Hill House to reopen under giant protective ‘box’

A Mackintosh-designed house is gearing up to reopen following the construction of a giant “box” to protect its saturated walls from further damage from the elements.

The Hill House in Helensburgh is in need of protection after being lashed by rain around 190 days a year for the past 115 years, with the building soaking up water like a sponge.

After more than a century of exposure to the elements water damage is clearly visible in some parts of the house such as the dining room while in some places the harling has become loose.

However a giant box has now been built around the Hill House, designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, to protect the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) property and to save the house and its interior from being lost forever.

The Hill House conservation work
The Hill House conservation work

The structure, designed by architects Carmody Groarke, is a vast semi-transparent shelter around the main house, consisting of a steel frame weighing 165 tonnes swathed in chainmail made up of 32.4 million rings.

It will protect the house from the rain while allowing the building to dry out and let conservators begin their work to rescue the Argyll and Bute home, which was built as a home for Glasgow publisher Walter Blackie in 1904.

Simon Skinner, chief executive officer of NTS, 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.

“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.”

Hill House before the construction of the box
Hill House before the construction of the box

The box design includes several walkways around the upper levels and over the roof, while NTS has also built a new cafe and visitor centre where people can find out more about the history of the property, which opens to the public on June 7.

The total cost of rescuing the Hill House will be in the region of £4.5 million, £3 million of which is being drawn down from the National Trust for Scotland’s reserves.

The remaining £1.5 million is coming from donations to the largest single fundraising campaign ever undertaken by the charity.

It may take up to three years for the house to dry out fully before conservation work can begin in earnest.

NTS will then need to develop a long-lasting solution, and implement it, meaning the Hill House Box may have to stay in place for between seven and 10 years.

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.”