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Blog / Celebrating 20 years of The Lighthouse

Celebrating 20 years of The Lighthouse 05 Jul 2019

On 7th July 2019, The Lighthouse, Scotland’s Centre for Design and Architecture’s celebrates 20 years. On this day in 1999, The Lighthouse was re-opened by Her Majesty The Queen after 15 years of silence.

The Lighthouse was Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s first public commission, designed in 1893 and built in 1895. Mackintosh was a young draftsman at the architectural practice of John Honeyman and Keppie when he designed The Lighthouse. It originally housed the Glasgow Herald offices with the most prominent feature, the tower, designed by Mackintosh to hold an 8,000-gallon water tank. This tank was to be used as a fire extinguisher to protect the building and all of its contents. This would most likely have been as a result of a fire in August 1892 which destroyed the adjoining building to the Glasgow Herald office and damaged the Herald building. 

Image: Glasgow Herald building, Mitchell Street when occupied by Samuel Dow. 7th August 1872

Image: Mackintosh perspective for the Glasgow Herald offices

The lower floors of the building were used as the Glasgow Herald’s production space with newspapers dispatched from platforms onto the street. The upper storeys were used for the editorial and commercial side of the operation.

Images: Production and printing in Glasgow Herald building

Glasgow Herald moved to new premises in 1980 and the building lay dormant until 1995 when the Glasgow 1999 UK City of Architecture and Design bid committee suggested that it should be transformed to create a permanent exhibition centre for architecture and design which would be renamed as 'The Lighthouse'.

Glasgow firm Page & Park Architects were the principal consultancy responsible for the conversion and extension of the former Glasgow Herald building in Mitchell Street to accommodate the new centre for architecture and design.

Image: Page/Park vision for The Lighthouse

The late Stuart MacDonald, who sadly passed away last year, was the first director of The Lighthouse, he took up this role in February 1998. Stuart was involved in steering the renovation and creation of the extension and exhibition areas.

The vision for The Lighthouse was ensured by the project manager, Eleanor McAllister. She was appointed to project manage The Lighthouse on behalf of Glasgow 1999. As well as ensuring everyone involved remained focused on what they actually wanted, she was also involved in raising the funds to build The Lighthouse. She managed to raise most of the £12million needed and ensured that the Board of the 1999 Company, as well as the funders, were happy. 

Gareth Hoskins is the architect who designed our Mackintosh Interpretation Centre. Gareth was given a two-sentence brief which challenged him to create a small but special space dedicated to the life and works of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his wife Margaret Macdonald. It took him and his small team just over a year to develop the brief into the resulting design becoming both the exhibition curator and the designer.

Image: Mackintosh Interpretation Centre

The tower designed by Mackintosh remains intact, floors were removed and a helical steel stair inserted, giving access from the third floor to the top of the tower which offers panoramic views of Glasgow.   

Image: Helical staircase to the top of the Mackintosh Tower

The Lighthouse remains a successful visitor attraction and venue attracting people from all over the world. Today, it continues to re-emerge as a Design Centre and beacon for the creative industries in Scotland. You can visit The Lighthouse 7 days a week and entry is free*. See what’s on now:

* From time to time we charge for exhibitions/ events, details of these will be displayed on our website at the time.

Design by Tangent Graphic