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Et super hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam meam
September 19, 2011 9:50 AM   Subscribe

St. Peter's was a seminary built near Cardross, on the outskirts of Glasgow. It is remarkable for its modernist design, the architects having drawn significant inspiration from Le Corbusier's brutalist monastery at La Tourette, and has been A-listed by Historic Scotland. During its construction, the Second Vatican Council recommended that priests should be trained and educated in the communities they were to serve; the quasi-monastic setting of St. Peter's thus meant it was obsolescent before its completion. Although it was briefly adapted to serve as a rehabilitation centre for drug abusers, it was abandoned in the 80s and, by 2008, found itself on the World Monument Foundation's list of most endangered sites (PDF, see p.58). There has been recent talk of the Scottish Government funding a £10m restoration project, but it is not entirely clear if the restoration is intended to turn the building into an arts centre, a museum or an 'intentional modernist ruin'.

During the 70s, St. Peter's was the subject of a film called Space & Light, by filmmaker Murray Grigor; in 2009 he revisited the site to make Space & Light Revisited. Sadly, I haven't been able to find this online, but another filmmaker has created a similar film comparing the building during its early life with its current ruined state. If seeing buildings running to seed this way is depressing you too much, however, why not watch it being built, or have a look at a virtual reconstruction (albeit a half-finished one)instead? If, on the other hand, you can't get enough of it, there are quite a few videos of the ruins being explored: this is one of the best. Alternatively, this page hosts several panoramic shots of various parts of the ruin.
posted by Dim Siawns (19 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow - the panoramas are impressive, and depressing.

(And the require Java to run, which did not factor into my comments about being impressed or depressed.)
posted by filthy light thief at 10:17 AM on September 19, 2011


Unprotected interior brick and flat roofs are unlikely to have survived very well in the west of Scotland's soggy climate. Ten million quid might be better spent on demolishing it.

(it's a spectacularly fugly building.)
posted by scruss at 10:19 AM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


"It's cool. It's a multipurpose shape--a box."

Whenever I see architecture like that I think of the quote from True Stories.
posted by happyroach at 10:20 AM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


You know, I used to think that Brutalism was the one architectural style in human history with no redeeming characteristics of any kind, but actually Brutalist buildings do make great ruins.

The way the concrete mildews and stains, the way all of the fittings fall apart and everything is so difficult to maintain (the Guardian article mentions that "the college magazine recorded jammed windows, door handles that fell off, the flooding of the chapel and a series of ominous creaks from the huge beams that soared above the sanctuary") mean that they can fall into ruin almost immediately. And as an allegory, what could beat a huge Brutalist ruin: the final efflorescence of rationalism and universalism, abandoned by people who no longer have any use for it, and left to be overcome by vandals and the elements.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 10:20 AM on September 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


There are enough Brutalist structures out there. They have not aged at all well, aesthetically or materially... most of them don't deserve to be spared the wrecking ball.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:27 AM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is a major problem, because it is just outside of fashion, major modernist buildings are being allowed to collapse without a lot of intervention. The scottish site is an example of intervention that might just help, and is being used as an example by persverationists that suggest that work post 1950 must be saved.

Plus, it is fucking gorgeous. Great post, Thanks
posted by PinkMoose at 10:34 AM on September 19, 2011


(about brutalism not being saved--i don;t like victorian domestic archtiecture at all, i find it cramped and samey, and opressive in a kind of being strangled with a tea cozy way--but i acknowledge it is part of my history, and that my aesthetics aren't realvent here. Modernism, and brutalism deserve the same respect.
posted by PinkMoose at 10:36 AM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I really like this building. I've been there a few times. Finding it is really tricky last time I had to climb a tree to see it, fell in a stream and got bitten by a horse fly. Then there's the big fence, the chance of a local young team and various structurally unsound stairways.

Sure its a ziggerat with oversized pebble-dash but the handling of the space and the transitions from dark to light inside are masterful.

I hope the diocese play ball this time and the west of Scotland gets to enjoy a great building again.
posted by multivalent at 10:46 AM on September 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's really tough to get a feel for this place without having been there. At first glance it seems like a mixed bag (yeah, the ziggurat with the arched arcades fills me with dread), but that library (with the seated nuns) in the first vid with the clerestory and swooping ceiling is glorious. That first video and the virtual reconstruction site are well worth checking out.

Also, excellent and throrough post!
posted by GodricVT at 10:58 AM on September 19, 2011


During its construction, the Second Vatican Council recommended that priests should be trained and educated in the communities they were to serve; the quasi-monastic setting of St. Peter's thus meant it was obsolescent before its completion.

I looked at both Optatam totius, the Council's "Decree on Priestly Training" and Presbyterorum ordinis the "Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests" and at a couple other Vatican II documents and couldn't find this suggested anywhere. If anything, the opposite seems to be the case with Presbyterorum (at no. 10) suggesting that
there should be set up international seminaries, special personal dioceses or prelatures (vicariates), and so forth, by means of which, according to their particular statutes and always saving the right of bishops, priests may be trained and incardinated for the good of the whole Church.
International seminaries to send priests elsewhere is sort of the opposite of training and educating priests in the communities in which they are to serve.

