The Architecture of Charles Rennie Mackintosh

By Emily Shapiro / Published by Dwell
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The turn-of-the-century design icon's architectural projects reveal his modern foresight.

Few designers straddle stylistic movements as seamlessly as Charles Rennie Mackintosh. His work was truly transitional, emerging at the turn of the twentieth century into an artistic atmosphere shifting from regional arts and crafts movements to Art Nouveau and Jugenstijl, and to the Modernist projects that were just beginning to take root. The architect, designer, artist, and decorator found a middle ground between art and architecture, drawing inspiration from Scottish Free Style, Arts and Crafts, and Art Nouveau and merging them into a distinctly original, protomodernist style that combined his Scottish roots with a search for innovation and ingenuity.

Mackintosh drew inspiration from Scottish castles and tower-houses for his Glasgow School of Art. The large, industrial windows offset this historical influence, giving the building an eclectic sensibility unique to Mackintosh. Photo courtesy Mackintosh Architecture, University of Glasgow.

Most often remembered and celebrated for his simple but stylized interiors, Mackintosh’s architectural works have been somewhat overlooked. A new exhibition opening in July at The Hunterian Museum in Glasgow provides a fresh look at his architectural projects, featuring over 80 sketches from The Hunterian and collections across the UK. 

Decorative details like the metalwork on the Glasgow School of Art’s windows reveal the designer’s acute understanding of line and interest in personalization and creativity. Photo courtesy Mackintosh Architecture, University of Glasgow.

Mackintosh’s relationship with his wife Margaret was vital to the development of his style, especially in their shared personal spaces. The two collaborated on light, unified interiors, designing stylized furniture with elongated curving forms. Pieces like the bed and mirror pictured here gave new dimensions to familiar objects through a distinct sensitivity to gender and sexuality. Photo courtesy The Hunterian, University of Glasgow.

Mackintosh’s 1903 design for the Hill House perfectly juxtaposes the Scottish baronial tradition with a modern visual vocabulary. He combined a massive chimney and staircase tower with a plain, practical plan, incorporating local sandstone to give the family home a familiar, cottage-like feel. Photo courtesy Mackintosh Architecture, University of Glasgow.

The Scotland Street School, built in 1903, utilized warm pink sandstone and decorative elements geared specifically towards children to create a dignified space for students. This gave the structure context and relatability for its primary users. In this building, Mackintosh relies once again on the Scottish schema of the stairtower, but modernizes it through large glass windows that filter light and bold, modern interior staircases. Photo courtesy Mackintosh Architecture, University of Glasgow.

The 1901 Daily Record building is a tall, stunningly modern construction. Artistic brickwork covers most of the exterior, and Mackintosh relied on light-reflecting white and blue in order to overcome the narrow, poorly lit street in which the building stands. Photo courtesy Mackintosh Architecture, University of Glasgow.

Emily Shapiro


Emily is a design historian, teacher, and writer/editor. She credits her early interest in architecture and design to helping her boat-builder dad as a kid, which cemented her love for home decor projects like building furniture, reupholstery, crafting, and decoration. In addition to crafts, she studied English literature at Brown University and holds a MA from Parsons in design history.

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