FIONA Hyslop is being asked by a well known aristocrat to help save one of Scotland’s most important modern buildings, which a leading architect believes could be transformed into a centre inspired by the German art school Bauhaus movement.
The Marquess of Bute John Bute has written to the Culture Secretary to discuss the future of the A-listed St Peter’s Seminary in Cardross, near Dumbarton, which has lay in ruins for several decades.
In the letter he underlined the “national and international architectural importance” of the former college for trainee priests and stressed it had the potential to again become a significant asset.
Bute, a former racing car driver, backed a previous £11 million plan by Angus Farquhar, founder of the former environmental arts body NVA, to rescue the building, providing it with considerable financial assistance. However, the proposal collapsed when the arts company closed last year. He now hopes for success with a new venture and is in talks with architect Professor Alan Dunlop.
“Up until 2016 I was one of a group of funders providing finance for the development plan which had been drawn up by Angus Farquhar of NVA.
“Over the course of three years I have provided £689,000 from my foundation and £173,000 personally for asbestos removal, capital developments and the management and maintenance plan for the St Peter’s project,” Bute told Hyslop in the letter, sent last month.
“The building at Cardross is of national and international importance and I feel very strongly that with the right development plan it could be a considerable asset to the local community within the Glasgow and Clyde corridor region.
“As a Brandane and chairman of the Mount Stuart Trust I am acutely aware of the need for economic and social regeneration in Argyll and Bute, furthermore it would be a great shame and a waste if all the funding provided by myself and others was all for nothing.
“Would you be prepared to meet with Alan Dunlop and myself, as well as any other relevant parties, in order to try and devise a feasible plan for St Peter’s Seminary?”
Dunlop, a Fellow of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland and the Royal Society of Arts, believes the building could be transformed into a residential centre to support artists, designers and writers from Scotland and around the world.
He said the facility could be modelled on the Bauhaus movement which brought under one roof its approach to the arts, architecture, design and craft, and which marks the centenary anniversary of its birth this year.
“There is no reason why the building could not be converted from a seminary to something like a Scottish Bauhaus Centre. I don’t see any reason why it should not be put forward as a proposition for the redevelopment of the site,” said Dunlop.
“The cultural benefit could be long, long lasting. I would like to reset the focus we have in Scotland at the moment which is all about ‘how much will it cost?’.
“I know the issue of money will be raised and people will ask ‘how can we afford it?’ but we need to balance that with what the cultural benefit of such a project would be and I believe bringing this building back into use would help promote Scotland and Scottish cultural throughout the world.”
Designed by renowned Scottish architects Isi Metzstein and Andy MacMillan, St Peter’s Seminary was completed in 1966. The building came to be considered a modernist masterpiece but its working lifetime was short and when the number of trainee priests fell, the seminary was deconsecrated in 1980.
Since then, it has been degraded by fire, rain and vandalism, but it still regularly attracts visits from architecture students and aficionados from around the world.
Its importance was recognised in 1992 when the seminary was Category A listed by Historic Scotland. The World Monument Fund has it scheduled as one of the world’s most endangered cultural landmarks. St Peter’s is owned by the Catholic Church which has described it as an “albatross” around its neck which it cannot give away.
NVA staged the Hinterland project in the ruins in 2016 and made a film with acclaimed artist Rachel Maclean, but the long-term project it was behind to transform the ruins into a cultural centre and performance space came to a halt last year.
The arts company had spent £2.3m on the building, and organised a series of works, including removing hazardous waste and asbestos, the restoration of 80 vaults, improving paths, clearing away rhododendron plants, as well as other woodland management in the 104-acre site. When NVA announced it was to close last year Hyslop asked Historic Environment Scotland to study potential uses. It is understood the report has been sent to her.
A Scottish Governmentspokesperson said: “In the first instance, the future of the building is a matter for the Archdiocese of Glasgow, who own the building. Scottish Ministers asked Historic Environment Scotland for advice on potential options for the future of the former seminary and the wider site. This is under consideration.”