The upper floors of The Lighthouse look out over buildings in Glasgow’s City center rather than over water. Nevertheless it is a beacon, a place which inspires and celebrates creativity and honours history.
A distinctive feature of the building is its tower – one of the reasons for the lighthouse connection. The building, originally an extension of the building where the Glasgow Herald newspaper was printed, is thought to be the first public commission completed by architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
Glasgow native Mackintosh was in his twenties, at the beginning of a career that would see his legacy in innovative design influence artists, architects, and designers to this day. He often drew on ideas from Scottish historical architecture and motifs from nature, combining them in ways which would both engage with and influence Art Nouveau and creating what would come to be known as the Glasgow Style. Mackintosh believed that every aspect of a building should work together, the interior design and the details as much as the larger aspects of space. You may see touches of these developing ideas in, for instance, the capitals of the metal posts which support what is now an exhibition area, and the details of the circular staircase leading up to the landmark tower.
What else can you see when you visit? The Lighthouse today is a combination of museum, exhibit space, event venue, offices, book and gift shop, and café.
It is the home of the Scottish Centre for Art and Design, which among other things curates varied exhibits. When I was last there a showcase of winners of awards for best use of timber in architectural design was on offer, and in another space there were posters in pop art style. In the past I visited a display on sustainable architecture in African countries which had not only photographs and panels about the structures but three dimensional areas as well. In a separate space there was a series of photographs and material explaining changing uses of public spaces in a South American city.
Speaking of three dimensions and sustainability: there is a permanent library of sustainable materials tucked away in the corner of one floor.
This is a permanent reference library. There are books, to be sure, but also stacks and file drawers and shelves of actual materials to study.
It is consulted by architects, builders, designers, researchers – and primary school students whose teachers bring them to explore and learn and fill out question sheets on their ideas about what they learn.
There is also a floor devoted to the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. There’s an illustrated three dimensional time line, examples of furniture he designed, and photographs of buildings he deigned too. You will want to take note that there are several models of buildings which Mackintosh designed but which were never built – until they were constructed in these small models.
That staircase up to the tower evokes a feeling of history and is an elegant design all in itself. Have no worries though if climbing such a steep staircase is not for you. In another area of the building there are lifts to take you up higher. The whole six floors in fact are well served by lifts and escalators as well as stairs, most of the stairs more straightforward than the curving one to the tower.
On the upper floors you will find meeting rooms and offices, and displays on what the building was like when it was a newspaper office. You will also find the Doocot Café, a light filled space which offers a varied selection of food and drink. Just outside the café, you may look over the rooftops of Glasgow’s city center.
Returning to the ground floor, you will find a book and gift shop with material related to the Centre’s interests.
The Lighthouse is in Mitchell Lane, just off the Style Mile section of Buchanan Street in Glasgow’s City center. It is free to visit, and you may often find talks and workshops on offer as well and the permanent and changing exhibits. During 2018 Glasgow and the world mark 150 years since the birth of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The Lighthouse makes a good place to being your explorations of his work and career in Glasgow.
Photographs by Kerry Dexter and Thomas Nugent.
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