A decade-long project to rescue Gillespie Kidd & Coia’s Category A-listed St Peter’s Seminary faces the axe after the charity behind it announced plans to close.
Glasgow-based arts organisation NVA (Europe) said it was unable to continue after missing out on critical funding.
St Peter’s Seminary was designed by Isi Metzstein and Andy MacMillan, opening to its first student priests in 1966. The highly acclaimed Brutalist building closed in 1980 and subsequently fell into disrepair.
NVA had been working with architects McGinlay Bell and Avanti on a project to breathe new life into the abandoned structure to create a ‘dynamic’ arts space within an ‘intentional ruin’.
A statement from the charity said: ‘Despite our best efforts we were unable to guarantee the viable future for the St Peter’s Seminary that we had imagined and hoped for. In the end, we had no choice but to bring the capital project to an end.’
It added that it had tried to develop an alternative plan for the site but conceded: ‘In practice this has not proved to be possible and the process of trying to define and secure that future, and our own, has reinforced the many financial and structural challenges facing the company.’
Angus Farquhar, the creative director overseeing the scheme, told an AJ100 gathering last year about the painstaking but light-touch efforts being made to rehabilitate the Modernist icon.
Alan Dunlop, professor of architecture at Aberdeen’s Robert Gordon University, said Farquhar had that day delivered ’a very positive message regarding the future of St Peter’s Seminary’.
It is desperately sad St Peter’s will be again be left in a state of flux
Dunlop added: ’NVA was a highly regarded arts organisation committed to good design and promotion of architecture. So it is desperately sad that it has announced that it will cease work in September and also that the future of St Peter’s will be once again be left in a state of flux.’
Farquhar said in 2017: ‘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.’
Despite yesterday’s news (5 June) John Allan of Avanti Architects is still hopeful about the future for the landmark: He told the AJ: ’[We] continue to be engaged with St Peter’s Cardross and remain confident that a renewed initiative will take over from the brave leadership of NVA.
‘After 12 years of involvement with this unique building and landscape there is a massive platform of technical research, professional collaboration and wider community support to underpin a new project going forward.
’Although considerable preparatory and de-risking work has already been undertaken on site, the buildings remain vulnerable and so the sooner the next push can ensue the better.’
NVA appointed Avanti and McGinlay Bell – then part of NORD – following a competition in 2014.
Farquhar and McGinlay Bell have been contacted for comment.
Jon Wright, heritage consultant and 20th century architecture specialist at Purcell
This is very sad news, not least because of the loss of the arts organisation itself. St Peter’s is to Scotland what Battersea once was to London: a large sink for grand ideas and it has managed to soften the heads of everyone who has approached it. After a long life now as a ruin and a number of failed schemes, it’s hard to see where next.
If the history of the conservation movement has taught us anything though, it’s to keep on keeping on – you could say the same of St Peter’s, which has endured despite ruination, vandalism, fire and time. St Peter’s has a lot of new friends and international supporters thanks to NVA, who have proved that new interpretations and uses for ‘lost’ buildings can be developed by organisations with vision and willpower.
St Peter’s has had another phase of life and while this recent news is regrettable, I wouldn’t write this building off just yet.
Fiona Hyslop, Scottish Government cabinet secretary for culture, tourism and external affairs
NVA are to be congratulated on breathing new life into St Peter’s Cardross, culminating in the Hinterland installation which launched Scotland’s 2016 Festival of Architecture . St Peter’s significance is well known internationally for its architecture and design, its natural setting and place in history. Conscious of this importance, I have asked Historic Environment Scotland, as Scotland’s lead body for the historic environment, to consider longer term options so this unique site can continue to fascinate and inspire the public.
St Peter’s Cardross
Source: Glasgow School of Art