Angus Farquhar, the creative director overseeing the overhaul of St Peter’s Seminary, has told a packed AJ100 gathering about the painstaking but light-touch efforts being made to rehabilitate the Modernist icon
Speaking last week at the AJ100 lunch in Glasgow, the founder of Glasgow-based charity NVA said he wanted to deliver a ‘classic re-use but one which pays homage to what it was’.
NVA is working with architects McGinlay Bell and Avanti on the project to breathe new life into Gillespie Kidd & Coia’s 1966 celebrated concrete landmark. The much-anticipated proposals aim to partially restore the abanonded building, designed by Isi Metzstein and Andy MacMillan as a seminary for student priests, to create a ‘dynamic’ arts space within an ‘intentional ruin’.
Farquhar told the AJ100 lunch club meeting that the profession had to acknowledge when 20th century buildings didn’t work. He said: ‘Long after you are dead it is very unlikely [your building] will be in the same use as for the reason you built it. I wonder if we should build in that sense into architecture, in the way that they become frames of human activity and drama. It is a challenge to the ego when you are making it, but it is no bad thing.’
Farquhar has been working on the £10 million project to resurrect the crumbling Category A-listed St Peter’s Seminary for almost 10 years.
Explaining what he hoped to achieve, Farquhar said: ’We are only aiming to bring a small part of [Cardross] back to restoration – the chapel and the sanctuary. Most of the rest of the space will remain simply consolidated. Because 1) we don’t have a use for it; 2) we can’t afford to do it up; and 3) it is more interesting in its current state.’
He went on: ’Our journey is an open one and we have got people involved all along. We are not keeping the public out until there is some perfect end.’
‘[The plan is] do it very slowly and carefully and doing by bringing the public on board with you. In the long run that will celebrate Andy and Isi’s legacy in a meaningful and authentic way.’
Farquhar appointed Avanti and McGinlay Bell – then part of NORD – following a competition in 2014 and has been working with them on a ’sensitive and incremental‘ approach to the building’s rebirth.
Asked what he wanted from his architectural team, he said: ’We ultimately need an arts space and at the same time there is an iconic legacy to this building, so the architect’s job is very difficult. What level of intervention should there be? What do you add of your own and what do you bring back? How do you update and upgrade materials?
‘But for me as an independent, poor client, who has very clear philosophical, political, educational and arts uses for the building, our brief is very different to that.
When you are on a tight budget, what do you take out?
‘Balancing up those two things is very difficult. But if we work very closely together, we can understand that we don’t have to leap to the final conclusion. You don’t have to over-design a building.’
Farquhar added: ’When you are on a tight budget, what do you take out? Do you take out a bit that allows you to understand the architecture or do you lose a café? These are extremely painful decisions.’
Farquhar said NVA’s ultimate aim was to get 50,000 visitors a year onto the site. He said: ’It is not a black box, it is not a white cube, it is an utterly remarkable dynamic space that is shifting through time. We are not doing this for us; we are doing it for people to come and have a remarkable experience of architecture and a unique built space.’
He added: ‘And so you don’t get in the way of that. Trust people and don’t treat them like walking wallets.’