Seminary 'where modernism died' to be recast as arts venue

St Peter’s Seminary in Cardross. Argyll, has remained derelict for more than 25 years

Jamie Merrill@Jamie_Merrill
Friday 28 November 2014 19:20

Twenty miles from Glasgow on the Firth of Clyde, one of Scotland’s most important examples of 1960s brutalist architecture has sat derelict and empty for more than 25 years. Now though, plans have been revealed to turn St Peter’s Seminary in Cardross into a major international venue for arts and culture as part of a £7.3m project.

The sprawling site won the Riba Royal Gold Medal in 1969, but the arts group NVA which is behind the new project is not aiming to produce a slavish recreation of the building’s former glory or even embrace a radical new design.

Instead it wants to create a 600-seat performance venue and exhibition space, using the building’s current battered and forlorn state as inspiration.

Even before it fell into decay, St Peter’s divided opinion, with the architecture magazine Prospect naming it Scotland’s best modern building, while one unkind critic suggested the building was “where modernism crawled up a hill to die”.

Designed by young Glasgow architects Andy MacMillan and Isi Metzstein, it was consecrated in 1966 but only used as Catholic seminary for 15 years, before the number of students joining the priesthood went into decline. Then followed a brief spell as a drug rehabilitation centre before the building was abandoned because it was too big and expensive to maintain.

It then fell into ruin, suffering from a string of arson attacks and theft of its decorative woodwork and window frames. By the 1980s, it was derelict, open to the elements and covered in graffiti.

Now Avanti Architects, which are leading the project for NVA, have decided to rework the building in a way that deliberately alludes to its current state.

The firm said it hoped to find “value in the unmediated changes that have emerged over the last decades”.

Angus Farquhar, its creative director, said: “NVA’s plans represent an unheralded form of regeneration, one that accepts loss and ruination as part of the site’s history.

“Our plans offer a singular and dramatic set of spaces to release new uses and new ways of framing human activity.”

This means that rather than “rubbing off the hard edges” to create a “polished version of the past”, the architects hope to preserve a “raw sense otherness, excitement and revelation” at the site, which was once surrounded by ornamental grounds.

The logic behind this, according to NVA, is that “ideals of 20th century modernism are worth holding on to”.

In a statement, the company said: “Although we live in austere times, we should not let go of the spirit in which St Peter’s was built: a spirit of working to improve things and imagining a better world.” The first step of the renovation, which has received private funding and support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, will see hazardous asbestos waste removed and the redevelopment of the gardens, with NVA hoping to open the doors of the new centre in 2017, around 50 years after its first foundation stone was set down.

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