Glasgow School of Art: Student’s degree project 'caused blaze' that destroyed Rennie Mackintosh building

The undergraduate’s installation involved fastening foam panels on to three walls of a basement studio with another wall left blank to show images from a projector

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The Independent Online

For any art student, preparing for the degree show is a defining moment that could make the difference between lasting fame and a slow slide into obscurity.

But for one particular student, their lovingly created artwork will be one they must surely be trying to forget.

For, according to a fire service report, it was the cause of the devastating fire that ripped through Glasgow School of Art – designed by renowned artist Charles Rennie Mackintosh more than a century ago – and made headlines across the world.

The undergraduate’s installation involved fastening foam panels on to three walls of a basement studio with another wall left blank to show images from a projector.

On the day of the fire in May, expanding foam from a can was being used to fill in gaps between the panels for “artistic effect”, according to the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS).

 

The blaze started when gases used as a propellant in the can were drawn into the projector by its fan and caught fire, according to a summary of the SFRS report released by the art school. It was likely that the gas ignited “as it passed in and around energised electrical components of the projector”. The foam itself was also “extremely flammable”, the report noted.

The identity of the student has not been revealed, a small mercy for the individual involved. The art school’s director, Professor Tom Inns, was forgiving.

“The fire was an accident and, like any accident, it’s caused by many different factors coming together and conspiring against us on the day,” he said. “There are a huge number of lessons that can be learned and we’ve been working very hard over the last six months on our health and safety procedures, training and so on. We’ve been doing many different things over the summer to learn from the experience.”

The fire spread rapidly from a student exhibition space in studio 19, partly through the original ventilation ducts and because of a large number of timber-lined walls. About a 10th of the world-renowned Grade A-listed building was lost.

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