Saturday, 27 October 2007

'Finest modernist building' saved

A masterpiece of modern architecture which has been left to rot for more than 25 years could soon be transformed into a “very interesting, weird” hotel, if an offer to buy the site is accepted by the Catholic Church. St Peter’s Seminary at Cardross, the first postwar building in Scotland to be grade ‘A’ listed, was completed by Andy McMillan and Isi Metzstein of the Glasgow architects Gillespie, Kidd and Coia in 1966. However, 15 years later, a structure dubbed “the finest modernist work in Scotland” was abandoned and the debate over its future has raged ever since.

Now the Manchester-based development company Urban Splash – which has made its name by regenerating some of most neglected and challenging sites in the north of England – has offered to purchase the seminary from the church.

The Archdiocese of Glasgow confirmed yesterday that it had received an offer and though Urban Splash would not be drawn on the details of its proposals, it is understood that senior staff favour conversion into an hotel.

The company is currently engaged in the £7.3m restoration of Morecambe’s Midland Hotel, a magnificent art deco building which had, like St Peter’s, fallen into decay. A new business, Urban Splash Hotels, has been founded to run the operation which opens in Spring and a second spectacular venue in Argyll and Bute is seen as a natural complement.

“I could imagine it being a very interesting, weird kind of hotel, not anything like a Holiday Inn,” said Mr Metzstein, who retired from private practice in 1987, but continued to teach at the Mackintosh School of Architecture. “If they imposed a standard hotel, it wouldn’t interest me at all. But if they conserve the essence of the building and the quality of the light, then I would be very interested.”

Mr Metzstein added that he regarded St Peter’s as “part of a life’s work” and said he regretted that it had been allowed to decay. But he warned that the seminary would make an unusual hotel.

“A building like that is a unique opportunity for an architect to say something beyond the utilitarian. It wasn’t designed to be adapted, it was designed to live forever,” he said. “It has a particular quality which sets the limitations on what you could possibly do with a building like that. It will not be easy. You will have to sacrifice some element of comfort if you want to turn it into an hotel.”

St Peter’s is regarded by enthusiasts as one of the most complete examples of the late modern movement in Britain, and contributed towards Gillespie, Kidd and Coia receiving the RIBA Gold Medal in 1969.

However, the outcome of the Second Vatican Council sealed St. Peter’s fate before it was even completed. The church decided that priests were bettered trained in the community than at remote seminaries, and students from St Peter’s were dispersed into Scotland’s towns and cities as the process of decay set in at Cardross.

Little more than a year ago, campaigners hoping to restore the seminary were in despair. Demolition had been mooted and a planning application to develop 29 houses on adjacent land had been lodged by the Archdiocese which would have generated enough money only to save the building only as a “consolidated ruin.”

But in June when St Peter’s was listed by the World Monuments Fund, a global organisation that seeks to protect the 100 most vulnerable cultural heritage sites in the world. Its citation stated that the seminary was “spacious and filled with light” and “in its state of severe decay it still has an evocative and powerful visual impact.”

Now a conservation assessment funded by Historic Scotland is being prepared by Avanti Architects for the Archdiocese. A first draft is understood to encourage the sympathetic restoration of the building. The final report is due to be published in December. One insider said: “A window is opening at last.”

Urban Splash’s coincides with a retrospective exhibition of MacMillan and Metzstein’s work at the Lighthouse in Glasgow.

Mr Metzstein said he had never been asked to consider alternative uses for the building, but suggested that if not developed as a hotel it could become music centre for young people or “a mini-conference centre” for scientists or artists to exchange ideas. “It could be a kind of retreat for very talented people, not double glazing salesmen,” he said.
* Gillespie Kidd & Coia, from 3 November, The Lighthouse, Glasgow

1 comment:

rory olcayto - senior reporter, Building Design said...

Hi Mike - Rory here. a good story. we're happy that you picked it up from Building Design - and then ran with it. We worked hard for it in the first instance however and next time would appreciate a reference to source.

kind regards.

connery story was great by the way. definitely not a hoax though eh?