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4 Jun 2019

Opening the Hill House Box

Simon Skinner examines chainmail used in constructing the Hill House Box.
Simon Skinner, Chief Executive Officer for the Trust, examines chainmail used in constructing the Hill House Box
We’re getting set to open the Hill House Box, following our multi-million pound investment to protect Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s masterpiece.

Wrapped in the world’s largest chainmail structure, with walkways snaking over the chimney pots, this is our most ambitious conservation project yet. We’re gearing up to open the doors this week (Friday 7 June).

The Hill House in Helensburgh is considered to be the finest example of domestic architecture by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. However, Mackintosh’s experimental design, combined with his trial of new materials, has meant that the house has been soaking up water like a sponge for over 115 years.

Battered by around 190 days of rain each year, the long-term survival of the building is in doubt and there’s a real danger of its priceless, Mackintosh-designed interior being lost forever.

View from inside the Hill House Box
A view from inside the Hill House Box

The Hill House Box is our innovative solution to the problem of water damage at the Hill House.

Designed by award-winning architects Carmody Groarke, the Hill House Box is a vast semi-transparent shelter around the main house, consisting of 165 tonnes of steel frame swathed in chainmail made up of 32.4 million rings, themselves weighing 8.3 tonnes.

Opening to the public on Friday 7 June – Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s 151st birthday – the Box acts as a giant shield covering the entire building. It will protect it from the rain while allowing the house to dry out and letting conservators begin their work rescuing this iconic home.

The total cost of rescuing the Hill House will be in the region of £4.5 million. Of this, £3 million is being drawn from our reserves with the remaining £1.5 million coming from donations to the largest single fundraising campaign that we’ve ever undertaken. In addition, the Getty Foundation made a grant of £95,000 in 2015 through its Keeping It Modern initiative towards finding a solution to the house’s problems.

Donations came from many generous benefactors in this appeal, including the National Trust for Scotland USA Foundation.

It may take up to three years for the house to dry out fully before conservation work can begin in earnest. We will then need to develop a long-lasting solution, and implement it. This means the Hill House Box may have to stay in place for between seven and ten years.

There are walkways inside the Hill House Box, allowing visitor to walk around the outside of the building and view it like never before.
There are walkways inside the Hill House Box, allowing visitors to walk around the outside of the building and view it like never before

The Hill House Box’s design includes several walkways around the upper levels and over the roof. These will provide a totally new way to experience the house and Mackintosh’s design, as well as offering stunning views over the Clyde estuary.

We’ve also built a new café and visitor centre, meaning even more people can experience the house and learn about Charles and Margaret Mackintosh and the Blackie family for whom the house was built.

Simon Skinner, Chief Executive Officer for the Trust 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.’

“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.”
Simon Skinner
Chief Executive Officer for the Trust

Simon continued: ‘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’s been an enormous privilege and education to work so closely with the 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.’

Construction of Hill House. June 6 1903. Looking to the south face of the building.
Construction of Hill House, 6 June 1903 – looking to the south face of the building

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 Hill House stands out among other Arts & Craft and Art Nouveau houses in the UK because it has survived intact for so long. The house has original furnishings, fixtures and fittings in situ – all of which were part of Mackintosh’s all-encompassing approach to design.

Detail of one of the fireplace mosaics in the Hill House.
Detail of one of the fireplace mosaics in the Hill House

Both the interior of the Hill House itself and the Box will be accessible to the public (including disabled access) over the course of the rescue process and you’ll be able to watch conservators at work.

The property will open to the public on Friday 7 June. Entry is by timed ticket at 30-minute intervals. Parking is restricted at the Hill House and visitors are urged to use public transport when visiting. A park and ride service will also be in place from Saturday 8 June.

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