The Glasgow School of Art is a must-visit building for Mackintosh fans. Picture: Glasgow School of Art

Glasgow's favourite son, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, was until recently an almost forgotten man in his home town. It seems incredible that until the 1980s, the architect whose name is known even by people who know nothing about architecture was more or less ignored. Today he is at the centre of the city's booming tourism industry, with the number-one attraction his Glasgow School of Art.

Mackintosh did not build a lot but most of what he did build is here in Glasgow. Apart from the art school, there is a church, a newspaper office, a primary school and a couple of houses.

For Mackintosh hunters, the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is a good place to start. It has a substantial collection of Mackintosh items, especially some large gesso panels by his wife, Margaret MacDonald. Interestingly, MacDonald is emerging from the shadows these days as much more than the "little woman behind the great man".

Mackintosh always acknowledged her contributions but history had rather downgraded them. Now, however, she is seen as an important artist in her own right, with a small work by her fetching more than £1,000,000 ($1,850,000) at auction.

If you can only visit one of Mackintosh building, it has to be the Glasgow School of Art. An absolute icon of world architecture, it is also a fascinating and fun place. Started in 1897 when Mackintosh was 29, it is still in use as an art school - in fact, the guided tour is conducted by a real art student. And while some of the details are exquisitely refined, most of the construction is robust, with a well-worn, paint-spattered patina.

The tour includes the superb library and ends in a studio filled with a major collection of Mackintosh furniture. Positioned on a steep inner-city street, it is still breathtaking in its radical design. While using elements of Scottish vernacular, a Japanese influence is clear in the fabulously fancy wrought-iron fences, spires and window grilles.

Mackintosh was not working in a creative vacuum but part of a vibrant community. Glasgow had a fine heritage of architecture with superb buildings by Alexander "Greek" Thomson and the magnificent university by one of the finest neo-gothics, George Gilbert Scott, among others. However, Mackintosh took design to another level and many historians consider him the first modernist.

Just around the corner from the School of Art is the Willow Tearooms, in Sauchiehall Street. The last of the famed Miss Cranston's tearooms, it is still largely intact and still serving tea. Miss Cranston was a major patron of Mackintosh, one of the few who recognised his talent. The house he built for her is not open to the public but some of the furniture he designed for the house and for the other tearooms - which have since been demolished - is now at Kelvingrove.

The Lighthouse, down an alleyway behind the main shopping area of Buchanan Street, in a building designed by Mackintosh for the Glasgow Herald newspaper, is now an exhibition space and creative hub. Upstairs, a permanent exhibit on Mackintosh is not as good as it could be - a bit confused, although models of his unbuilt work are fascinating.

The Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, on the campus of the University of Glasgow, acquired the interiors Mackintosh designed for his own apartment in a now-demolished house. Recreated within a new building, the interiors are breathtaking.

Scotland Street School, an early work by Mackintosh, is now a school museum with rooms presented as they would have looked in different eras. The building itself is fairly intact with some great details.

Mackintosh's rather sad life story begins its descent with the only church he designed, now called the Mackintosh Church. We can appreciate the somewhat pagan decoration now but the clergy at the time were dubious. It's a little way out of the city centre but worth the trek.

The reasons his work dried up are complex. The onset of World War I was partly to blame, especially as his popularity in Europe meant he had many contacts in Germany, which lead some to think he was a spy.

He was clearly a difficult person to deal with - even his colleagues and friends found him impossible at times - but whether his heavy drinking, depression and disenchantment with architecture were cause or effect is impossible to say. He died almost penniless at the age of 60 from cancer, having spent some years in France painting watercolours.

House for an Art Lover, controversially constructed to his design in the 1990s, sits in Bellahouston Park. Never actually intended to be built, it was a competition entry, and some feel it should have stayed that way.

Not in Glasgow, but a pleasant hour-long train ride away, is the Hill House in Helensburgh. One of the last of Mackintosh's major commissions, this large house was built for the wealthy publisher Walter Blackie. The town itself is redolent of a time in the past when Glaswegians would escape the grimy city to the seaside, travelling "doon the watter" on steamers.

Sitting in a big garden with views out to the Firth of Clyde, the house is superbly presented as it would have looked in 1904. With beautiful details and proportions, it looks very livable. In fact, you can stay there by renting a room in the former servants' quarters. It is a wonderful monument to the genius of Charles Rennie Mackintosh.


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