The Kilmahew / St Peter’s commission plan sets the building within the wider landscape as a total artwork and makes it the fundamental source and starting point for all future interventions. It is a powerful vision for a singular integration of the built and un-built environment that will generate a new form of creative landscape for the twenty-first century.
Tramp through the atmospheric woodland that surround the abandoned St Peter’s Seminary building complex -located on the outskirts of Helensborough, close to Glasgow on the west coast of Scotland – and gradually the looming concrete structure appears from the gloom. This modernist ruin, dating back to the 1960s, has been transformed by a stunning ‘son et lumiere’ spectacle, Hinterland, for the official launch event of Scotland’s Festival of Architecture 2016. Off limits for many years this site has become an iconic building – a place of pilgrimage for graffiti artists, rave goers, architecture students and those who seek out ‘other-worldly’ spaces.
‘Hinterland’ reveals the full glory of the towering concrete ruin, combining moving light installations and projection with a haunting choral soundscape by composer Rory Boyle, recorded by the St Salvator’s Chapel Choir of the University of St Andrews. The St Peter’s Seminary building, set in the midst of the Kilmahew Estate in Argyll and Bute, was opened in 1966 but only served its function as a training centre for Roman Catholic priests for 13 years. These days the magnum opus of the architects Andy MacMillan and Isi Metzstein sits, hidden from the nearby Clyde Estuary by the forest of Kilmahew.
‘Hinterland’ has been developed and produced by NVA – a Scottish based arts organisation that creates participative, site-specific environmental art works, in urban and rural landscapes using sustainable technology. The event is described on the NVA website as, “an open manifesto for the ground-breaking creative work that will be programmed at St Peter’s Seminary from 2018 onwards. The long term plans will rescue, restore and reclaim this outstanding example of 20th century architecture and bring it back into productive use as a national platform for public art and world-class heritage destination.” Source: hinterland.org
The design team of Avanti Architects, NORD Architecture and ERZ Landscape Architects, have developed proposals that will deliver an iconic cultural resource where powerful art and heritage learning will sit side by side. This will include the consolidation of the main Seminary building as a ‘raw’ frame, with restoration of the chapel and sanctuary including the stunning ziggurat rooflight as an enclosed events space. There will also be reclamation of the main pathways and repair of the historic bridges and late mediaeval castle keep. The Victorian walled garden will be brought back into productive public use and will act as a hub for community growing and learning activities.
‘I like the wild, unspoiled nature of the grounds without the formality of signs. It’s a place of discovery in an age of spoon-fed recreation.’ Local resident
What is most fascinating about the regeneration process is the decision to use the surrounding landscape as the conceptual starting point of the project with an emphasis on the landscape as a tool to re-animate the site. Most notably, this project’s boldest innovation is the consideration of the building as a sculptural element within the landscape. A working landscape will be created – a place to do things and be involved in generating the site’s future. The collective actions that will bring Kilmahew / St Peter’s back to fruition will take many years, but every step has value in the site’s transformation from its current state of glorious abandonment.
“The plan considers the remarkable building and its 45 hectare woodland setting together, creating a public resource that aims is to shift people’s relationship to the landscape from one of being a passive observer or detached consumer to having an active physical or intellectual engagement.” Rolf Roscher, erz Landscape Architects.
To read the full report on this landscape led regeneration project – click here