-inclined architects, including Mackintosh himself, to use the material. Mackintosh had designed one of the city-centre mega-blocks noticed by Muir for the Glasgow Herald but at the nearby Daily Record building (1901, 1903–4) he startlingly mixed yellow sandstone in slow, gargantuan ground-floor arches with blue and white tiles above, all topped by an ashlar band of pseudo-dormers. However, the Daily Record was built in one of the city's narrow access lanes and did not have the status of a building on the edge of the block. In another twist, the windows of this industrial building were presented as domestic sliding sash and case, complete with proud upper sashes, but in fact they were manufactured side-hung casements.

Colour photograph of Scotland Street School, S. elevation, carving at end bay

Mackintosh had specified Locharbriggs stone in the 1890s at Martyrs School (1895–7), Queen's Cross Church (1896–9), and the Glasgow Herald Building (1890–3) and in all these projects he had shown great ingenuity in creating novel, 'free' detailing, insetting on occasion with other materials such as tiles. 13 At Scotland Street School (1903–7), he took experimentation with what was by then a standard 'Board School' material even further, introducing extraordinary detailing carried out by leading commercial sculptor, R. A. McGilvray. However in the case of Scotland Street, Mackintosh had wanted to use material from Dullatur, a pale sandstone quarry, but was overruled by the School Board on grounds of cost and, perhaps, of corporate style. 14 At the contemporary Queen Margaret College Anatomical Department (1894–5) in the city's West End, Mackintosh used stugged, snecked rubble. This is not 'rubble' in the popular sense of the word but dressed stone which is 'squared' into regular shapes of varying sizes, 'stugged' (stippled with a stonemason's tool) and laid in a pattern with small stones (or 'checks') between. At Queen Margaret College the choice of light brown sandstone from Giffnock was perhaps to match J. T. Rochhead's existing villa which Mackintosh was extending. In the meantime, with other projects more specifically under the architect's control, Mackintosh experimented with arguably more evocatively 'Scottish' materials, the most striking of which was render.

Render and Cement     ^

'The real artist is he who, like Mackintosh in the Art College of Glasgow (one of the most important buildings of Europe) gets his effects within the sternest acceptances of modern conditions. For here never was concrete more concrete, steel more steely, and so on.' Patrick Geddes c. 1914. 15

Mackintosh's attitude to modern materials was to use them frankly and openly, in line with Arts and Crafts principles but allied to modern rather than solely traditional materials. Render, roughcast, lime harling, 'Roman cement', stucco and 'wetdash' are all part of the same family of finishing materials. Wall finishes of this sort had been available for centuries but in the late 18th and 19th centuries the search for a reliable material of this type became intense. A breakthrough came with the invention of Portland cement, which was added to the mix in place of lime. Typically for Mackintosh, render was both traditional and modern: a new material to be crafted as necessary. His use of render was not pioneering in itself – it was coming into fashion as a sign of the vernacular, but this was, paradoxically, to be seen in prestige, Arts and Crafts, domestic architecture. Ruskin's crusade for 'truth to materials' had created the conditions whereby vernacular or low prestige architectural treatments such as rubble could be 'honestly' expressed as compositional elements. At the same time the architectural culture of Glasgow and of Scotland more generally had codified stone hierarchically to express prestige through degree of working: random rubble was the cheapest, least prestigious material and polished 'ashlar' (finely worked rectangular blocks of stone designed for display) the most expensive. Both stone-cutting technology, which allowed for site delivery of ashlars (a new practice strongly criticised by Alexander Thomson), and the Arts and Crafts movement with its use of exposed rubble in Scotland as a 'national' material, would change all of this. 16

