Cardross Seminary

January 26th, 2011


So this is what I do in my spare time – traipse (and trespass, hmm) around abandoned buildings with a few friends. Though you wouldn't know by looking at it now, Cardross was a gleaming example of the more complicated, socialist-minded architecture of the late modern period. Would you believe me if I told you it was still in use just 31 years ago? Probably not. So why and how did this 'ingenious' work of architecture fail so spectacularly and so shortly after it was completed?


St. Peter's Seminary is located near the western coast of Scotland, just outside the village of Cardross. The Catholic diocese of Glasgow commissioned the by then established modernist church architects, Gillespie, Kidd & Coia. Modern design after the second world war inspired a hopeful future for many, sharply disembarking from the problems of the past towards a brighter, healthier future. After all, people believed that things could only get better after how bad they had become. However, by the mid 1960s, when these utopian plans failed to deliver the euphoric socialist society they promised, people of all ages began to doubt the ability of architecture to alter or improve their plot in life. It was at this time, that the Catholic church was faced with an exponential drop in membership and seminary students. Cardross was designed for 100 students, but was filled at most with about 50 and only 20 at the time of its closure in 1980. With the Second Vatican Council of 1962-65, Pope John XXIII had sought to make the church more available to the people, and essentially, update its image. Gillespie, Kidd & Coia's expressionistic and monumental modern architecture coincided with these political and social aims.


St Peter's seminarian college in Cardross was opened in 1966 and fully completed in 1968. It was praised all around for its bold and innovative architectural form, while maintaining the traditional self-containing aspects of a Catholic seminary. Unfortunately, this sheen dulled quite quickly once the roof began to leak, so much so that the walls in the classroom area began to grow mold and in 1974, the roof over a stairway collapsed. The dropping student population made the large building complex inefficient to heat and uncomfortable to live in. Near the end of its use, the new complex was all but abandoned when the students were moved into the more suitable 19c Scottish Baronial mansion that the new complex had been built around. So why exactly did the building structure fail? This is what I am meant to find out over the next few months in an attempt to understand structural failures in other concrete modernist buildings. I will pass along any other interesting findings or case-studies, but until then you can satisfy your curiosity about Cardross Seminary with the extensive and exhaustive conservation assessment report conducted by Historic Scotland in 2007.

Caroline Engel for Danish Teak Classics

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