The Guide: Modernist Lover’s Scotland

| Mar 27, 2018

Words by: Anjana Janardhan

While renowned for its breathtaking natural beauty and stunning landscapes, Scotland is also home to some hidden gems of modernist architecture. Here we pick four of our favourites – from a cavernous Brutalist former seminary in decay to the bright and airy studio created as a designer’s atelier in the woods.


St Peters Seminary, near Cardross, Argyll and Bute  

This disused Roman Catholic seminary completed in 1966 is an imposing presence nestled in the Kilmahew woods near Cardross, Argyll and Bute. A significant example of modernist architecture in Scotland, it was designed by Andy McMillan and Isi Metzstein of the famed architectural practice Gillespie, Kidd and Coia. The number of candidates joining the priesthood would decline in the years following its construction and the building would have a short life as a seminary, finally closing its doors in 1980. The former campus fell into disrepair and lay in ruins for decades until 2016 when NVA, a Glasgow-based environmental arts organisation saw the potential of the space and hosted a 10-day series of events re-activating its decrepit interiors. While currently closed to the public, the building now holds Category A listing and NVA reached their £7m funding target to transform it into a public cultural space so this modernist ‘ruin’ may just recover its former glory. 


Bernat Klein Studio, Selkirk  

Inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, this late-modernist studio space in glass and concrete was designed by Peter Womersley (1923-1993) in 1972. It was commissioned by the Serbian textile designer Bernat Klein for whom the architect had designed and build a residence in the 1950s on the same 3-acre property. Nestled in the woods, this large horizontal space with floor to ceiling windows offers beautiful views of the Borders countryside and was originally used by the designer to work in and receive clients. It has sadly been neglected in the past decades and suffered some damage due to flooding but is in the process of being restored to its former beauty. While the main Klein House is owned privately, the studio has been opened during the Doors Open Days event held in Scotland every year so worth keeping an eye on their programme. 


Craigsbank Parish Church, Edinburgh  

This clean and calming example of 1960s architecture more than deserves its place in Scotland’s modernist heritage. While undoubtedly owing its minimalist approach to Corbusier’s chapel at Ronchamp, its creator was influenced as much by the unique history of the neighbouring countryside. W. Kinninmonth of Rowand, Anderson, Kinninmonth & Paul designed the building in the 1960s and was inspired by the conventicle church meetings held in the hillside hollows in the 17th century. Seen from above, the design represents ‘welcoming arms’ with its curved walls built in brick, concrete and painted drydash. Challenged by the limited amount of ground space available, Kinninmonth ingeniously chose to dig down and ‘build up’ creating a sunken nave and raised pulpit. The association with its surroundings carries over to the interior with wooden seating and green carpeting echoing the verdant hills just south of the city. The clerestory windows bathe the church interiors in natural light making this a welcome sanctuary for visitors in search of respite. 


Mortonhall Crematorium, Edinburgh 

The influence of Modernism extended well beyond architecture for the living as evidenced in this multi-denominational crematorium in Edinburgh by one of Britains most famed architects, Basil Spence. Opened in 1967, this stark ode to the afterlife is composed of rising concrete prisms culminating in a tetrahedral spire sitting above the main chapel. The windows of the building take the form of high narrow slits in each prism, letting in natural light and striking shadows for those inside. The interiors were kept intentionally clean with dark grey concrete flooring and white and bronze plinths for coffins. The building’s only ornamentation emerges from the stain glass windows, casting coloured shadows on the neutral mood inside. 


Gallery image credit: Contemporary Art Society


Curious to see Scotland’s contribution to the modernist art movement?

Head to Edinburgh for ‘A New Era: Scottish Modern Art 1900-1950’ at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. Until 10.06.18

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