The Glasgow School of Art (GSA) just can’t catch a break. As first reported by the Architects’ Journal, current students at the renowned university are banding together to challenge the school’s management of their online curriculum during the coronavirus pandemic, and the continued impact of the fire that ravaged the Mackintosh Building in 2018. The challenge calls for the partial refund of course fees, or the allowance of greater studio time free of extra tuition.
The legal challenge follows a tumultuous decade for the GSA, which has seen not one, but two fires severely damage the Charles Rennie Mackintosh-designed Mackintosh Building. The fire in 2018 destroyed years of methodical restoration work, led by Scottish architecture firm Page/Park Architects, repairing the damage wrought by the first fire in 2014. As of August 2020, the fire alarm installer for the building is facing a lawsuit from the GSA, and the architect is under legal action from the school’s insurer. The estimated cost of the Mackintosh Building’s reconstruction is at least $140 million, though work will have to wait until after inspection of the fire is finalized and the rubble is cleared.
Tensions between the students and the Glasgow School of Art have built throughout the pandemic. According to the Glasgow Times, students received unofficial guidance from both the school and their instructors to rent studio spaces outside of the university and at their own cost. Those without the financial resources have been impelled to create studios within their student accommodations; a challenging circumstance that also presents a number of safety issues, such as fire hazards. Students also have expressed frustration that the GSA dramatically increased its student body population by a quarter between 2016 and 2018, without a commensurate expansion of studio space and other facilities. Additionally, students noted that the GSA failed to provide the necessary software and technology to conduct their studies in art and design. Unsurprisingly, the school recently ranked the lowest for student satisfaction of all universities across the United Kindom.
Architect and GSA alumnus Alan Dunlop is rallying behind the students and is pledging to auction several of his drawings of the Mackintosh Building to support the legal challenge. The GSA has recognized the challenge and is awaiting review by the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman.