The library at Glasgow School of Art has—or had—special status for connoisseurs of the work of architect-artist Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Its ineffably graceful timbers garnered a totemic value as a symbol of the workaday genius of their creator. It was said that this exquisite room could be created by any competent craftsman under instruction from the architect’s drawings; no special craft skills were needed. Indeed in the aftermath of the fires that destroyed Mackintosh’s masterwork and all its contents in 2014, and again in 2018, the School authorities claimed, evidently by way of reassuring those connoisseurs and others, that the Library would be rebuilt ‘as Mackintosh designed it, to the millimetre’—‘It is absolutely coming back.’footnote1
The implicit suggestion—and indeed often the explicit claim at the time—was thus that Mackintosh’s conceptions, or in other words, his models in the form of architectural drawings, are the real art, and the physical manifestation of that graphical genius in the timbers of the Library can be recreated by any joiner the School cares to appoint. We might then begin to wonder about that relationship between the drawings and the materially constructed Library, whereby Mackintosh’s very plans seem to operate like some type of magical incantation, and take possession of the hands of a dayjobbing tradesman to conjure them into the execution of a work of supreme artistic merit. This might in turn bring us to ask if, in the post-fires era of destruction, the Library does, in fact, still exist? The actual timbers of the room are gone, but those plans, the original prime movers in the creation of the space, and the formulae that will be used to put the material version back into place—they still exist. So what is the relative ontological status of these two components, which both have some evident claim to be Mackintosh’s Library? Can the Library still exist after it has been destroyed by fire? Does its putative totemic status indeed entail something of a magical, or fantasy, ideal or utopic quality, something beyond those everyday material qualities already annihilated twice in the fires?