Optatum (at no. 7) suggests that for the "sound training of students, which must be considered the supreme law in this matter" that "[w]here individual dioceses are unable to institute their own seminaries properly, seminaries for many dioceses or for an entire region or for a country are to be set up and developed," which again takes seminary training out of the local area.

It seems more likely to me that it was a victim of the declining number of seminarians in Scotland, which has now fallen so low, that there is no longer a seminary in Scotland. Today Scottish priests are educated mainly at the (centuries old) Scots College in Rome.
posted by Jahaza at 1:56 PM on September 19, 2011


Brutalist structures should just die out. What worthy art form, besides films, came out of the 70s? Let the concrete wither away like bell bottoms and macrame.
posted by zardoz at 1:59 PM on September 19, 2011


This Hidden Glasgow thread has comments and recent pictures from inside. West of Scotland has too much of this block concrete to waste the money on this.
Most recent pictures linked in last page as expected.
posted by stuartmm at 2:00 PM on September 19, 2011


I made a big post a few years back about the architects who designed St Peters, Andy MacMillan and Isi Metzstein, of Gillespie, Kidd & Coia. Sadly, the video of Murray Grigor's original Space & Light seems to have vanished from Yahoo Videos, and it doesn't appear that the whole 20-minute video is online anywhere. And it appears that most of the videos from Building Design have been yanked off as well, which is a shame, they were fantastic.

Anyway, as GodricVT says, it's hard to get a feel for the place if you've not been there. I've visited maybe six or seven times over the years and it's a weird, amazing place. The last time I visited was maybe about a year ago, and it was in a particularly sorry state; it was much worse than on my previous visit a couple of years before, and one of the people I went with – who had also been previously – compared our last trip to visiting a dying relative in hospital: you know the end is coming. It's a fucking scandal and a tragedy, though. Hate brutalism or love it, that building – even when covered in graffiti, falling down around you, with a huge concrete altar lying in pieces on the floor, with water pouring in around you, with most of the wood burnt out or rotted away, with weeds and plants growing out of corners, with mould and growths and fungus everywhere – has a weird, serene, calm beauty to it. This might sound strange when looking at the pictures in the post, but believe me, it's true.

That the Catholic Church has allowed this building – arguably the most significant/important bit of modernist/brutalist architecture in Scotland, if not in Britain – is criminal.
posted by Len at 2:01 PM on September 19, 2011


zardoz: Brutalist structures should just die out. What worthy art form, besides films, came out of the 70s? Let the concrete wither away like bell bottoms and macrame.

St Peter's was completed and opened in 1966. Man, I hated 1966. Revolver. Blonde on Blonde. Pet Sounds. Fuck that nonsense.
posted by Len at 2:05 PM on September 19, 2011


The best thing about this is some of the graffiti that's been done there. I mean, damn, baby.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:59 PM on September 19, 2011


This project actually makes clear in an interesting way the close relationship that Brutalism has with historic Gothic architecture -- which, after all, often used the pure, raw (brut) form of cut stone, and exposed its structural elements, which often could overwhelm human spaces within. I think I'm with the architectural community here which is trending back towards appreciation of this mid-century style, for what it was, even though that was to current eyes often flawed. The architecture's close association with modern public architecture placed it firmly in the target of those who would criticize the failings of the era in handling social problems, but I generally don't see the architecture itself as being at fault.

How is it that no science fiction films were ever made here?
posted by dhartung at 3:07 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


dhartung: This project actually makes clear in an interesting way the close relationship that Brutalism has with historic Gothic architecture -- which, after all, often used the pure, raw (brut) form of cut stone, and exposed its structural elements, which often could overwhelm human spaces within.

I was thinking about that, how Gothic architecture was intended to awe people with the Might of God. It looks like this structure could have done this, once. Now, it's the folly of man in his attempts to best nature, while God looks on and laughs.
posted by filthy light thief at 5:02 PM on September 19, 2011


filthy, I'm not sure how this illustrates folly against nature, as it was willingly abandoned -- and the British Isles are quite littered with examples of decaying Gothic architecture. If anything, both resist nature pretty spectacularly, and the interesting thing is how it's stood up to so much abuse.
posted by dhartung at 12:38 AM on September 20, 2011


Jahaza, thanks for your comment - I had tried to find a link for the articles' claim that Vatican II had promoted local training of priests (which is in a couple of the articles), and when I couldn't, simply included the claim in the post; clearly I didn't look hard enough. I've had a wee read of the Decree on Priestly Training (here if anyone else is interested) and I agree, there doesn't seem to be anything explicitly recommending training of priests in the community. That said, the section you quote ("[w]here individual dioceses are unable to institute their own seminaries properly, seminaries for many dioceses or for an entire region or for a country are to be set up and developed,...") seems to me to imply that training within the diocese is ideal, and only if the diocese is unable to 'properly institute' its own seminary should the training be moved to a seminary responsible for a wider area.
posted by Dim Siawns at 2:57 AM on September 20, 2011


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