Revealed: top 100 modern Scots buildings

FOR 25 years it has been at the mercy of vandals and allowed to descend into rack and ruin. St Peter's College, a striking Catholic seminary, was closed in 1980 - only 14 years after opening - as part of Vatican cutbacks.

Since then the clean outlines of the 1960s architectural masterpiece, created by noted church designers Gillespie Kidd and Coia, have been abandoned. The seminary where Scotland's cardinal, Keith O'Brien, trained as a priest in the Argyll village of Cardross, is now a graffiti-scarred concrete shell with its interiors either destroyed or stolen.

But in a move that will embarrass its owners, St Peter's is about to re-emerge into the limelight. It will be unveiled this week as topping the list of the 100 most influential buildings constructed in Scotland since the end of the Second World War.

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The list, to be published in Prospect magazine this month, will be revealed at the Scottish Design Show in Glasgow on Thursday.

St Peter's - which cost 300,000 to build - beat Glasgow's Burrell Collection into second place, followed by the city's St Aloysius Junior School in third and the new Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh in fourth.

Churches and other buildings designed by Gillespie Kidd and Coia, renowned as one of the most adventurous practices of 1960s Scotland, dominate the list with five in the top 30.

But there are also a number of surprises including a crematorium, an island ferry shelter, a health spa, a power station and even much-maligned Cumbernauld town centre. Schools, museums, visitor centres, dance studios, galleries and bridges also figure highly.

The list is a triumph for Scots-based architects whose work has often transformed drab urban landscapes. As well as Glasgow-based Gillespie Kidd & Coia, RMJM, the Edinburgh practice involved in the controversial design of the new Scottish Parliament, has six buildings honoured.

Richard Murphy, who designed the award-winning Dundee Contemporary Arts Centre, Malcolm Fraser, who designed Edinburgh's Dancebase Studio and Page & Park, which specialises in innovative health centres, all have several entries.

But what marks out St Peter's selection as Scotland's best modern building is that the judges have chosen a structure that has not looked its best for more than quarter of a century.

When it was unveiled in 1966, observers were stunned by its dramatic cantilevered, overhanging classroom and concrete-vaulted training altars on a beautiful, wooded west coast site.

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Penny Lewis, the chair of the selection panel and editor of Prospect, said the disused seminary was an inspiration to contemporary architects. "This is a spiritually uplifting place even in its current derelict form," Lewis said. "It enjoys a fantastic relationship to the landscape. At the heart of this building is the space for worship which has to be one of the best public places in Scotland for acoustic quality."

The other judges were Peter Wilson, the project architect for the Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street, Alison Blamire, a member of the Scottish Executive-backed agency Architecture and Design Scotland, and architect and writer Mark Cousins.

The St Peter's architects, Isi Metzstein and Andy MacMillan, will be honoured for their achievement at the Design Show at Glasgow's Tramway Theatre. Their practice also designed a series of eye-catching chapels for the Catholic Church in Scotland which also make it onto the list.

Lewis said: "Scotland's best 100 modern buildings are a celebration of what is possible in the here and now with modern materials, which are used more frequently now than stone, which is very expensive to use.

"Metzstein and MacMillan produced a really innovative and imaginative body of work which sings with the optimism and sense of excitement of the 1960s and 1970s."

Architecture experts said the judges had made an "inspired" choice. John Pelan, director of communications for the Royal Incorporation of Architects Scotland said: "Many Scottish architects believe St Peter's to be one of the finest examples of post-war architecture. You should not see it as it is now, but as it was when it was built. It was very radical and bold, a real architects' building, and we would love to see it restored to its former glory." Pelan said the second and third place buildings also merited their positions but he was unsure why the Parliament was so highly placed. "It has only recently been completed so it is really far too early to say whether it has been or will be influential," he added.

Gordon Young, the publisher of Prospect, said the Scottish Design Show was aimed at assessing how Scotland's towns and cities are going to develop in the next few years. "One lesson from St Peter's is that radical new ideas are not necessarily appreciated at the time but their importance becomes clear with the passage of some time."

The ruined seminary has been granted Grade A listed status by Historic Scotland, the highest level of protection possible under building preservation law. Yesterday, Mario Conti, the Catholic Archbishop of Glasgow, said he was "delighted" to hear that the Archdiocese has been honoured for its enlightened support of fine architecture and defended the church's record on St Peter's.

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"Changes of circumstances sadly render buildings obsolete, and in the case of St Peter's Seminary this occurred much sooner than could have been foreseen," he said. "We are currently awaiting planning permission for a scheme which would safeguard the building, prevent further dilapidation, and allow us to gift the building and estate to the local community. "

Attempts had been made for more than 20 years to find a solution which would have preserved the building, Conti added. "We have attempted to put adequate security in place, but failed. Put bluntly, the vandals defeated us. We have also been victims of a policy which fails to recognise that owners of listed buildings need to have the opportunity to develop a site in order to preserve its architectural treasures."

Although most of the buildings on the list were constructed in the latter half of the 20th century, some more modern structures do make it into the top 10. They include Page & Park's Museum of Scottish Country Life at East Kilbride (7) and the Radisson Hotel in Glasgow's Argyle Street (10).

Among the best known buildings in the top 20 are Richard Murphy's 1999 Museum of Scotland extension in Edinburgh, Edinburgh Airport's 1954 terminal building and the city's 1970 Commonwealth Pool, both the work of RMJM.

Mortonhall Crematorium, designed by Basil Spence, comes in at No.22 while RMJM's Cockenzie Power Station takes 45th place. The 1964 Forth Road Bridge, designed by Mott, Hay and Anderson and Freeman, is placed at 47, and the 2003 An Turas (74) by Sutherland Hussey on Tiree shows the list is not confined to urban architecture.

Cumbernauld town centre was heralded as being ahead of its time on completion in 1967 but it has been ranked among Scotland's ugliest developments in several polls since. Remarkably, it now scrapes into the Prospect list at 100.

Lewis said: "It made it onto the list more for what it promised than what later transpired."

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