GLASGOW, Scotland (Reuters) - A huge fire has gutted one of Scotland’s architectural gems, the Mackintosh building at the Glasgow School of Art, which was still being restored after a major blaze in 2014.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said after visiting the site on Saturday that the damage to the 1909 masterpiece by Scottish designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh was “much, much worse” than four years ago.
“It’s devastating,” she told reporters. “Looking at it, it’s a building that is just a shell.”
The fire broke out late on Friday night, when the city centre was full of people enjoying a night out. Among them were many School of Art students celebrating their graduation, which took place earlier.
By the time fire crews were called to the scene the blaze had spread to the whole building.
Huge flames engulfed the Mackintosh, known locally as the Mack, and spread to adjacent buildings including a night club and a theatre, creating an orange glow over the city skyline.
More than 120 firefighters fought the blaze all night. The area was swiftly evacuated and no casualties were reported.
The Mackintosh building had been due to re-open next year after millions of pounds in restoration works following a fire in May 2014.
Sturgeon said it was too early to determine the cause of the fire, or to know whether the building would remain standing.
“All of us hope the building can be saved but it’s too early to draw any conclusions,” she said.
“The Scottish government stands ready to do anything we reasonably can to help ensure that the building has a future. It’s too early to tell what that might entail, what it might look like.”
By lunchtime on Saturday the blaze was under control, but firefighters were still at work trying to extinguish pockets of fire inside the building.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh, one of Scotland’s most influential figures, inspired designers, architects and artists around Europe with his distinctive style.
The School of Art’s website says the building named after him on Glasgow’s Renfrew Street “heralded the birth of a new style in 20th century European architecture”.
The British government’s Scotland minister, David Mundell, said he was devastated by news of the fire.
“It is only a fortnight since I was there to see the progress on the restoration, and my heart goes out to all those who had worked so hard on that. The UK Government stands ready to help, financially or otherwise,” he said in a statement.
Hundreds of people in Scotland and beyond took to social media to express their shock at news footage of the burning building, which some said was as symbolic for Glaswegians as Big Ben was for Londoners.
“It hurts, it actually hurts to watch it burn,” wrote Scottish Twitter user Scott Galloway.
Many deplored what they called the cruel irony of the fire coming hours after a giant mural depicting Charles Rennie Mackintosh was unveiled elsewhere in Glasgow.
It features a portrait of Mackintosh looking through a stained-glass window featuring some of his designs.
Reporting by Russell Cheyne in Glasgow and Estelle Shirbon in London; Editing by Catherine Evans