A Very Modern Ruin: St Peter’s Seminary

As part of my Strip Mall activities I am currently researching innovative strategies for the adaption and reuse of built forms which have fallen out of use.

One excellent example I want to bring to your attention is the repurposing, or ‘making safe’, of St Peter’s Seminary in Glasgow, Scotland.

Image: NVA, Glasgow

The building was designed in the 1960s by modernist architects Gillespie, Kidd and Coia for the Archdiocese of Glasgow. It was used for training priests, but after being used by the Catholic church for only a few years, the building fell into disuse and is now a famed ruin and place of pilgrimage for graffiti artists and urban explorers.

Image: NVA, Glasgow

Despite being regarded as one of the most significant modernist buildings in the UK, it has fallen into a near-ruinous state with previous plans to renovate the building coming to nothing.

NVA ( a Scottish arts charity interested in a non-gallery based democratisation of presentation) is now beginning a two-year fundraising plan to raise the £10m needed to complete the development of the building and the surrounding area.

NVA’s vision for St Peter’s (and its surrounding woodland estate) is for it to become an integrated public rural artwork, accessed on foot. The site would be partially restored, stabilising the structure to make a safe living ruin, and the internal spaces and woodland would be utilised in a variety ways to host extensive artist-led cultural and educational programmes.

The charity’s plans to convert the Seminary building into an ‘intentional Modernist ruin’ is particularly innovative because it is only a ‘partial’ restoration as NVA explains:

“Acknowledging the recent history of the building as a ruin whilst making safe what is left by partially restoring the internal spaces within an exposed and strengthened superstructure, St Peter’s seminary will adapt and evolve incrementally within its shrouded setting.”

Essentially they are turning architectural entropy into a form of heritage strategy. Angus Farquhar, the creative director of NVA, notes the approach has been inspired by similar restoration projects such as the Duisburg-Nord Landscape Park in Germany (where a former industrial wasteland has been transformed over more than 10 years into parkland) and the El Matadero in Madrid, a former slaughterhouse that is now a cultural centre.

NVA’s longterm hope for the site is that it will:

“both function as a unified artwork combining the built and un-built environment in a walked narrative and work with academics from different disciplines to advance the site as a long term source of knowledge and inspiration that will be shared with wider audiences through the experiential teaching within a working and productive landscape.”

NVA recently presented a programme of public events, entitled To Have and To Hold, responding to the themes of restoration and reuse of our built heritage at La Biennale di Venezia’s 2010 International Architecture Exhibition.

NVA delegates also debated the future of St Peter’s and their plans for the site in a discussion session. They reconnected with the radical roots of Ruskin’s nineteenth century conservation theories, and their influence on the great architect Carlo Scarpa and his remarkable fusion of ancient and modern elements in schemes, still seen around Venice.

The discussions were documented in the following film:


The contributors that took part in the discussion were:

Gordon Murray, Gordon Murray Architects/Strathclyde University (Moderator)
Adam Sutherland, Grizedale Arts
Alan Pert, Nord Architects
David Cook, Wasp’s Artists Studios
Ed Hollis, Edinburgh College of Art
Gerrie van Noord, Freelance Project Manager
Hayden Lorimer, Glasgow University
Henry Mckeown, JM Architects
Moira Jeffrey, Scotland on Sunday
Murray Grigor, film maker
Rolf Roscher, ERZ Ltd
Tilman Latz, Latz + Partner Architects
Ranald MacInnes, Historic Scotland
Angus Farquhar, NVA

Luke Alexander also produced a great short film about St Peter’s for his project called “Concrete Britain”, which looked at the history (and present state) of Modernist architecture in Britain. In the film original film footage from Space and Light (1972, dir. Murray Grigor) is combined with new footage of the building in its now derelict state.

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This entry was posted in Architecture and Aesthetics, Biennial Culture, Cultural Geography, Experimental Geographies, Spatial Encounters, Spectral Geographies and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to A Very Modern Ruin: St Peter’s Seminary

  1. frank bernardi says:

    could you tell me the address of this church building

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