Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Jordanhill


Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s fame as an architect and designer is firmly established and appears to grow by the year.      All the buildings known to have been designed by him are now tourist attractions and there are many books published about his furniture and art.


However like many great men he was not without his faults and but for these we could have claimed that Jordanhill College School was one of his masterpieces.   If only.


He was a partner in the Glasgow architectural firm of Honeyman Keppie and Mackintosh.      Reference to books about the firm yield a far from rosy picture of the great man.       In “Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Modern Movement” by Thomas Howarth there are stories about Mackintosh’s mood swings, his inability to take criticism and his fondness for drink.      It is said that his lunch-hour often lasted from 1.00pm till 4.45pm and by 1912 he was losing interest in the firm.    His routine was disorganised and his financial affairs were in a hopeless muddle.   Some clients were unhappy with their treatment and threatened to take their commissions elsewhere.


The crunch came when the firm was invited to enter drawings for a competition in 1912.     The Glasgow Provincial Committee for the Training of Teachers had just acquired land from the Smith Family in Jordanhill and needed buildings in which to run their new teacher training college.    They set up a competition for the design of three major new buildings, a “college” (now known as the Stow Building), a “demonstration school” and a hostel for women students.  


 Mackintosh was given the opportunity to prepare the design for the school but did not give the task his full attention.     An architect who worked with Mackintosh at the time said that his preliminary sketches were unworkable and “some of the corridors terminated in mid air”.      After spending several months on the project, Mackintosh had little to show and at the last minute the design was submitted by his partner Keppie and his assistants.      The design was awarded first prize.      The prizes in the competition for the design of the college and the hostel went to two other architectural firms.


There were allegations that Keppie had stolen Mackintosh’s design and the credit for Jordanhill College School,  but in fact Keppie very generously gave Mackintosh a cheque for £250 the following year as his share of the competition award.      This act would appear to confirm that Keppie acknowledged that the novel concept and layout of the school belonged rightfully to Mackintosh.


For the record, shortly after the competition  result was announced, Mackintosh resigned from the firm and the partnership was formally dissolved in June 1914.    Robert MacLeod in his book “Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Country Life” confirms that his connection with the firm ended in 1913 and states further that Mackintosh “resigned ostensibly in protest over an office submission to a local competition”


In the July 1913 issue of “The Builder” (an architectural journal of the time) the competition result was announced.      The following extract may be of interest and demonstrates the genius of Mackintosh in producing the design for the school we know today with its double stair wells and mezzanine floors.


“The demonstration school is to accommodate 800 pupils as a primary and higher grade school with the additional accommodation necessary for students taking notes in each classroom.    This differentiates this building from an ordinary school both in extent and arrangement”.


The “Builder” then reproduced elevations and plans of the winning designs for the three main buildings, and some of those of the school are reproduced below.  (plans for the other floors of the school were also included in the original publication).    Close examination of the lettering on the drawings for the school reveals that some of it bears a resemblance to the distinctive style which we now associate with Mackintosh but it may just have been the firm’s “house-style” which Mackintosh subsequently developed and personalised as his “trademark” lettering.


29 September 2006


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