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Cardross: a Scottish tragedy

The crumbling ruins of Gillespie, Kidd and Coia’s St Peter’s Seminary in Cardross
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Don’t blame NVA for failing to save St Peter’s Seminary; the Scottish government should step in to save one of the finest Modernist buildings in Europe, writes Chris Boyce

I have always undertaken pilgrimages; journeys where the destination is just one building, one space or one moment in a landscape that makes the wee hairs on my neck stand up. Places that make me shiver with expectation and delight.

The first time I experienced this was in 1989 when my father took me to the desert in the south-western USA and I saw Vegas for the first time – visceral, filthy, morally corrupt but beautiful. In part, that trip made want to study architecture, and I ended up at the Mackintosh School in the early 1990s.

It’s ironic that the next time I felt the chill of a place I would come to love was in 1994 when I walked the pine needle-strewn road from the failed security fence and saw you – Cardross Seminary – on the hillside above the wide Clyde, looking south to Port Glasgow through the trees.

You were conceived by two young radical brilliant men, who didn’t need to copy. Cardross is unique. It’s also very Scottish

You were a ruin then, but your soul was visible beneath the damage and neglect. A brilliant series of magical spaces and subtle manipulations of light through the architectural section.

Today, the latest in a string of suitors has let you down, and it’s not the fault of the arts group NVA that a remarkable and deeply significant building is once again left to the ravages of time and decay.

They bit off more than they could chew, and now no one is looking out for you. It breaks my heart.

Gillespie, Kidd & Coia’s 1966 St Peter’s Seminary in Cardross

Gillespie, Kidd & Coia’s 1966 St Peter’s Seminary in Cardross

Gillespie, Kidd & Coia’s 1966 St Peter’s Seminary in Cardross

In the 1960s, the Roman Catholic church changed their minds just a few years after opening your doors to the young men who were to learn their mystical arts in your cloistered halls.

They decided seminary schools were antiquated and that priests needed to be out in the community, reeking their unique brand of havoc.

The church closed your doors and passed you on to a mixed bag of local-authority users and abusers who kicked you when you were down, institutionalised you, painted those wonderful spaces dull beige and took your heart.

Then they dumped you too. The church, the rehab services, local government and Scottish government have all walked away from you. Eventually, in 1995 because of a massive fire started by more local vandals, they flattened the over-the-top Victorian baronial style house you were hugging so lovingly. You were all about context, and they stripped you and left you undignified on the hillside alone.

UNESCO gave the work of Le Corbusier World Heritage Status, and frankly it’s time someone in the Scottish government stepped in and saved you 

Scotland has let you down. A few grants here and there are nothing but insults to a building of this calibre.

It’s no reflection of the impact you should be having on the world. You are one of the finest Modernist buildings in Europe. Yes, you are a bit like La Tourette but you were conceived by two young radical brilliant men here in Scotland, who understood the work of Modernists across Europe, but who dreamt you up with little knowledge of your sister building. They both taught me at the Mack, and they didn’t need to copy. Cardross is unique. It’s also very Scottish.

St Peter's Cardross

St Peter’s Cardross

Source: Glasgow School of Art

St Peter’s Cardross

UNESCO gave the work of Le Corbusier, including La Tourette, World Heritage Status in 2016, and frankly it’s time someone in the Scottish government stepped in and saved you from eventual total ruin; saved the most ingenious brilliant ceremonial spaces: that alter; the ramped route to the sacristy, nestled in the hill; the cantilevered lecture hall with its star destroyer underbelly, now just a skeleton.

The RIAS and RIBA both need to lobby our ministers, this is one building that we must not lose.

Chris Boyce is founder and director of Assorted Skills + Talents*

File 1

File 1

Source: Chris Boyce

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