Within Scottish cities, the hierarchy of stone had been understood, not only by architects and their clients, but by the wider public. Glasgow was – and is – a city of stone and in this context render, an intervention finished in the very cheapest material, cheaper even than rubble, was bound to be controversial, if artfully 'honest'. Mackintosh had proposed render for an inn at Lennoxtown as early as 1895 and the Willow Tea Rooms (1903–5) was a development of this idea, one of a number of early 'makeovers' of existing (stone) city tenements carried out in the late 19th /early 20th century for commercial clients. At the Willow Tea Rooms the render had the virtue of masking new openings designed by Mackintosh to create a striking, 'Secessionist' facade. The material was also 'traditional' in that it seemed to recall 'harling' or 'harl', a lime-based coating still used at that time throughout the broad range of Scottish building types and about to be revived as a 'national' surface finish. At 'Miss Cranston's' tea rooms in Argyle Street (1898–9), where later (1906) Mackintosh added his celebrated 'Dutch Kitchen', a similar exterior move had been made on a larger scale by David Barclay. At Argyle Street, Barclay's treatment is not advanced architecturally. The existing tenement windows remained regular and the main changes were carried out at roof level where Romantically profiled gables were added. The nearby Grant Arms (1908) was similarly embellished by J. H. Craigie to create a Romantic composition from a severely plain classical tenement. Mackintosh's render treatment at the Willow was a version of a European interest in plaster finishes, which in England was closely connected with the Arts and Crafts movement. Render or harling in Scotland had also traditionally been used to unify multi-phased buildings and Mackintosh used it to this effect at The Moss, which he extended in 1906–8. Render offered Mackintosh the possibility of creating a single continous outer coating for individual buildings such as The Hill House.

More controversially in Glasgow, Mackintosh used render on a very large scale on the rear elevation of the Glasgow School of Art (1907–9). This treatment was not unheard of at the time for the rear elevations of low status buildings or blind gables but there are few, if any, other contemporary examples of an important public building being treated in this manner. The use of render in such a location attracted adverse comment. One critic noted: 'Wayfarers stop, and marvel that the authorities have permitted the running up of a house of correction, or poor house, on such a site, – for popular guessing, at first, is divided between the two.' 17

Colour photograph of Glasgow School of Art from S.W.

Although this is a rear elevation, the School of Art sits on a very prominent site on the edge of the steep 'drumlin' of Garnethill, rising above the then prestigious shopping and promenading avenue of Sauchiehall Street below. It has been suggested that the elevation is designed to recall the composition and harling of great Scottish castles such as Fyvie in Aberdeenshire, well known to Mackintosh from R. W. Billings, Baronial and Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Scotland (1845) and the then recent five-volume survey by McGibbon and Ross, The Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland (1887–92). The recessed oriel bay of the later S.W. wing of the School reinforces this thesis. Paradoxically then, harling could also symbolise Scottish national prestige or historic architecture. It was not possible in Scotland to express a 'national' architectural idea through the use of brick as an external facing material. Mackintosh made a virtue out of the necessity for cost-cutting, for example, with the School's butt-jointed internal timber panelling 'from the saw'. However, it is equally possible that, because of the continued growth of Glasgow, it was anticipated that the rear elevation of the school would soon be masked by tall buildings to the south. The buildings on the site below did not suggest permanence in the face of Glasgow's 'rise and progress'. Nevertheless, Mackintosh thought very carefully about the finish and went as far as specifying the type and grade of granite aggregate (gravel) to be used. 18 Mackintosh's contemporary James Salmon shortly afterwards made spectacular use of avowedly 'Scottish' render nearby at the reinforced concrete proto-'skyscraper' of Lion Chambers (1904–7) in Glasgow city centre, and Mackintosh continued, presumably from the treatment shown on the surviving drawing, to propose its use on a huge scale as late as 1920 for the main elevation of the block of studios on the site of Cheyne House, Chelsea (1920).

At the suburban villas of Windyhill and The Hill House render was referred to as 'roughcast'. The 1910–11 edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica defines this material as a finish formerly applied to the walls of common dwellings and outbuildings, but now frequently employed for decorative effect on country houses, especially in combination with timber framing. This was very much the Baillie Scott/Voysey treatment, inexpensive and eventually ubiquitous in England. The roughcast and half-timber effect was less common in Scotland but did exist in the work of major architects such as J. J. Burnet, James Salmon, Sir Robert Lorimer and James Miller, where it was used in Garden-suburb-type development for 'social' housing but also for smart villas in the new suburbs.

