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National Trust encase whole 117-year-old house in protective box

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National Trust encase whole 117-year-old house in protective box

National Trust encases entire 117-year-old Rennie Mackintosh ‘masterpiece’ house in protective shed after its revolutionary design and coastal location left it crumbling

  • Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Margaret Macdonald designed Hill House in Helensburgh, Argyll and Bute
  • Decades of coastal wind and rain have battered walls, with water soaking in, threatening to destroy building
  • National Trust conservationists put transparent shelter around home so it can dry out over next three years 

By Dianne Apen-sadler For Mailonline

Published: 15:13 EDT, 3 June 2019 | Updated: 03:21 EDT, 4 June 2019

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National Trust conservationists have encased a 117-year-old house in a protective box to stop the ‘masterpiece’ building from crumbling. 

Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Margaret Macdonald designed Hill House in Helensburgh, Argyll and Bute, using an experimental material which unfortunately allowed water to seep and settle into the walls.

After decades of coastal wind and rain, it was feared the damage could destroy the bespoke interior finishes and designs.

But now the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) has completed a multi-million-pound project to save the house and contents from being lost forever, and is now opening the house to the public.  

In what the NTS has called its most ambitious conservation project to date, the ‘Hill House Box’ is a semi-transparent shelter around the main house, consisting of a 165-tonne steel frame.

Conservationists from the National Trust have put up a transparent shelter around Hill House in Helensburgh, Argyll and Bute

The ‘masterpiece’ building was designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Margaret Macdonald in 1902, including the interiors (pictured)

Decades of coastal rain and wind have damaged the building, soaking the walls which now need to dry out before conservation work can begin. Pictured: some of the damage

In what the NTS has called its most ambitious conservation project to date, the ‘Hill House Box’ is a semi-transparent shelter around the main house, consisting of a 165-tonne steel frame

Designed by award-winning architects Carmody Groarke, the frame is draped in chainmail made up of 32.4 million rings, weighing 8.3 tonnes – making it the world’s largest chainmail structure.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Hill House 

Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh, born in 1868, is best known for designing one of the buildings which hosts the Glasgow School of Art between 1896 and 1909. The building, which became one of the city’s most iconic landmarks, was named after him after its completion. It was badly damaged in a fire in 2014, before a second fire in 2018 during reconstruction works. 

Mackintosh, his wife Margaret Macdonald, her sister Frances, and Herbert MacNair also became world famous for developing the Glasgow Style in the 1890s. 

Hill House was designed by Mackintosh and Macdonald for publisher Walter Blackie in 1902. It is considered his finest residential work, created after spending time with Blackie’s family to make sure the home suited them and satisfied all their needs. 

The box will protect the house from the rain while allowing it to dry out and let conservationists begin their work.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh was at the peak of his architectural career when he was commissioned to create the Hill House.

He had just finished the first half of the Glasgow School of Art a few years earlier and, working together with his wife Margaret Macdonald, he produced a design masterpiece.

The house has original furnishings, fixtures and fittings – all of which were part of Mackintosh’s all-encompassing approach to design.

The total cost of rescuing the Hill House will be in the region of £4.5million.

It may take up to three years for the house to dry out fully before conservation work can begin, and the box around it could stay in place for between seven and ten years.

Simon Skinner, Chief Executive Officer of National Trust for Scotland, said: ‘The box is incredibly impressive in itself and being able to see the house from angles that Mackintosh could only dream of takes your breath away.

‘But it’s more than that. We’ve completely rethought how the house and its history is presented and when people come to the Hill House they’ll see how a house like this became a home to a family.

The house has original furnishings, fixtures and fittings – all of which were part of Mackintosh’s all-encompassing approach to design. Pictured: protective sheeting covering books in the library

The box will protect the house from the rain while allowing it to dry out and let conservationists begin their work.

The total cost of rescuing the Hill House will be in the region of £4.5million. It may take up to three years for the house to dry out fully before conservation work can begin, and the box around it could stay in place for between seven and ten years

Simon Skinner, Chief Executive Officer of National Trust for Scotland, said: ‘The box is incredibly impressive in itself and being able to see the house from angles that Mackintosh could only dream of takes your breath away’

‘There are surprises at every turn and no two visits will be the same. It’s an active, evolving conservation project and there’s nothing like it anywhere else.

‘The Hill House is an exceptional place and our approach to rescuing it is as unique as Mackintosh’s vision.

‘What we’re doing at The Hill House is really what the Trust is about. We’re taking a radical approach to conservation and making sure that what we love about Scotland is here for future generations.’

Andy Groarke of Carmody Groarke architects said: ‘It has been an enormous privilege and education to work so closely with Hill House over the last few years.

‘We were inspired by Mackintosh’s residential masterpiece to create a new piece of architecture which protects it from further decay, and gives visitors the chance to experience the house from unique and dramatic points of view.’

Hill House will be open to the public from Friday June 7. 

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