What is the Hill House?

Interior detail of the Hill House

In 1902, publisher Walter Blackie commissioned Glasgow-born architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh to design a new family home for a hillside site in the fashionable suburb of Helensburgh. Mackintosh began the project by living with the Blackie family for a time in order to observe their lifestyle, an exercise that informed the design, function, and flow of the Hill House’s floorplan.

Master Bedroom, the Hill House

Mackintosh conceived of each room as a total work of art. The unified expression of his design philosophy extends to wall treatments, light fixtures, fireplaces, and textiles. His furniture does not show its full beauty until placed in the exact spot for which it was designed. Mackintosh collaborated with his wife, the designer Margaret Macdonald, on these spaces – a partnership that was in itself a sign of modernity.

The Hill House is Mackintosh at his most inventive. The architect distilled new shapes and forms from the tradition of Scottish Baronial architecture to transform the Hill House into something completely innovative. The house has appeared, almost without exception, in every history written on modern architecture after 1936.

What is the threat it faces?

Water damage at the Hill House

Mackintosh relied on the perceived waterproof qualities and strength of Portland cement to dispense of weathering details and create a unified abstract exterior for the Hill House.

The architect could never have known, however, that the house would be plagued throughout most of its existence by persistent water penetration as a consequence of that very cladding. The application of dense cement on top of soft red sandstone has caused the interior face of the building to crumble. Outbreaks of dry rot are triggering the loss of original interior decorative finishes.

This preservation challenge is shared by caretakers of early modern buildings worldwide. Working with the Getty Conservation Institute, the National Trust for Scotland’s successful intervention will have an impact on the conservation of 20th-century architecture far beyond Scotland.

What is the solution?

Proposed ‘box’ to protect the Hill House.

In order to address the continuing deterioration of the Hill House, the National Trust for Scotland will embark on a bold and creative solution: the construction of an eye-catching, purpose-built temporary structure designed to protect the house from further damage.

The Box, with its rainproof roof and permeable metallic mesh elevations, will directly address the cause of the Hill House’s deterioration: the weather. It will act as a suit of armor, stopping 87% of the rainfall that falls on the property an average of 193 days each year. Its design and positioning will allow the house to be naturally dried out by the wind, without using energy-intensive dehumidifying equipment.

First and foremost, The Box is a conservation solution. But the structure itself also will be a heritage attraction, positioning Mackintosh’s design as an artifact to be observed and studied. The Box will celebrate the conservation of Mackintosh’s masterpiece in full view of the public, with raised walkways enabling visitors to see every level of the house in the way that only its original builders would have.

The Box will include a temporary visitor center with café, shop, and ticketing; interactive exhibitions; and interpretation that will engage audiences with the Hill House’s history, design heritage, and future.

What is the significance of the project?

Walkway rendering of The Box

Walter Blackie was deeply moved by working with Mackintosh on his family’s home, noting, “Not many men of his caliber are born, and the pity is that when gone such men are irreplaceable.” The same is true for the Hill House: the loss of this iconic design would be a loss for cultural heritage worldwide.

The National Trust for Scotland is working against the clock. With each passing day, the Hill House is disintegrating. The Box will be the Hill House’s salvation, keeping it intact and open to the public for generations to come.

At the same time, the construction of The Box stays true to Mackintosh’s visionary spirit, by employing a radical approach to historic preservation that has the potential to impact the conservation of modern architecture globally.

What is the project’s timeline and budget?

The next few years represent a pivotal moment in the history of the Hill House – the most significant since its construction at the beginning of the last century. Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s 150th birthday will be celebrated on June 7, 2018, and the Trust hopes to begin construction of The Box by that date to take advantage of publicity surrounding the anniversary, as well as the groundswell of interest in the architect’s work occasioned by the restoration of his Glasgow School of Art and Willow Tea Rooms. It is anticipated that The Box will be in place for up to six or seven years; once conservation is complete and The Box is taken down, it will be ready to receive visitors without any major interventions for at least another century!

The National Trust for Scotland has committed $4 million from its property reserves toward the project and must raise an additional $2 million by mid-2018.

How can I help?

The Campaign for Hill House is one of the biggest fundraising campaigns in the history of the Trust. A donation to the Hill House will be of critical importance as the Trust embarks on this innovative conservation initiative. Thank you for supporting The Campaign for Hill House!

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