Recent design graduates Kat Loudon and Erin Bradley-Scott watched from the design building as Glasgow School of Art’s historic Mackintosh building went up in flames last year. The much-loved library designed by Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh was destroyed and the archive was severely water damaged after a fire broke out as students prepared for their final degree show. Students lost entire portfolios, some 90 oil paintings, 8,000 books and journals, archival material as well as original furniture were all ravaged, and architecture enthusiasts the world over the reeled as it was revealed the Glasgow landmark’s library – a jewel of Art Nouveau design built between 1897 and 1909 – was all but ash.
Months later scorched pages littered the nearby streets as Kat and Erin noticed builders emptying burnt books by the wheelbarrow-full into a skip. They decided to seize the opportunity to see what they could find, salvaging around 200 charred, wet pages from 1970s magazines that would have been stored in the library’s mezzanine.
Working the found imagery into a publication of close crops and textural compositions, 511170 (named after the original reference number) pays homage to the damage done to both the Mackintosh Library and to students’ work. The cover and the order of these abstract reminders of the fire’s devastating effect is unique to each copy. “We knew there were so many directions the book could take but our main concern was trying to make something beautiful out of a terrible event,” Kat told me. “We thought about interviewing people who had been affected by the fire and having quotes alongside the images but we decided the subtle damage on each page speaks for itself.”