Of course, as we often discover, the client played their part. At The Hill House, Helensburgh, Walter Blackie much later recalled:

I put to Mackintosh such ideas as I had for my prospective dwelling; mostly negative, I may say. I told him that I disliked red-tiled roofs in the West of Scotland with its frequent murky sky; did not want to have a construction of brick and plaster and wood beams; that, on the whole, I rather fancied grey rough cast for the walls, and slate for the roof; and that any architectural effect sought should be secured by the massing of the parts rather than by adventitious ornamentation. To all these sentiments Mackintosh at once agreed and suggested that I should see 'Windyhill', the house he had designed for Mr Davidson at Kilmacolm. An appointment at 'Windyhill' was arranged and my wife and I were shown over the house by Mrs Davidson, and left convinced that Mackintosh was the man for us. 19

Blackie could have been describing the contemporary houses Rowantreehill (1898) or Den o' Gryffe (1905–7) built or under construction close to Windyhill in Kilmacolm at the time and designed by James Salmon. Red-tiled roofs were not common in Scotland, although some with English 'Rosemary' tiles had appeared in the wealthier suburbs. It is possible that Blackie was also basing his prejudices on illustrations in contemporary magazines and journals and Baillie Scott's Houses and Gardens, not to mention his prospective neighbours at Helensburgh. 20 The expensive suburb rising up the slopes above the planned town contained a large number of brightly-coloured, red-tiled and timbered villas, some by the Franco-Scottish specialist William Leiper, and all highly conspicuous. The Hill House was instead to be simple, recessive and quiet and this was to be achieved through material selection. Ironically enough, The Hill House stands out in its plainness.

Blackie, of course, had the benefit of hindsight when thinking about The Hill House. He had commissioned a masterpiece but in the intervening years plaster and half-timbering had been traduced through over-use in suburbs and council housing. Photographs show The Hill House under construction, an interesting insight into the early 20th-century world of building – with no scaffolding and traditional materials and tools scattered around. The walls are built largely of well-constructed rubble and brick. The brick looks like an afterthought, perhaps an economy measure. The house was 'plastered' or 'rendered' with a Portland cement finish. The bay of gravel shown in the view of the W. entrance is probably the aggregate to be mixed with the Portland cement to form the material. Its use has led to maintenance problems ever since. We now know that cement is harmful to otherwise traditionally constructed buildings because it tends to craze, allowing water to penetrate but not to escape through natural evaporation. The newly-applied render can be seen in the view from the S.E. of the half-completed garden front, and also the 'day lift' problem that the use of render can create. Whereas Mackintosh was seeking a homogenous treatment, the render was mixed and applied on a daily basis: each batch was slightly different and a patchy appearance was the unwanted result. We know from surviving records that the architect struggled with this problem. It appears that Mackintosh ordered a final coat of pure cement in an attempt to unify the treatment. 21

B/W photograph of entrance front of The Hill House under constructon B/W photograph of The Hill House from S.E. under constructon

Mackintosh used render on several other projects: the small shop and house project at Comrie (1903–5); a rear mews addition at Clairmont Gardens (1898–9); and Auchenbothie Gate Lodge (1901–2). These were decorative treatments where the use of 'blind' render, for example on the gable at Ruchill Parish Church Halls (1899) was simply the cheapest available finishing material on a non-architectural elevation. However, the new 'wonder' treatment of Portland cement render was taken much further by Mackintosh at The Hill House where he carried it over the wallheads. This was taking the material much further than he had dared at Windyhill where the wallheads are coped with stone. 22 The unfortunate effects of the treatment at The Hill House were not long in presenting themselves both externally and internally.

Steel     ^

Mackintosh's use of steel was by no means unusual or pioneering in the constructional sense. The use of structural steel in the creation of new chambers and office buildings, such as the Glasgow Herald (1890–3), in Glasgow's city centre allowed for maximisation of plot size and freedom in internal planning. Generally, steel beams were laid on patent cast-iron columns used for their strength in compression. Floors were concrete laid with timber. The concrete in the case of the Glasgow Herald building was of a new type, mixed with diatomite, a mineral discovered in the earlier part of the 19th century in Germany and later mined on the Isle of Skye. 23

Colour photograph of roof, Queen's Cross Church

All of this technology was in aid of 'fire-proofing' buildings to reduce risk and insurance premiums. During this period stone continued to be used as a load-bearing material rather than the 'cladding' that it became when applied to full steel-framed buildings. Mackintosh's attitude to steel seems to have been fairly typical of an architect schooled in traditional building methods, with steel lending an added dimension rather than bringing about a fundamental change of architectural direction. As with most architects of his time, Mackintosh also used steel as a reinforcing element within flitch beams to carry structure efficiently and cheaply rather than as part of a constructional statement. 24 His use of steel joists was largely as a substitute for timber. It was not uncommon to see unadorned steel beams supporting structure at staircases, landings etc. Mackintosh himself employed beams in this way, for example at Martyrs School. Although at Queen's Cross Church Mackintosh employed large tie-beams of exposed, riveted steel prominently crossing the main space of the church, the Dean of Guild drawings show these as encased in timber, a familiar enough detail. It is not clear if Mackintosh had decided to reveal the structural system at Queen's Cross Church as part of an aesthetic statement about the frank use of industrial steel. Where Mackintosh did differ from his contemporaries was in his attitude to expressing and embellishing the material internally. A celebrated example of this can be seen in the basement of the Glasgow School of Art, where rolled steel beam ends carrying the main structure pass through the sculpture studio wall into the main corridor, their exposed ends stripped into shreds and artistically finished. The beam ends could have remained embedded in the wall but Mackintosh brought them forward unnecessarily for decorative effect, continuing a technique used in timber construction, for example in the School of Art library. This particular intervention was said to have been the last straw for the blacksmiths on the site, who downed tools in protest! 25

Mackintosh specified windows creatively, often metal-framed. At The Hill House he devised or specified a highly unusual pivoting sash and case window of a type advanced by the National Accident Prevention Window Company. 26 Both sashes can be pulled forward, free of the frame, and, in the closed position, they can be moved up and down like a normal sash and case window. This arrangement allowed for opening the window for ventilation without presenting a risk of falling. Mackintosh also specified Hope's metal windows at The Hill House, standard products chosen from a catalogue. 27 Hope's windows were used again at Auchinibert, the Glasgow School of Art, the gate lodge at Auchenbothie and as an entrance hall gable window at his own house conversion at 6 Florentine Terrace. In later discussions of his work Mackintosh was hailed as the 'father of the Modern Movement' because of his handling of space, rather than materials or technology, but it seems that his achievement was to work with new materials and technology in a craftsman-like manner.

Brick and Tiles     ^

Apart from stone, there were many subsidiary structural and decorative architectural materials commonly used in prestige buildings by Mackintosh. Brick was used mainly for internal walls but also as a filler material below render, perhaps for cheapness but also perhaps to achieve a geometric precision which would have been difficult using rubble. Mackintosh also used glazed white brick in city 'lane' elevations to maximise light, as in the Glasgow Herald building, now infilled as part of 'The Lighthouse'. He occasionally used brick externally, again to the rear of the Glasgow Herald's tower. Mackintosh also used white brick and tiles at the Daily Record building, appropriate, again, in the setting of an access lane. Internally, Mackintosh used brick in textured, expressive arches in the Glasgow School of Art loggia, which was later painted.

Decorative Ironwork     ^

Colour photograph of the Glasgow School of Art railingsColour photograph of window cleaners using window brackets on north façade

Railings and ironwork are key examples of subsidiary materials used to provide a decorative layer of interest for functional features. By 1900 Glasgow had industrialised, highly refined architectural cast iron, in the 'railings' mass produced and designed by leading architects such as Alexander Thomson and J. J. Burnet. This was a worldwide industry led in the city by the firm of Walter Macfarlane & Co.. Glasgow's notional domestic railings had turned in the direction of highly architectural screens. Public buildings continued to be protected with more obviously defensive, spiked railings, which were also to be found ready-made in the iron founder's catalogue. In this context of patterned, predictable design, Mackintosh used one-off, highly-elaborated iron railings and screens incorporating individual, stylised motifs. At the Glasgow School of Art, along with highly elaborate wrought-iron structural members which doubled as window cleaners' ladder stays, this created a very public display of the institution's artistic credentials. The School of Art railings were proposed to be plain in the first scheme but were, typically, later elaborated by Mackintosh and manufactured by George Adam & Son. They presented a strong contrast to the familiar patterns of the city's cast-iron railings and set both the School of Art and Scotland Street School apart as 'art productions'. Mackintosh's main railings at the Glasgow School of Art were soon found to be too wide. Children were squeezing through and playing on the roofs below street level. An additional railing was sensitively added by welding a continuous bar to the rear of the existing railings and fixing each new railing to it. This is an early example of the very careful adaptation of Mackintosh's buildings over generations, which continues to the present.

