In 1901 Charles Rennie Mackintosh, now Glasgow’s most famous architect, entered a German-based competition to design a ‘Grand Residence for an Art Lover’. The rules stated that ‘only genuinely original modern designs will be considered’. It went on to make the somewhat unusual proposition that ‘it is permissible and even desirable that an Architect and a Decorative Artist of modern tastes develop and submit the design jointly’. Mackintosh worked on the submission with his new wife, Margaret Macdonald...
The rules of the competition were comprehensive and included a specification of client requirements such as room sizes, position of staircases, external finishes and a maximum cost. The rules also indicated a serious intention of the original promoter to build the winning design. Within these practical constraints, Mackintosh and Macdonald were able to exercise considerable freedom of design expression.
In the event, the Mackintosh entry was disqualified from the competition on the grounds of incomplete submission, but after three required interior perspectives were completed and submitted, the designs were awarded a purchase prize for ‘their pronounced personal quality, their novel and austere form and the uniform configuration of interior and exterior’. . Significantly, no first prize had been awarded. The result was that the Mackintosh portfolio of outstanding designs, together with those of the second and third prize winners, was circulated all over Europe
Hermann Muthesius, a leading architectural critic of the day, writing in the preface to the Mackintosh porfolio, praised the design of the House: '….. it exhibits an absolutely original character, unlike anything else known.'
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that, had Mackintoshes submitted all the designs to deadline, they would have won this competition. So, by this error, they may have forfeited their sole opportunity for their purest design collaboration to be built – and on a European stage!
The Mackintosh competition entry has been admired by academics and architects alike over the last century. But, it was in 1987 that Glasgow civil engineer Graham Roxburgh conceived and developed the idea of building the House for an Art Lover, from the competition drawings, on a site he had identified in Bellahouston Park Glasgow.
Graham had been responsible for the refurbishment of the nearby Craigie Hall which contains early Mackintosh interiors. His dream to build the House for an Art Lover became a reality in 1990 when the building exterior and much of the interior and craftwork were completed by his remarkable team of architects, designers, builders and craftsmen.
However, recession in the early Nineties forced the project to be temporarily halted. Interior work and landscaping were resumed in 1994, revived by collaboration between Glasgow City Council and the Glasgow School of Art. It is a fitting tribute that Mackintosh's most impressive and respected building, the Glasgow School of Art, retains strong links with the House for an Art Lover, thus enhancing the constantly growing reputation of the House as an international centre of excellence for the visual arts.
Situated within the beautiful landscape of Bellahouston Park, the House for an Art Lover today represents one of Glasgow's most popular cultural and corporate assets.