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Don’t give up on Cardross seminary, architects tell church

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Architects behind the cancelled restoration of the derelict Cardross seminary in Scotland have said the Roman Catholic Church is being ‘unduly pessimistic’ over the building’s future

Last week the archdiocese of Glasgow, which owns Gillespie Kidd & Coia’s Category A-listed St Peter’s Seminary near Dunbarton, described it as ‘a huge albatross around our neck’.

The church leaders’ director of communications, Ronnie Convery, also told BBC Scotland that, after 40 years of trying to find a new use for it, they were now ‘back to scratch’ with the Brutalist masterpiece.

But Avanti Architects, which was working on a project to restore the ruin until the plug was pulled last summer, has said the church’s position is ‘unduly pessimistic’. 

In a letter to the AJ, consultant John Allan said: ’The loss of [arts charity] NVA’s core funding was naturally a matter of considerable regret to all involved, but it would be unfortunate to conflate this disappointment with complete loss of the fruits of some 12 years’ work by the professional team.’

Allan said the design team had secured planning and listed building consents for a range of essential works, including extensive survey and diagnostic investigations and detailed specifications for the landscape and buildings.

He said: ’The team has produced a substantial documentary platform for taking forward any basic follow-on project.’

The £10 million project for the Glasgow-based NVA arts organisation, on which Avanti was working with Glasgow studio McGinlay Bell, sought to ‘breathe new life’ into the ruin. But the charity was forced to axe the project after missing out on critical funding.

Hoskins Architects, which worked on a previous restoration project for the ruin under developer Urban Splash, added it, too, was ’optimistic’ about the future of the building.

A spokesperson said: ‘We have great sympathy for the challenges this presents for the church, but we remain optimistic that the right development partner can be found to save this vitally important building in an imaginative and creative way.’

Avanti was also backed up by preservation body Docomomo UK. Chair Judi Loach said: ‘It is hardly true to say that the situation is now “back to scratch” since all asbestos has been stripped out, the building has been made safe and a detailed conservation plan is in place.

The building has been made safe and a detailed conservation plan is in place

‘The major problem is funding for further works; but the huge success of the Hinterland event, together with nearby Helensburgh’s development of (especially architectural) tourism, suggests a viable future for such an imaginative reuse, requiring only partial reconstruction, while the rest remains a stabilised ruin.’

Responding to Avanti’s comments, Convery conceded that the NVA project had left the site in ‘much better shape’ but stressed the church was still struggling to finance the project.

He added: ‘The groundwork has been laid but the issue remains one of finance – potential developers find themselves caught up in a straitjacket of greenbelt restrictions and planning restrictions relating to the Grade A listing of the building.

‘We remain available and open to interests from anyone who feels they may have a way of providing some future use for the building and estate.’

The Scottish government has commissioned Historic Environment Scotland to draw up options for the building, but the report has not yet been made public.

NVA founder Angus Farquhar said he was ‘strongly supportive’ of the government’s initiative to explore long-term options for St Peter’s.

‘This is a serious and considered process that fully acknowledges the significance of the building to 20th-century architecture and the potential to find progressive ways to safeguard it for future generations,’ he said.

The former priest’s training centre, designed by Gillespie Kidd & Coia architects Isi Metzstein and Andy MacMillan, opened in 1966 but was deconsecrated in 1980 and fell into ruin.

The building was given Category A listing by Historic Scotland in 1992. 

1966   St Peter s Seminary  c Glasgow School of Art Archives and Collections

1966 St Peter s Seminary c Glasgow School of Art Archives and Collections

Source: Glasgow School of Art Archives and Collections

St Peter’s Seminary in 1966

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Readers' comments (1)

  • A regrettable situation for the Catholic Church, when they themselves could well have unwittingly assisted the way in which the abandoned seminary has been so spectacularly trashed by vandals.
    One of the contributors to the severe social problems in the more deprived parts of Scotland's Central Belt is the local availability of Buckfast tonic wine, despite representations to the Benedictine order at the abbey in South Devon, where the wine is produced in an architectural award winning facility.
    The £10m could most definitely be funded from the profits of this very successful enterprise, but the 'arm's length' company responsible for marketing the caffeine and alcohol based 'tonic' won't even consider the change to plastic from the heavy glass bottles that prove such effective missiles - or, when broken, vicious weapons.
    The company's board includes members of the monastic community, but this seems to count for nothing.

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