Conclusion     ^

The materials available to Mackintosh were both traditional – laid down in their usage over centuries by craftsmen, guilds, measurers (later quantity surveyors), contractors, and, latterly by Trade Unions (whom John Honeyman considered 'the Blight on British Industries and Commerce') and new, such as render and concrete, and modern patent products. 28 The construction industry broadly accepted new products as refinements of the building process. The tendency was in the direction of 'ready-made' building materials and away from raw materials worked on site. Gradually these were gaining ground in architecture over worked materials, largely because of increased labour and extraction costs and scarcity, but also for contractual reasons as architecture moved towards the elimination of risk in specification. Broadly, the pressure to control contracts and to save money led to a demand for pre-contract specification and building products. In Mackintosh's time we see a transitional phase in architecture where the designer assembled traditional craft materials along with brand new industrial products to create contemporary, 'original' design. Mackintosh embraced the industrial and recast it as craft, but by the end of the first decade of the 20th century the time for more 'precision' in construction detailing had arrived. The Beaux-Arts system, which had arrived at the Glasgow School of Art in the shape of Professor Eugene Bourdon in 1904, made a clearer distinction between architecture and the art that may be applied to it in the form of sculpture. The handmade and the crafted were dismissed as backward-looking and even 'quaint'. In the future every detail would have to be specified before work began and there was to be much less scope for an 'evolved' design, worked out in consultation with the contractor or tradesman on site. If we look, for example, at Jordanhill Demonstration School (1912–20), one of the last projects with which Mackintosh was involved in Glasgow, if only peripherally, we see clearly in the work of the architect's own firm that architecture was travelling determinedly, and also creatively, in the direction of the 'workmanship of certainty' and the measured logic of functional classicism.


1: University of Toronto, Roberts Library: letter from W. S. Moyes to Thomas Howarth, [29 April] 1947, B96-0028/017(13).

2: See also 'Building Process and Records'.

3: See Appendix 1 for a transcription.

4: See Appendix 2 for a fuller list of products used by JHKM.

5: See 'Building Process and Records': 'The Burgh Police (Scotland) Act of 1892 extended the existing regulations on planning and construction of new buildings; repairs and ruinous buildings; street layout; and ventilation, drainage and water, requiring the introduction of indoor WCs to all residential properties for the first time (section 256). In many locations, planning and building matters were enforced by Police Commissioners. In Glasgow, the Dean of Guild Court had retained these powers.' The Burgh Police (Scotland) Act, 1892 reproduced in Catalogue and Book of References, The Glasgow Building Trades Exchange, 1896, Glasgow City Archive Collection: T-ARD 17/36, pp. 65–82.

6: Single stones can carry moisture from the outside to the inside as part of a natural process of wetting and drying.

7: Thomas Howarth, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Modern Movement, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 2nd edn, 1977, pp. 109–10.

8: Thomas Howarth, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Modern Movement, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 2nd edn, 1977, p. 108.

9: Kenneth Frampton, Modern Architecture, London: Thames & Hudson, 1980, p. 75.

10: 'On masonry and how it may be improved', in Gavin Stamp, ed., The Light of Truth and Beauty: The Lectures of Alexander Thomson, Glasgow: Alexander Thomson Society, 1999, p. 41.

11: The Scott Street entrance also gave direct access to the School's lecture theatre, so in that sense was a public entrance properly demarcated as such.

12: James Hamilton Muir, Glasgow in 1901, Glasgow and Edinburgh: William Hodge & Co., 1901, pp. 139–40.

13: The stone at Queen's Cross may in fact be from the quarry at Corncockle, Dumfriesshire.

14: Glasgow City Archives Collection: School Board Property Department letter book, D-ED 1/1/12/21, p. 728.

15: Patrick Geddes, 'Aesthetics – on the utilitarian contempt, indifference and distrust of aesthetics', unpublished lecture, Strathclyde University Archives, Patrick Geddes papers, T-GED 5/3/70. A reference in the same lecture to Geddes having practised gardening for 50 years suggests it cannot have been written much before 1914.

