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St Peter's Seminary, Cardross

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Title: St Peter's Seminary, Cardross  
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Subject: Burrell Collection, Bishops' Conference of Scotland, DoCoMoMo Key Scottish Monuments, Prospect 100 best modern Scottish buildings, Charles Petre Eyre
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St Peter's Seminary, Cardross

St. Peter's Seminary is a disused Roman Catholic seminary near Cardross, Argyll and Bute, Scotland. Designed by the firm of Gillespie, Kidd and Coia, it has been described by the international architecture conservation organisation DOCOMOMO as a modern "building of world significance".[1] It is one of only 42 post-war buildings in Scotland to be listed at Category A, the highest level of protection for a building of "special architectural or historic interest".[2][3] It has been abandoned since the end of the 1980s, and is currently in a ruinous state. Despite a number of proposals for reuse or renovation of the building, its future remains insecure.



Following a fire in 1946 at St. Peter's Seminary in the Glasgow suburb of Bearsden, a new home was needed for the seminary. Discussions began with Gillespie, Kidd & Coia in 1953, but the plans for a new college in the village of Cardross were not finalised until 1961, when building began. The college had since moved from Bearsden to temporary homes. The seminary's philosophy students were transferred to Darleith House in Cardross and the theology students to Kilmahew House.[4][5] The plan was for a new building to accommodate all the students at Kilmahew House. It was a baronial mansion at the centre of the Kilmahew estate, a Victorian designed ornamental landscape created by the Burns family in the late 1800s. The mansion, built in 1865-1868, was originally a family home for James Burns and his son John, and later the Allan family, from the early 20th Century until just after the war, when the estate was sold to the Archdiocese of Glasgow. Gillespie, Kidd and Coia employees Izi Metzstein and Andy MacMillan developed a radical design in which the old house would become professorial accommodation, and around it would wrap a striking new main block, a convent block, a sanctuary block and a classroom block. The old house thus became one side of a quadrangle, creating a bold juxtaposition between old and new buildings.


Determinedly modernist, brutalist and owing a huge debt to Le Corbusier, the seminary is widely considered to be one of the most important examples of modernist architecture in Scotland. "The architecture of Le Corbusier translated well into Scotland in the 1960s. Although the climate of the south of France and west of Scotland could hardly be more different, Corbu's roughcast concrete style, could, in the right hands, be seen as a natural successor or complement to traditional Scottish tower houses with their rugged forms and tough materials", wrote Jonathan Glancey.[6] Filmmaker Murray Grigor made a documentary about the building entitled Space and Light, while Glasgow artist Toby Paterson has painted it.

By the time it was completed in 1966 the number of candidates entering the priesthood had begun to decline. As a result, the building never reached its full capacity of around 100 students. From the outset, the building was riddled with problems, including maintenance difficulties with such a unique structure and significant water entry; the architects and owners each blamed the other for these problems.


In February 1980, the buildings closed as a seminary. The Archdiocese of Glasgow moved St Peter's College to Newlands. St Peter's College, Newlands remained until November 1984 when it was closed and transferred its students to Chesters College. The Cardross site subsequently becoming a drug rehabilitation centre. However maintenance problems with the modern buildings remained, and accommodation for the recovering drug addicts centred mainly on the old Kilmahew House, which was in a better state of repair. The drug rehabilitation centre closed by the end of the 1980s. In 1995, a fire so badly damaged Kilmahew House that it was deemed too unsafe to stand and was demolished. The buildings were Category A listed by Historic Scotland in 1992,[3] and in October 2005 was named as Scotland's greatest post-WWII building by the architecture magazine Prospect.[7]

Restoration efforts

Nonetheless, the building remains a ruin. Most of the woodwork and glass is now gone, although key aspects of the original design are still clearly visible. According to the architecture writer Frank Arneil Walker, "nothing prepares one for the sight of the new grown prematurely old."[8] Attempts to convert and reuse it, or even protect it from further damage, have come to nothing – hampered by the unique design of the building and its remote location. Plans have included building a 28-unit housing development in the building's grounds, and stabilising the structure by stripping it back to its concrete skeleton, possibly fully restoring a small cross-section. This is a source of concern for conservation bodies including the Twentieth Century Society, who have placed it on their Risky Buildings Register, arguing that this would destroy much of the remaining fabric of the building.

In June 2007 it was announced that the building was to be included in the [1].

NVA, however, have continued their involvement with the site, working with local community groups, raising funds and developing plans for the partial restoration of the seminary buildings and interventions in the surrounding landscape. In 2010, NVA presented these plans at the 12th International Architecture Exhibition at the Venice Biennale. In 2012, the Scottish Government gave £500,000 for the building's regeneration by a guided walk around the Kilmahew estate, in collaboration with the Royal Geographical Society. Local residents from Cardross have begun cultivating food in the ruined walled garden of the former estate, which once supplied food for Kilmahew House and later the seminary. Following on from this, in 2013 the Invisible College is organising a series of events exploring the horticultural and food-producing aspects of the site. The Invisible College has been funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

The planning application was submitted on February 2013 by erz for the landscape-led regeneration of the ruined St Peter's Seminary at Kilmahew in Cardross. St Peter's Seminary Proposals


As of July 2005

Further images taken later: As of June 2010

See also



  • McVicar, C. and Suau, C. (2008) 'Neglectfulness in the Preservation and Continuity of Late-modern Architecture: the case of St Peter's Seminary by Gillespie, Kidd and Coia', in D. van den Heuvel (ed.) International DOCOMOMO Conference: The Challenge of Change - Dealing with the legacy of the Modern Movement. Amsterdam: IOS Press.
  • Rodger, J. (ed) (2007) Gillespie , Kidd and Coia: Architecture 1956-1987. Glasgow: RIAS.
  • Watters, D.M. (1997) Cardross Seminary : Gillespie, Kidd & Coia and the architecture of postwar Catholicism. Edinburgh: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.
  • Wenell, K. (2007) 'St Peter's College and the Desacralisation of Space'. Literature and Theology 21 (3), pp. 259–275.

External links

  • Impressive panoramic internal and external photos of current ruin, site plan and video taken in the 1960s

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