Touched by brutalist honesty - Gillespie, Kidd & Coia: Architecture 1956-87

The Lighthouse, Glasgow
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The Independent Culture

The genre of architecture on show at The Lighthouse in Glasgow is called Brutalism, and its outriders were known in the late Fifties and Sixties as the New Brutalists. They were, on one level, shock tacticians whose architecture was hostile to the watered-down, increasingly graceful modernism that threatened to magic away evidence of the basics: structure, materials, volumes, light.

The names automatically associated with the New Brutalists - the headliners, as it were - include Alison and Peter Smithson, Erno Goldfinger, and "early" James Stirling. But, as this retrospective of their work reveals, some extraordinary architectural hardball was also being played by the Glasgow practice Gillespie, Kidd&Coia (GKC). "Two ranging shots across our bows from somewhere way over the horizon" was how the influential English architect Colin St John Wilson described GKC's 1957 and 1963 churches in the new towns of Glenrothes and East Kilbride.

Behind these buildings - and the many more churches and schools, a major seminary and a Cambridge college that were to come - were Isi Metzstein and Andy MacMillan, who joined GKC in 1945 and 1953 respectively. Over 30 years, the pair produced an architecture that fused the sensibilities of the age with an awareness of Victorian and medieval precedents.

Click here to watch a film of Gillespie, Kidd & Coia's architects discussing their buildings

This show leads us, with an almost ironic smoothness, through horizons of materiality, design, imagery, structure, mass and weight, into the kind of thought that once had Metzstein declaring that "the philosophical root of what we do is to uncover and define the identity of the self".

We see, through plans, models, historical reference material, MacMillan's notebooks and Metzstein's sketches, how the architecture was developed - out of brick, wood, render, glass - to create presences and spaces that could noteasily be deconstructed in the mind.

Much of the power in these buildings, which strive to be unfussily democratic, is in the tensions between external monumentality and the brusque grace of big, open internal spaces. The modulations of the nave of Basil Spence's Coventry cathedral seem cravenly arty compared with, say, the church at East Kilbride with its 100ft-high walls, or with the structure of St Peter's Seminary at Cardross, the structural model of which shows just how determined Metzstein and MacMillan were to deliver uncompromising, heavily articulated forms.

All the while, screened in plywood booths, two videos loop. One is a gripping conversation between the two iconoclasts: Metzstein pursuing points with remorseless thoroughness, MacMillan avuncular, but suddenly trenchant, with a voice like Sir Alex Ferguson after victory at Old Trafford and a glass or two of 1985 Haut Brion. Their faces, and the glasses and the bottle of Macallan malt between them, are grained not by age, but by the surface of the plywood on which they're projected.

This show is a must for students of architecture, and for anybody else who wants to see how polemical design was generated at a time when Corbusier's brave new world was being press-ganged into the service of consumption. The exhibition is itself a demonstration of the practice's quest for, in the words of Isi Metzstein , "a more present and legible space".

To 10 February (0141 221 6362; www.thelighthouse.co.uk); 'Gillespie, Kidd&Coia: Architecture 1956-87', edited by Johnny Rodger, is published by The Lighthouse

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