This week news broke that work on the £7.3 million restoration project to Cardross Seminary – led by arts charity NVA – will start next year. The project will transform the 50-year-old Grade A-listed structure into an international arts centre named Hinterland.

St Peter’s Seminary was designed by architects Andy MacMillan and Isi Metzstein, but fell into disrepair after its closure in 1984. It’s now regarded as a lost classic of architecture. On MacMillans death, Gavin Stamp called it ‘the finest modernist building in Scotland’ and wrote:  “In these buildings, and in their masterpiece, St Peter’s Seminary at Cardross, Metzstein and MacMillan gave a distinctive poetry to the European modernist tradition, combining admiration for the achievement of Le Corbusier with a wide and idiosyncratic knowledge of history.”

NVA’s director, Angus Farquhar has dedicated himself to its restoration, in a scheme that many would have found too daunting given its epic scale and cost. The challenges of the project were exacerbated by the buildings location, extensive disrepair and the presence of asbestos on site. Undeterred Farquhar’s proposals include a 600-seat performing arts venue and a heritage exhibition alongside indoor and outdoor teaching spaces. It’s work of this scale and ambition that we need to be acting on.

The project stands as statement of unrestrained adventure itself: reclaiming a lost building haunted by the failures and crisis of the Catholic church; regenerating and restoring a landscape around the building that will be as important as the structure itself, but also, crucially, creating a world-class arts venue for Scotland.

The building will be the venue for the launch of the Festival of Architecture. See more here. Hinterland is produced by NVA, creators of Speed of Light for the Olympics and Ghost Peloton for the Tour de France,

In this film Angus describes the building and the restoration project …(watch full screen)

Comments (19)

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  1. Clive Scott says:

    An eyesore when built 50 years ago and the passage of time has done nothing to improve the original concept. A disgrace inflicted on Scotland by the Catholic church and along with much else of that era best knocked down and forgotten.

    1. leavergirl says:

      I agree. The reason many of these buildings get abandoned is that they were never created to be livable and repairable. That, in addition to being eyesores built by egomaniacs. Ugh.

    2. Carol Soutar says:

      It’s hard to believe that people can’t see or recognise the beauty in this architecture – but it would appear that sectarianism and bigotry colours many a vision!

      1. leavergirl says:

        Would you please leave “bigotry” out of it? Why must every discussion be slimed with accusations of bigotry nowadays? And people who loathe piles of brutalist concrete be accused of prejudice? I mean, really….

  2. Many would disagree Clive – in fact the building’s launching the Festival of Architecture next March!

  3. Seumas says:

    Was the building ever fit for purpose which was to provide a place of learning and formation? A friend of mine who was a seminarian there told me that it was a terrable place to work, but what do the users matter if some Architect can tell us that it is wonderful.

    1. RabMac says:

      Seamus, my question would be *why* did your friend feel that way, and how much if any of it concerned the building itself?

      Disclaimer: I am a lover of Brutalist architecture, when done right, as (for example) Denys Lasdun’s National Theatre on the South Bank.

      1. Seumas says:

        It was cold and dreich. I think that he told me that the rooms were on the North side of the building. It was 30 years ago and it was in the context of bad buildings we had lived in. I stayed in a 19th Century Methodist Seminary when I was doing my Post Grad in Manchester and it was pretty grotty and cold, and I think that we are comparing horrors, it was not a discussion of the building. I think that there were big windows in the rooms single glazed and bad to study in. Of course there were never enough people about to fill the place so it didn’t work at that level.
        St Peter’s sort of proved that Mediterranean architecture didn’t translate to the West Of Scotland. I heard stories of buckets and things in other Coia buidings for the Archdiocese. At that time I was involved in the troubles of another modern building where the roof was such that thieves had stripped the copper off the roof, and the local neds had cut through the tar and felt replacement with their skateboards.
        There is some interesting writing by Barth about the theology of Architecture in which ISTR that he said something to the effect that if you get a sermon, or even a book wrong it is transitory while a building or a stained glass window wrong it will blight generations.

        1. florian albert says:

          Your comment about buckets certainly applied to St Benedict’s church in Drumchapel. (Demolished before it could be given listed status.)

          There was a feeling in Glasgow in the 1960s that the people were being experimented on by planners and architects with the connivance of the local Labour Party and Catholic hierarchy.

          This sense of resentment was exacerbated by the knowledge that they were having to pay for what was being done to them.

          1. Seumas says:

            florian albert, I suspect that was simply how things were done in the 60’s people were told by the experts what was good for them. I suppose that is one of the reasons why I have always been uneasy about the work on the seminary, as it was a monument to so many failures. I would agree with the idea that the £7M would be better spent on a ship (especially the QMII).
            I had heard some interesting stories about why St Benedict’s was demolished before it was listed. If they are true they increase my regard for Winning.
            What still gets me is that Architects want to keep their mistakes going. That is why many people in the construction trade think that Fuckingarchitect is all the one word.

    2. RabMac says:

      My sincere apologies for misspelling your name, my (poor) excuse is that I’m using a phone with a tiny screen & lost sight of it while typing my reply. 🙂

    3. Richard MacKinnon says:

      Seumus, Your point is well made, the issue is not whether the building is an architectural gem or not. The point is it was never fit for purpose. It leaked like a sieve from day one. Buckets every where.
      I don’t know about the restoration of buildings like this but I know the building and 7m is not enough. Angus Farquhar take note.

      1. leavergirl says:

        Here is another Brutalist “gem” that was bitterly opposed by the county (Orange Co. NY), built anyway at great expense, leaked from day one, and now is costing the people again in the fight of those who want to renovate it, those who want to preserve it as it is, and those who’d rather get rid of it for good. Whoever wins, taxpayers get fleeced. A project that began with the poisoning of the well of public trust, keeps on poisoning.


        1. leavergirl says:

          Oh and for folks interested in reading about the ugly underbelly of the modern architecture world, I recommend the Hipcrime Vocab blog. The blogger is himself an architect and knows the issues intimately. Unfortunately, the blog is hard to navigate… best way to find those posts, I think, is googling the blog along with the architecture key word. Well worth one’s while.


  4. JG says:

    I’d rather see the £7m spent on restoring the old Clyde Steamer T.S. Queen Mary which will return to the Clyde next year after a long exile on the Thames – a true piece of “Architecture” beloved of generations of ordinary Glaswegians.

  5. Lindsay Buchan says:

    Call me pedantic but if you call yourself Bella Caledonia you ought to know that there’s no such thing as a “Grade A” listed building.

  6. Wul says:

    Christopher Alexander, architect, builder & philosopher proposes a question that can be asked to asses the amount of “life” that a building, object, or work of art has. It is a simple question and may seem irrelevant to some, but I think it gets to the heart of the matter:

    “To what extent is this thing like a picture of my soul?”

    1. leavergirl says:

      Hah. Brutalist buildings are like Orwell’s boot stomping on human faces [or souls] forever. Except they will fall apart long before buildings built formerly out of mud-and-manure bricks. A happy thought.

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