Cardross Seminary, Scottish Modern Building, Development, Image, News, Scotland
St Peter's Seminary Cardross : GK&C Building
Cardross Seminary Building by Gillespie Kidd & Coia Architects, Glasgow
Cardross Seminary Photos
Location: just north of Cardross, nr Helensburgh
Date built: 1958-66/8; closed 1980
Architects: Gillespie Kidd & Coia
New photos, by Niels Lomholt, 3 Apr 2012:
photo © Niels Lomholt
Article by e-architect Editor, Adrian Welch, architect
These are the emotions that engulfed me as I burrowed into this building.
St Peter's Seminary is a post-war Modernist masterpiece designed by former Scottish architects practice Gillespie, Kidd and Coia. It is located near Cardross, close to Glasgow in western Scotland. It dates from 1966. It closed in 1980.
Since I first visited this building about a decade ago I’ve been part of many discussions about it, and read numerous articles arguing whether to retain and or not, and if so, how?
These finely tuned architectural discussions about retention fade into the background as you encounter this beast in the flesh. It is monumental, but half destroyed. It is inspirational but at the same time forbidding and horrific.
The author - e-architect editor Adrian Welch - contemplating the destruction:
photo © Niels Lomholt
The ruin towers out of a wooded gorge – the sheer confidence of the architects to persuade a Client to build this building at this spot is for me the core of the project. Yes the Corbusian vaults dancing through the seminary are powerful, and the top-lit altar space is moving, though the audacity to build such a fine, monolithic structure on these wooded slopes is captivating.
Here destruction, graffiti and general mess bring other powerful emotions. So there are conflicting feelings as you crinkle your way over the broken glass - awe and despair.
Cardross Seminary is widely held to be Scotland's best building of the 20th century, indeed I can’t see a challenger to that claim, so it is sad to witness its demise.
photos © Niels Lomholt
There is hope of course, but it is taking time, naturally, and meanwhile the building’s slide into disrepair goes on.
Arts charity NVA purchased St Peter’s Seminary at Cardross as part of £10 million plans for its redevelopment.
NVA acquired the building from site owner the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Glasgow under ‘conditional missives’ and hopes to raise £10 million for its redevelopment over the next two years. They plan to convert the Cardross Seminary building into an ‘intentional Modernist ruin’.
The ‘incremental’ introduction of artists and artworks to the site would create an ‘intellectual context’ for the ‘partial’ restoration, according to NVA.
Last March UK developer Urban Splash abandoned high-profile plans to transform the Cardross Seminary building into a mixed-use housing and leisure redevelopment. The project was designed by Glasgow-based Gareth Hoskins Architects.
Angus Farquhar, the creative director of NVA, has been inspired by restoration projects such as the Duisburg-Nord Landscape Park in Germany, where a former industrial wasteland has been transformed over more than 10 years into parkland. Angus Farquhar has also been influenced by the El Matadero in Madrid, a former slaughterhouse that is now a cultural centre. NVA is currently developing the master-plan for the estate with the support of a £100,000 grant from Creative Scotland’s National Lottery Fund.
photos © Niels Lomholt
Film-maker Murray Grigor (who made a film about the seminary, ‘Space and Light’ shot in 1972 and reshot in 2009 as Space and Light Revisited) told me today:
“Although plans are still in flux my hopes are high that at least the roof structure above the altar can be reinstated and the chapel area consolidated through the intercession of a concerned donor.
The remaining ruins of the seminary could then be left as a lamentation to our troubled times.”
I also spoke with Gareth Hoskins (director of Gareth Hoksins Architects, who had worked with Urban Splash on the previous proposals for St Peter's Seminary Cardross, what he thought of the current proposals. He said,
“We had an extremely interesting scheme we had developed with Urban Splash with support from Historic Scotland that looked both at a comprehensive reuse of the seminary buildings, insertion of new build elements and the reinvention of the wider Kilmahew Estate setting. These proposals were reviewed and endorsed by Andy and Isi and the Diocese. We had also involved NVA in the dialogue as we felt they could bring a good, complimentary role in terms of developing the landscape strategy for the wider site. Because of the economic downturn Splash weren’t in a position to take the scheme forward at present. Rather than hold on, the Diocese have I understand sold the buildings to NVA on the basis of a different strategy they have developed which retains the buildings as ‘stabilised ruins’.
Whilst this idea of a ‘modern day ruin’ is one means of interpreting and responding to the building, which is verging on the reverential towards, I personally feel a bold reuse of the buildings would be more appropriate and was certainly the new life the original architects were hoping for.....”
A also wanted to get the view of Penny Lewis on the current proposals. We'd had many frank discussions about the building's future when I was on the board of Prospect magazine and she was editor. Penny helped form the St. Peter's Building Preservation Trust back in 2006 that campaigned for action.
