Ellis Woodman on the legacy of Andy MacMillan
AJ critic-at-large Ellis Woodman assesses the legacy of Andy MacMillan, a driving force at post-war legends Gillespie Kidd & Coia
Andy MacMillan was born in 1928, the year of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s death, and on more ebullient evenings was given to joking that he was the great man’s reincarnation. Certainly, over the three decades that MacMillan and Isi Metzstein maintained creative control of the work of Gillespie Kidd & Coia they produced a body of work which defined their period of Scotland’s architectural history as authoritatively as Mackintosh had dominated his.
In the Glasgow diocese of the Roman Catholic Church they were blessed with a client who provided a steady flow of commissions of a nature that allowed for the development of an altogether richer architectural language than they might have achieved had their energies been directed to more quotidian programmes. Beginning with St Paul’s, Glenrothes (1956) they quickly demonstrated their mastery of the architectural promenade, the manipulation of natural light and the novel assembly of traditional materials. The interrelation of cellular rooms and large volumes was a recurrent concern. Whereas the monk’s quarters at Le Corbusier’s La Tourette stand alongside the chapel, at St Peter’s seminary at Cardross (1966), Metzstein and Macmillan gathered the students’ rooms into a bridging structure that defined the congregational spaces distributed beneath. St Peter’s proved one of their last church commissions but the practice refocused itself around work for universities, building at Hull and Oxford before completing a final masterpiece: Robinson College, Cambridge (1980).
Still in his early 50s, MacMillan went on to head the Mackintosh school of architecture for over 20 years, maintaining a culture that placed emphasis on an understanding of history and which provided a rich foundation for the work of a whole generation of Scottish architects.
Yet to frame Macmillan’s achievements exclusively in Scottish terms would be to do him a disservice. The work that he and Metzstein produced together represented a significant enriching of the language of modern architecture and offers abundant lessons for the discipline’s development today.