16: See 'On masonry and how it may be improved', in Gavin Stamp, ed., The Light of Truth and Beauty: The Lectures of Alexander Thomson, Glasgow: Alexander Thomson Society, 1999, p. 41. See also Ranald MacInnes, 'Rubblemania', Oxford Journal of Design History, 9, no. 3, 1996, pp. 137–51.

17: Building Industries, 10, 16 January 1900, p. 146.

18: Glasgow School of Art Archives, item 5/6/1, Estimate by Robert Scott, 113 Wellington Street, Glasgow, 1897, bill no. 6 for slaterwork item 10, p. 2. I am grateful to Andrew P. K. Wright for this reference.

19: Walter W. Blackie, 'Memories of Charles Rennie Mackintosh – II', Scottish Art Review, 11, no. 4, 1968, pp. 6–11.

20: M. H. Baillie Scott, Houses and Gardens, London: G. Newnes, 1906.

21: Andrew P. K. Wright, 'Early Portland Cement: Its use and influence on architectural design', Architectural Heritage, 22, 2011, pp. 99–114.

22: Andrew P. K. Wright, 'Early Portland Cement: Its use and influence on architectural design', Architectural Heritage, 22, 2011, pp. 99–114.

23: Glasgow Herald, 17 November 1896. The diatomite mines were in the Trotternish area of Skye and the product, which is a chalky residue of fossilised sea creatures, was used in various products including cosmetics, paint and industrial oil. The material was also mixed with nitro-glycerine by Alfred Nobel to stabilise the explosive in the manufacture of dynamite. Francis Shand, Mackintosh's patron at Auchinibert, was the Scottish manager of the Nobel Explosive Company, whose factory was at Irvine.

24: Flitch (or 'flitched') beams are steel beams sandwiched between timber, giving strength without the expense of the timber that would be required to give the equivalent support.

25: Charles Rennie Mackintosh: Ironwork and Metalwork at Glasgow School of Art, Glasgow: Glasgow School of Art, 1968, p. 8.

26: Nessa Roche, The Historical and Technical Development of Sash and Case Windows in Scotland, Edinburgh: Historic Scotland, 2001, p. 24.

27: See Henry Hope & Son biography.

28: Honeyman published a paper on 'Trades-unionism: the Blight on British Industries and Commerce' in 1877. For a full list of Honeyman's publications see the Dictionary of Scottish Architects, 1840–1980,


Appendix 1

This is a working list generated by the project. It is not comprehensive, but gives an overview of the range of materials and proprietary products noted on JHKM drawings.

