ON A dark, windless night in early spring, up we go, into the woods near Cardross. The Clyde shore is not far down the hill, and from the road we can see the lights of Greenock and Port Glasgow twinkling across the water. Yet here, light-sticks in hand, we are entering a slightly different world, where many layers of time seem to come together.
Hinterland | Rating: **** | St Peter’s Seminary, Cardross
There’s the power of nature itself, in the woodland and water around us, once transformed into a 19th century garden estate.
There’s the mighty 20th century building that has brought us here, gradually appearing above the trees like some wrecked spaceship from a once-imagined future. Andy McMillan and Isi Metzstein’s great Scottish modernist masterpiece, St Peter’s Seminary, was built here half a century ago, but has been unused since the 1980s.
And then, finally, there is our 21st century response, articulated with huge delicacy and care by Angus Farquhar’s NVA company, which took over the St Peter’s site in 2011, and has now brought the ruin to the point of stability where we can come there by the hundreds to experience the building – and start to think about its future.
Staged as the opening event of this year’s Festival of Architecture in Scotland, Hinterland is a suitably tentative experience, more like a starting point than a conclusion; and the fact that it takes place in darkness robs us of the extraordinary interplay of concrete structure and streaming daylight that is perhaps the building’s greatest feature.
Yet as we approach the building’s great south wall, and make our way up into the first of many bold and thrilling spaces, the subtle and stunning combination of light, sound and projection created by Farquhar’s creative team compel us to look at the structure in so many lights, and so many moods, that it seems somehow like the packed introductory paragraph of a conversation that could go on for decades – a conversation about structure, water and light, about faith and the crumbling of faith, and about the many meanings of the moment when it was possible to imagine and create this great hymn in concrete.
And if one single piece of creative work survives from this first performance, it will be composer Rory Boyle’s exquisite choral score in three movements, with soaring solo trumpet by Bede Williams.
It draws its inspiration from church music, but also calls out towards the new and unknown; and it sounds like the voice of our time, seeking strength from the past, not unafraid of the future, but willing – like a 21st century pilgrim – to pick up the light-stick, and travel on.
• Hinterland continues at Kilmahew, Cardross until 27 March