June 2013 

14/06/2013

An epitaph for St Peter’s

Just before the building closed again, I left this little gravestone there. The result of an exhibition at Edinburgh College of Art of works in concrete, glass and textiles inspired by St Peter’s, it writes the story of the site on its stones:

The forest of Kilmahew, around twenty miles west of Glasgow, conceals an architectural cautionary tale. In the 1960’s, the landscape was radically transformed by a building. St Peter’s seminary was built to house around a hundred catholic novices. Its plan and section, the work of the architects Gillespie Kidd and Coia, were a rigorous statement of the modernist maxim that form follows function.

But within a decade, there were not enough priests to fill it; and St Peter’s became a form without a function. The building remains empty, and derelict. It is no longer what it used to be, and not yet what it can be.

The caution is simple: design a building programmatically, set it in concrete, and you’ll end up with a ruin.

As with all buildings, we must learn to accept that St Peter’s, Cardross is no longer the instrument it was designed to be nor yet a monument. Once the programme that generated them has disappeared, their form will never, to misquote Louis Sullivan, follow function. Buildings are iterative processes rather than products. They exist in time, and never have been, are not, and never will be complete. Architecture is an activity, not a thing, no less ephemeral than space or light, and always in the process of being revisited. The contents of this exhibition shows how what may be perceived as a hopeless heap of decaying concrete can give flight to the imagination.

Edward Hollis, Deputy Director of Research at Edinburgh College of Art.

all very Ozymandias, eh?


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