Penny Lewis said,
"At a basic level- to me - although the landscape is quite interesting and well used by locals there is little point in investing a great deal in it except as a mechanism to aid the reuse of all or part of the building. This is one of Scotland's few grade 1 listed modern buildings - to treat it as an accessory to a landscape scheme seems inappropriate. I support the current project as a means to an end - not an end in itself."
photos © Niels Lomholt
What is clear to me is that there need to be people on the site, and soon. I’m not clear as to what “the ‘incremental’ introduction of artists and artworks to the site” by NVA would entail. I asked NVA for comment - at this point in time they were unavailable.
A ‘stabilised ruin’ is impossible here, however high the security fence it won’t stop ongoing destruction, that is for sure. But the idea of an ‘Arts Project’ on the site sounds workable, people who might be in tune and draw inspiration from the building and the site, people who can help protect it better than any security guards.
It made me think about Haystack Mountain School of Crafts. It is an international, non-profit, studio program in the arts offering workshops to craftmakers and visual artists of all skill levels led by prominent faculty artists. The school is located in on Deer Isle in Maine, USA:
photo from Haystack Mountain School of Crafts Maine
Of course there are key differences, but the idea of arts and crafts lovers pottering away in distinctive architecture within a wooded environment create a resonance for me, and maybe one that NVA could pick up on: these quiet woods above Cardross are a long way from the populous Rurhgebeit (Duisburg-Nord Landscape Park) or Madrid (El Matadero) examples mentioned above.
St Peter's Seminary & How not to Protect Key Buildings
The building is listed Grade A and has been included World Monument Fund list of the 100 most endangered sites (in 2008). What is the point of protective legislation if it isn't adhered to? This stunning Modernist building should have been saved years ago, time is running out.
I wrote back in 2006,
“My view is simply that the 'big deal' has already occurred ie Cardross is so ruined, of such a specific type and style, and in what could be called a peripheral location, that the time for really saving it is well past.
The key issues for me are the 'building's path to ruination' and 'how to enshrine into law a formula that forces owners to try to work with parties that may take on a property', ie to oblige an offer to the market when an owner finds their building no longer affordable / fit for purpose / of use. That way no-one has an excuse and groups can work to raise money when sentiment is strong enough, as it is in this case.”
My viewpoint hasn’t really changed. There are two problems - the building and the system. Both need fixing. The ‘building’ has great attributes, saving it would have benefits to our society. Meanwhile the ‘system’ that allowed not only the decay and stifling of opportunities at Cardross but thwarts many positive architectural agendas across the land remains. Again, fixing this negative system would benefit architecture and wider society.
We all know that system breaches that go unchallenged encourage system breakdown. Likewise this disrespect of the listing system - which aims to conserve what experts believe are the most important buildings in our culture - encourages others to think they can do the same. Buildings which mysteriously burn or fall over in the dead of night. So the building authorities and regulators should do their bit and ensure their protection system is properly policed.
I wish NVA and Creative Scotland well with their proposals.
e-architect Editor, Adrian Welch, architect
Cardross Seminary photographs by Niels Lomholt - external link
Comment from Anthony Sully, received 4 Apr:
“This worthy building has been neglected which is a crime. The sources of those who let this happen should pay for its restoration, not the taxpayer. But my guess is that it is not worth restoring on grounds of cost, so it should be demolished. The recent vandalised use of the building is a sad reflection of a non-caring society.”
Anthony Sully DesRCA FCSD FRSA FHEA IIDA
Comment from Alan Dunlop, received 4 Apr:
The proposals by NVA and erz are evidence of a committed client working with a talented group of young designers and their work brings some fresh thinking to an old problem. As such their ideas should be supported, absolutely. As Penny Lewis says though, it's important that the work is considered as a means to an end, not the end.
The continuing decay of the seminary is a scandal but one that is in danger of being sidetracked by a seemingly new age of Philistinism, brought on by the global recession and the consequent scant regard for good design and architecture. However, all the more reason why we should focus not on demolition but on its rehabilitation. It should remind all architects of a quite recent time when architecture in Scotland was truly great and could be again.
Comments re proposals for St Peter's Seminary Cardross welcome:
St Peter's College, Cardross - news items and discussions through the years
photo © Neale Smith
St Peter's Seminary Cardross building
St Peter's College, Cardross - letters re what to do with the building
image from St. Peter's Building Preservation Trust
St Peter's Seminary Cardross building
Gillespie Kidd & Coia
photograph © Adrian Welch
Isi Metzstein, Glasgow, Scotland
photo from RIAS
Gareth Hoskins Architects
Celebrated building close by: Hill House
Glasgow School of Art Competition, Glasgow
image : SHA
Glasgow School of Art Competition
Helensburgh Pier Competition
image from architects
Scottish Architecture - Recent Selection
Robert Burns Museum
photo : National Trust for Scotland Photo Library
Robert Burns Birthplace Museum : Simpson & Brown Architects
Hotel Missoni, Edinburgh
photo © Adrian Welch
Scottish Ballet, Glasgow
photo : David Morris
Scottish Ballet building
Film re the Cardross Arts Project (login required sadly) - http://helensburgh.tv/stories/311-cardross-seminary
Comments / photos for the St Peter's Seminary Cardross page welcome:
St Peters Seminary Cardross Building : page - adrian welch / isabelle lomholt