Material Project
Aberfoyle grey Auchenbothie gate lodge, M199-004
Anderson's Patent Vulcanite Flooring The Hill House, M207-021
Arbroath pavement and steps Glasgow Herald, M072-026
Argon damp course The Hill House, M207-022, M207-023
Bladen and Burdon's flooring girder Willow Tea Rooms, M221-002, M221-006
British Doloment lithic flooring Western Baths, M285-002
Brooke's & Co. Ltd wire gates Scotland St Public School, M233-012, M233-013, M233-014
Boyle's Air Pump ventilator Scotland St Public School, M233-015 to M233-020
Buchan's Trap The Hill House, M207-002; T. & R. Annan & Sons, M227-001, M227-002; 309–313 Sauchiehall St, M242-001; Auchinibert, M254-002
Burdens [Burdons] Patent Girders Scotland St Public School, M233-002, M233-003, M233-012, M233-013, M233-019
Caithness damp course Saracen Tool Works, M130-003; Scotland Street Public School, M233-019, M233-022
Caithness Auchenbothie gate lodge, M199-004; Scotland Street Public School, M233-019 (Caithness pavement); Dineiddwg, M236-002 (Caithness pavement); 47–53 Glassford St, M252-002; Auchinibert, M254-017
Cassel's simultaneous wash basins Scotland St Public School, M233-013, M233-014
Cornish Trentham boiler Scotland St Public School, M233-011
Dorman & Longs Built VP 13" a 10" x 75 lbs steel beam Pettigrew & Stephens, M124-023
Fawcett's Fireproof Concrete Floor Dovehill Public School, M080-003
FLITCH beam Lenzie United Free Church, M268-003
Fram boarding and partitions Daily Record, M182-004, M182-010 (patent Fram Arch plates); The Hill House, M207-004 (Fram boarding); Hous'hill, M243-001; 229–233 Sauchiehall St, M251-005; Theatre Royal, M281-004 (Fram fireproof partitions);Western Baths, M285-002, M285-003, M285-004; Rutherglen Rd and Hospital St tenements M319-002;
Granolithic flooring Workmen's dwellings, M038-001; Grain stores, Cheapside St, M068-009; Dean Park Parish Church hall, M082-002; Manse, Biggar, M133-006; Daily Record, M182-011; Auchenbothie gate lodge, M199-003; Paisley Free Library and Museum, M210-005; T. & R. Annan & Sons, M227-007; Scotland St Public School, M233-012; Auchinibert, M254-011; Hope St tenement, M263-006; Lenzie United Free Church, M268-003, M268-004; Mossyde, M271-018; Theatre Royal, M281-005; Craigpark Drive tenements, M292-002, M292-004; Broughton House, M293-004; 3 Woodside Place, M295-005; Auchenbothie Mains, M316-010; Studio-house for Harold Squire, M338-023
Halliwell's Glazing Drill Hall, St George's Rd School, M158-002
Hart's Trap Bellahouston Dispensary, M136-002; The Hill House, M207-021
Hercules fireproof partitions Auchinibert, M254-004, M254-010, M254-017
Honeyman patent ventilator Bridge of Allan Church hall, M080-004; Dovehill Public School, M089-005; Paisley Free Library and Museum, M210-004
Hope's windows Auchenbothie gate lodge, M199-004 (No 8 steel casements); Auchinibert, M254-003 (No 2 C casements)
Jabez Thomsons Terra-wode? partition Scotland St Public School, M233-013, M233-014
Macfarlane's metalwork Scotland St Public School, M233-019 (girders); Auchenbothie gate lodge, M199-004 (6" x 4" half round gutter)
Maclellan section no. 359 Glasgow Herald, M072-040
Pennycook glazing Glasgow Herald, M072-028, M072-047, M072-055, M072-058, M072-079; Queen Margaret Anatomical Department, M094-019; Queen Margaret College hall of residence, M110-004; St Paul's Church mission hall and beadle's house, M112-006; Saracen Tool Works, M130-003; Bellahouston Dispensary, M136-008; British & Foreign Aerated Water Co. Ltd factory, M137-001; 11 Berkeley Terrace, M148-002; Daily Record, M182-011; Broughton House, M293-004; 3 Woodside Place, M295-003, M295-004
Portland cement Prospecthill House, M256-001; 11 Hamilton Drive, M283-002
Shanks & Co. whiteware Western Baths, M285-002
Stofferts Patent System of flooring Paisley Free Library and Museum, M210-006; Western Baths, M285-003, M285-004 (patent fram arch block fl)
Stofferts Patent Fram Boards 73 John Street, M194-002; 229–233 Sauchiehall St, M251-002; 4 Woodside Place, M265-001
Stuart & Co., Edinburgh Mossyde, M271-003 (cement ridging); Treeshill, M273-003, M273-004
Taylor's purple tiles Bedroom for the Dresdener Werkstätte, M224-001
Willesden paper Glasgow School of Art, M134-029

Appendix 2

Transcription of materials listed on floor-plan drawing, Treeshill, Bridge of Weir, 1906, M273-002.

Walls Brick rough cast
Sills Stone
Dampcourse Caithness pavers
?? large rubble
Mullions stone
Lintels concrete with H irons
Drains fireclay jointed with Port[land] Cem[ent]
Asphalt under floors
Manholes Brick with iron covers
Joisting red pine
Roofing spars white pine
Ceiling joists ditto
Sarking 1 ⅛ flooring on roof
Partitions brick and white pine and [illegible]
Flooring 1 ⅛ WP [white pine?]
Stairs pitch pine
Furnishings? Cypress wood
Windows red pine
Slating Ballachulish slates, double nailed every 3 courses
Ridges Portland cem[ent]
Roughcasting Port Cem + [illegible] granite
Cast iron eave rims conductors + soil pipes
Wash down closet [?] Cast iron backs, copper for pipes, fire clay wash tubs, copper circulating tank
Gas piping Block tin [?]
Electric bells
Deafening engine ashes + plaster
Wash house Portland cem[ent]
Plaster 3 coats