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St Peter's Seminary, Cardross, Argyll and Bute

Nestled amongst wild woods that hint just a little of once being tamed, is a most amazing ruin. Well actually there are three : St Peter's Seminary, the scant remains of a Victorian house and of Kilmahew Castle - see my other posts for the others. But it is the Seminary that we are concentrating on here. My photos were taken prior to recent intervention as noted later.

St Peter's Seminary has been called Scotland's greatest modernist ruin. To me decaying modern buildings do have a certain raw aesthetic, but they are also sad. Unlike buildings from our historic past such as castles into which ruin we read the excitement of past grandeur or turbulence from which we have now escaped, modern ruins speak almost only of neglect and decay. St Peter's Seminary though is a complex combination of concrete forms richly embellished with graffiti. From this you may expect to see just another derelict modern building, but it is different. It almost enjoys being a ruin; defiant in its abandonment; devoid of fittings and finishes and much of its roof, yet still asserting its place amongst the tree.

Awash in burnt timber soaked by the ingress of rain, it has a great, if disturbing aura. I have clambered through it in such conditions. Unidentifiable squawks and drips and clattering. Ghosts? No, most probably birds and the weather, although I have found signs of unsuitable recent habitation and once disturbed local kids with their spray cans adding to the already generous contemporary adornment all monks would be very unsettled by. I can't show you all my pictures of the graffiti. Many would be most unsuitable for you as a discerning audience. Even that here is borderline. There is an ongoing debate about the validity of graffiti as art; an expression of society in a given time frame. What do you think?

You most very likely already know the general form of the premises so I have chosen this picture taken from the higher accommodation level. Its unfurling concrete raps the corner stairway. The seminary was designed as a training centre for student priests by Glasgow architects, Isi Metzstein and Andy MacMillan from the practice of Gillespie, Kidd and Coia. It was soon recognised as a modern building of world significance and was to be one of the few modern buildings in Scotland to be listed “A”. Although commissioned earlier, the plans were only finalised in 1961 and the building was completed in 1966. The practice were fast becoming recognised for their innovative modern architecture. This one certainly has been influenced by le Corbusier. But changes were not only happening in architecture. The expected number of recruited student priests was not realised and the premises were only used for a few years. They were closed in 1980 when the Archdiocese of Glasgow moved the college to Newlands in southern Glasgow.

Although standing forlorn for many years, it was not forgotten. It was the focus of many initiatives and student projects to adapt it to new uses. The structure is challenging to change, economically and structurally. But a new lease of life did emerge in 2016. Funding was secured and under NVA, a public art consultancy, and other consultants, it emerged as the venue for Hinterland. Even if the building does not find a new alternative permanently sustainable alter ego, it appears that its ghosts are able to turn their back on the past and look to the future, at least seasonally. Even if you don't exactly find religion, you may search for its mysticism in the filtered light amidst the shadows of hard concrete forms and enclosing space. If not exactly sacred art, one may recognise the inherent urge to explore and convey imagery and messages by the graffiti artists. Then take a step further in. The intervention of objects and figures and procession whether opportunist or creative remind us subtly of its original intent.

BBC : http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/2322D9tZhP7xmYNDzrRmQ90/st-peters-seminary-a-new-life-for-scotlands-greatest-modernist-ruin

NVA website discussing its future : http://nva.org.uk/artwork/kilmahew-st-peters/

British Listed Buildings : http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/200338056-cardross-st-peters-college-cardross#.WO8qUKFri00

Canmore : https://canmore.org.uk/collection/1312047

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