Cardross, Argyll & Bute
NVA has produced an ambitious scheme to reclaim the future of the world-renowned St Peter’s Seminary, an iconic modernist ruin in Argyll and Bute, and the surrounding woodland landscape of Kilmahew. An innovative approach to heritage conservation will combine the consolidation of the building in its current state of ruination with partial restoration and new design. The space will become a dramatic setting for public art, performance, learning and debate that speaks back to the world and finds relevance and use for bold and imaginative thinking.
Abandoned since the late 1980s, every structure within the site, from medieval to modern, has been reduced to ruins. Brutal, beautiful, romantic, ravaged, spiritual, shocking – the site provokes many reactions. Designed by Glasgow architects Andy MacMillan and Isi Metzstein of the renowned Gillespie, Kidd and Coia architectural practice for the Catholic Archdiocese of Glasgow, St Peter’s Seminary was completed and consecrated in 1966. Almost 50 years on from the day it opened we are witnessing the first positive steps towards a new purpose with hazardous materials and vault stabilisation now completed and Hinterland, the first event on site, attracting a phenomenal level of profile and support for the plans.
“This is truly its last chance, but what a great chance.”
– Angus Farquhar, NVA
150 years since the original Victorian estate of Kilmahew was established, we are now in a position to start afresh. In March 2016, we received news of £4.2 million in confirmed funding from Heritage Lottery Fund and Creative Scotland. After years of dreaming, scheming, battling, planning and persuading, we are finally able to take forward our vision for the future. The building was so nearly lost, and this investment gives hope that Scotland and Europe will gain a new cultural centre worthy of the optimism and ambition that created St Peter’s Seminary.
NVA‘s vision accepts loss and ruination as part of the site history. The imaginative re-use of this great late modernist structure reflects the same social dynamism and ambition with which it was conceived: a spirit of working to improve things and imagining a better world. Rather than rubbing off the hard edges to create a polished version of the past, the intention is to preserve a raw sense of otherness, excitement and revelation.
The design team of Avanti Architects, ERZ Landscape Architects and McGinlay Bell are currently developing proposals that will include the consolidation of the main Seminary building as a ‘raw’ frame, with restoration of the chapel and sanctuary including the stunning ziggurat rooflight as an enclosed events space. The main pathways will be reclaimed, historic bridges repaired, and the Victorian walled garden will be brought back into productive public use as a hub for growing and learning activities. The collective actions that will bring Kilmahew / St Peter’s back to fruition will take many years, but every step has value in the site’s transformation from its current state of glorious abandonment.
The planned works will begin on site in 2017 and will take two years to complete. To ensure public safety, the site is currently inaccessible with 24 hour security in operation. We are developing opportunities for the public to access St Peter’s Seminary during this transitional phase. Please subscribe to our mailing list to be kept up to date with planned future events and activities.
A Modernist Icon
Designed by Glasgow architects Andy MacMillan and Isi Metzstein of the renowned Gillespie, Kidd and Coia architectural practice for the Catholic Archdiocese of Glasgow, St Peter’s was completed and consecrated in 1966. It went on to win the RIBA royal gold medal for architecture. However, the building was only in use as a training college for priests for 14 years. After 30 years of abandonment and decline the buildings are now registered as one of the World Monuments Fund’s most endangered cultural landmarks.
The seminary buildings were originally designed to wrap around the existing baronial manor, Kilmahew House, which was destroyed by fire and eventually demolished in 1995, with only the footprint of the house’s foundations visible today. The seminary’s international significance links to the work of the architect Le Corbusier, and specifically his monastery of Sainte-Marie-de la Tourette near Lyon in France. With St Peter’s, there was rare group value in the highly charged relationship of the new buildings both to each other and to the original 19th century house and in their acutely sensitive response to its immediate setting – a relationship that is still legible despite current dereliction.
A Historical Landscape
The Victorian-designed landscape of the Kilmahew estate has miles of buried trails, waterfalls and historical bridges that cross its two burns. It is full of remnants of its much older history, with ancient yew trees and a medieval castle keep hinting at its rich 500 year history of human intervention. The name Kilmahew is derived from the Chapel of St Mahew. Mahew, a 6th century monk, was part of the first wave of proselytizers spreading Celtic Christianity from Ireland to Scotland. The name first appeared on the map as ‘Kirkton of Kilmahew’, a piece of land where a small chapel was built half a kilmometre to the west of the woods. The chapel is said to have existed since the earliest Christian times. There is speculation that an ancient baronial house seen on early maps of the area and long since destroyed may have been the home of Robert the Bruce during his later years.
The site contains a number of historical features, all in a ruinous state, including a 16th century castle keep, a Victorian walled garden, and the footprint of Kilmahew House, the baronial manor built in the 1860s which sat at the centre of the seminary complex until it was destroyed by fire in the 1980s.
A Future Reclaimed
Our vision is to create the UK’s first intentional modernist ruin.
Nothing quite like this has been done before and the ideas are generating important and exciting thinking about the value of our recently built heritage and how it should be protected. The plans, which have been developed over the past six years, are attracting enthusiastic support at every level, from local people through to Scottish Government.
“The former seminary at St Peter’s is one of Scotland’s most important modern 20th century buildings. This project will at last see the buildings and their wonderful landscape setting conserved and enhanced for the benefit of all.”
– Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, Scottish Government
Help save this modernist icon for future generations.
The fundraising target for the capital works is £6.2 million. Plans are progressing well and in March 2016 we received confirmation of £4.2 million in funding from Heritage Lottery Fund and Creative Scotland.
Confirmed funding is already in place from other key partners including Historic Scotland, Dunard Fund, The Pilgrim Trust, The Architectural Heritage Fund, Argyll and Bute Council, and generous philanthropic gifts have also been received from private donors.
Our fundraising efforts will continue throughout the period of redevelopment as we seek to raise a further £1 million to enhance the current works and support ongoing running costs. If you would like to join us and help to save one of Europe’s greatest modernist buildings and its vivid landscape please contact:
Clare Simpson, Strategic Development Officer
+0044 (0)141 332 9911