A GIANT “porous cage” is to be built around a crumbling architectural masterpiece while conservationists work to protect it in a £4 million project.
The Hill House in Helensburgh was built as a “home for the future” by Charles Rennie Mackintosh between 1902 and 1904.
However, his choice of the new material Portland cement for the render led to problems as it has allowed water to soak in from the day it was first applied.
Decades of driving west coast wind and rain have saturated the walls, threatening the long-term survival of the property and the bespoke interior finishes and designs that Mackintosh and his wife Margaret MacDonald created for his client, the publisher Walter Blackie.
Hill House owner the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) now plans to build a huge transparent cage, designed by architects Carmody Groarke, around the building to keep the elements out while conservationists come up with ways to protect it for the long term.
Simon Skinner, NTS chief executive, said: “As our president, Neil Oliver, put it, the Hill House is in danger of ‘dissolving like an aspirin in a glass of water’.
“We are building what amounts to a shield around and above the Hill House to keep wind and rain out and give the building a chance to dry.
“The structure is effectively a porous cage, albeit a beautifully designed one, that still allows some movement of air and a degree of moisture penetration – this is essential to ensure the walls do not dry out too quickly and crumble as a result.
“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.
“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.”
The enclosure is expected to go up in 2018 and could be in place for a number of years.
NTS will launch one of the biggest fundraising drives in its history early in the new year to raise money for the £4 million project.
Born in 1868, Mackintosh trained as an architect and went on to create much admired buildings including the Glasgow School of Art and Scotland Street School in Glasgow.
The Hill House is in danger of ‘dissolving like an aspirin in a glass of water' – help us protect it for the long term and learn more about our plans to protect this masterpiece https://t.co/ZC0tj4KdZm
— National Trust for Scotland (@N_T_S) December 6, 2017
Fans of his work include Hollywood star Brad Pitt, who visited Hill House privately in August 2011 with then partner Angelina Jolie while he was shooting the film World War Z.
The building will remain open to the public while conservationists are at work, and visitors will be able to climb stairs and gangways to gain a bird’s eye view of Mackintosh’s masterpiece and watch the restoration work as it progresses.
Andy Groarke of architects Carmody Groarke said: “The National Trust of Scotland are adopting a very bold approach to the conservation of the Hill House; one that is radical and experimental in seeking new methods to extend the lifespan of our heritage, and one that invites public interaction and interpretation of these processes.”
In 2015, the Getty Conservation Institute allocated a grant of £95,000 towards the Hill House in Argyll and Bute.
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