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2 Mar 2022

Hill House: options for the future

The Hill House building is completely enclosed by an enormous chainmail box. Trees and a garden hedge stand in the foreground.
The Hill House protected by the Box
After becoming custodians of this unique building over 40 years ago, the Trust has worked to care for and conserve it. But we’re now facing a fork in the road of the Hill House’s history.

We’ve written previously about the history of changes and alterations at the Hill House. Perhaps the most dramatic change has been the erection of the Hill House Box, designed to protect the building from the elements. We wrote about the impact of the Box on water ingress, and what we’ve learned since it went up.

Now, we are considering the future of the Hill House and what our next steps should be. After careful research, we have been given four possible options:

  1. Keep the Box, to protect the building from long-term damage from water ingress. We would also attempt to conserve as much of the external fabric of the building as possible.
  2. Keep the Box, as above. However, instead of retaining the existing fabric of the white render, we could instead re-create the external fabric as closely to Mackintosh’s original design as possible.
  3. Remove the Box and conserve the existing external fabric.
  4. Remove the Box and restore the render according to Mackintosh’s original design.
A view of the Hill House Box from the garden on a bright sunny day. A sprig of laburnum hangs in the foreground.
The Hill House with its protective Box

This is the challenge of conserving built heritage: buildings age. Weather and other external factors damage them. Human interaction with them creates wear and tear. We could simply take buildings into our care and allow them to naturally degrade – but every other approach requires a choice. We must choose either to maintain or restore; when to intervene and when to allow weathering. As we wrote about in our first story in this series, the Hill House has changed and evolved over its life. If we were to return the building to an earlier condition, which ‘version’ of the building is the correct one?

The Hill House Box has proved a divisive approach. Some visitors long to see the Hill House as it was, surrounded only by the cool Scottish air and its lovely gardens. Others have found the Box inspiring. The structure allows visitors novel ways to view the building. Walking around it on elevated walkways, you can appreciate the clean lines of Mackintosh’s design in radical new ways. The Box itself has won several architectural awards, which raises the question of the merit of the Box as its own structure. The current Box was designed to last for up to 10 years – so what becomes of it after this?

A view of the exterior of the Hill House, looking up from the garden on a sunny day.
The Hill House before the Box

The question remains: to keep or not to keep? And should we restore the Hill House back to Mackintosh’s original design, or attempt to retain as much of the existing render as possible? We are still considering our options. But if you have a passionate opinion, we would love to hear about it via our social media channels.

The continued work to conserve and care for the Hill House is made possible, in part, thanks to the Getty Foundation’s Keeping It Modern grant. Since 2014, Keeping It Modern has supported 77 grant projects of outstanding architectural significance that contribute to advancing conservation practice.

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