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St Peter's Seminary saviours

Site-specific artists NVA given two years to raise £10m to renovate abandoned brutalist masterpiece

There are those who still think the bravura brutalist design of St Peter's Seminary in Cardross, 25 miles from Glasgow, to be an eyesore. There are those who say it was blighted by technical problems from the day it opened 45 years ago. Then there are those who believe that this is one of the greatest modern buildings in Europe. Whatever your opinion, St Peter's was deemed important enough to be placed on the World Monument Fund list of the "World's 100 Most Endangered Sites" in 2008.

Now, Scottish arts group NVA, funded by Creative Scotland and a number of UK trusts and foundations, has been given two years to raise £10m to enable the partial renovation of the great concrete structure. The aim is to transform the graffiti-plastered ruin and the surrounding Kilmahew woodland strewn with litter into an arts-led public space.

"The opportunity to purchase St Peter's/Kilmahew concludes years of speculation about the seminary buildings", says Angus Farquhar, NVA's creative director, "and marks the beginning of a new future for the site and for the many people for whom it has significance ... a new form of generative public art that develops from a long-term creative dialogue with the users and radically accepts the value of the building in its current form expanding an 'unfinished' narrative that will change over time."

That narrative has been beset with sorry circumstances: by the time its construction was completed in 1966, the number of vocations to the Catholic priesthood in Scotland had fallen dramatically, while a Vatican II encyclical from 1965 declared that priests should no longer be trained in the countryside but in the communities they were to serve. St Peter's closed in 1980, became a drug rehabilitation centre in 1983, then closed again four years later and began its rapid descent into decay. In 1993, the building, designed by Andy MacMillan and Isi Metzstein of Gillespie Kidd and Coia as a homage to Le Corbusier, was listed Grade A – a building of special architectural importance in Scotland.

Visitors to the site in years to come will walk through restored woodland and come across the shored up ruins of St Peter's alive with artistic adventure. This will take many forms, from teaching to live events, with the buildings acting as a sublime frame. NVA also plans to increase security, as the woods and ruins have become a less than holy haven for young people.

No one has expected the seminary to be restored to its original purpose, least of all the Archdiocese of Glasgow. Since the early 1990s there have been several attempts to find new uses for St Peter's, but the NVA proposal garnered praise internationally when it was unveiled at the 2010 Venice architecture biennale. But NVA has just two years to raise funds and to spirit the project into life. It wants people – and not just locals and artists – to join in the discussion and, hopefully, help raise funds. St Peter's is a site of international importance, but if NVA fails, the lands and ruins will return to the Archdiocese; and, then – without purpose and funding – they can only fall into further decay. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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