Architecture designs of Charles Rennie Mackintosh offer beauty for the eye, mind and heart

Windy Hill drawing in ink 1900

Windy Hill drawing in ink 1900 - Credit: Glasgow School of Art

The Scottish maverick is being celebrated at a new show at the Architecture Gallery, says Alison Oldham.

If you want to see what makes Mackintosh Architecture, the current exhibition at the Royal Institute of British Architects, an attraction that compels many visitors to recommend it to friends, consider the drawing pictured. This design for an artist’s country house is typical of Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s ability to fuse function and beauty, engaging the eye, mind and heart.

He rejected Victorian ornamentation and looked to Japan, to the work of English contemporaries and to vernacular architecture in his search for a pared-down architectural language. Although he won prestigious public and private commissions, mainly in or near Glasgow between 1896 and 1909, his talent was more widely recognised in Continental Europe than at home.

Mackintosh Architecture is the most substantial exhibition devoted to his work. It charts a career marked as much by its difficulties as by its successes. Setbacks included being arrested as a spy in 1915 when living in Walberswick, Suffolk. Disillusioned by architecture he had become a watercolourist and it seems his habit of taking twilight walks after a day’s work was to blame.

Arguably his most iconic building is the Glasgow School of Art, a commission won in 1896 when working as a draughtsman. RIBA members last year voted it the best building in Britain in the past 175 years. Ironically this exhibition closes on the first anniversary of the fire which virtually destroyed the school’s west wing, including its superb library, poignantly captured on an archival film.

Until May 23 at The Architecture Gallery, RIBA, 66 Portland Place W1. Monday to Sunday 10am to 5pm, Tuesday 10am to 8pm. Free.