A series of posts capturing memories of the Mackintosh Library from academics, researchers and readers.
Former Lecturer in Architectural History at the Mackintosh School of Architecture
Can you remember your first time coming into the Mackintosh Library and what impressions it left on you?
The first time I came to the Mackintosh Library was when I had just started out as a Lecturer in Architectural History at the Mackintosh School of Architecture on a temporary (3 month) contract in the autumn of 2002, having completed my PhD earlier that year at Cambridge University. I was running the first-year course in architectural history for architects, but the first introductory lecture was given by Professor Gavin Stamp in the Mackintosh Library, with all the students present. As part of his introduction he discussed the history and qualities of the Library and the Art School building and their place in Glasgow in the early twentieth century. It must have impressed the students and been a vivid experience for them, and it was equally a vivid experience for me.
What is your most abiding memory of the Mackintosh Library?
My best memory of the Mackintosh Library is of going in after 11am to hunt for old architecture journals. The Librarians have never complained about how many different cupboards they had to open (often many at one time) and how many heavy volumes they had to retrieve for me. Seeing the cupboard doors open to reveal shelves of brilliant stuff full of potential has always been a great pleasure. The Library is already like a theatre set, just some pieces of wood hung on an external structure, but it’s only when the doors open and books come out (something outside visitors don’t usually see) that it starts to come alive and take on a real purpose. The cupboards are like columns that disappear when they open, revealing new dimensions of knowledge.
What was your favourite item in the collection?
My favourite item was previously kept in the Mackintosh Library but, thankfully, was moved out some years ago to special storage and so survived – Sebastiano Serlio’s 16th century treatise on Architecture, translated via Dutch into English and published in 1611. The translation itself is funny and lively, and the original just as much so – Serlio gives rough pictures of ancient Roman buildings, and then tells the reader how he lost the dimensions that he’d measured, or didn’t bother to measure them because he was just passing on horseback. The illustrations are sometimes quite crude, but have a real texture that you can feel (and before the archivists became serious about wearing gloves I often did pass my hands over them), and are also often beautifully laid out, even to the point of lining up on both sides of a page so that you can compare the shadow of one underneath the other. Having such easy access to such a brilliant work was something I’ll always remember, and fortunately it’s still there, so others can continue to enjoy it.
How did you make use of the Mackintosh Library in your learning and teaching?
Whenever I was teaching Renaissance and neoclassical architecture at the Mackintosh School of Architecture (which was mostly every year until 2012-13), I organised a seminar there in which David Buri and his colleagues arrived before 9am to bring out all the best architecture books in the special collections – Serlio, Robert Adam’s reconstruction of Diocletian’s Palace at Split, our two copies of Palladio from 1585, English 18th century reinterpretations of Palladio, Vitruvius Britannicus, and others – and laid them out on the Mackintosh tables for the students to look at. After the first time of doing this I got more organised, put labels alongside the books, and gave students a worksheet with questions about the books. The aim was to try to get them excited about seeing the real things, looking at the qualities of drawing and printing in the books, the relationships between text and images, the likely readers given the impressions of value or status of the books, and most crucially to break down any inhibitions they may have had about looking at original material. Doing it in the Mackintosh Library made it feel like a special event (I usually tried to time it for around Christmas), and lent the books, and the seminar, an almost magical aura. Whether or not this really achieved its intended effect, I don’t really know, but I always looked forward to it and enjoyed trying to convey some of my own feelings about the books to the students.