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This Celebrated Arts & Crafts House Is Getting An Ingenious Refresh

The unusual process turns architectural conservation into a living exhibition.

Architectural preservation is meticulous and complicated work. Teams of expert historians, builders, and designers assemble to carefully figure out how to retain the building’s most important elements, how to repair damage, and how to keep the structure around for as long as possible. Unlike significant works of art that are protected inside museums, safeguarded beneath vitrines and in climate-controlled environments, architecture is outside in the elements. Materials deteriorate. People subject buildings to wear and tear.

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Hill House–Scottish Arts & Crafts architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s masterpiece–is about to undergo a complicated restoration process. To help protect the building and still let visitors marvel at its genius, the London firm Carmody Groarke is designing a mesh shield around the house that also serves as an outdoor museum. The unusual approach to preservation will help illuminate the process itself–and serves as a model for how other sensitive architectural works could be conserved.

[Image: courtesy Carmody Groarke]
Completed in 1904 and located outside of Glasgow, Hill House was an experiment in modern residential living. Mackintosh masterminded the entire home, from the architecture to the furniture, decorations, and hardware. The house’s aesthetics, including its somber gray Portland cement exterior, was in marked contrast to the more decorative styles of Victorian and Edwardian homes. But over the years, the building’s cement–which was a new material at the turn of the 20th century–has deteriorated from moisture, and is now compromised.

To help the house dry out, Carmody Groarke is designing a mesh pavilion over the house while the National Trust for Scotland carries out its conservation efforts, which will take years to complete. This will keep rain off the building and also ensure there’s air circulation to help it dry out. Additionally, the structures semi-transparent design means people can still enjoy Mackintosh’s work instead of getting a disappointing “closed for restoration” notice.

[Image: courtesy Carmody Groarke]
“While the Hill House is being protected from the elements, our conservation and architectural heritage teams can start work to find solutions that will respect the historic and design integrity of the building, meet the standards and obligations required by its listed status, and ensure that this precious place will survive to inspire future generations,” Simon Skinner, the National Trust for Scotland’s chief executive, said in a news release. “The temporary enclosure is see-through, which means that the building will still be visible from the outside, despite its respite from the elements after a century of being drenched. Not only will the structure allow us to keep the Hill House open to the public while our conservation teams are at work restoring the building to its original condition, it will become accessible to them like never before.”

Carmody Groarke’s mesh pavilion–which the firm is calling a “temporary museum“–also includes staircases visitors can climb to get a bird’s-eye view of the house and also see the preservation work once it gets underway. This strategy is a clever way to both preserve a structure for future generations while still allowing today’s audiences to appreciate it up close.

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About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.

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