Kilmahew/St Peter’s, by Helensburgh
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To launch a Festival of Architecture with a public invitation to the abandoned ruin of a building that only briefly and unsatisfactorily fulfilled the purpose for which it was designed is to send a mixed message about a nation’s built heritage. The NVA organisation’s latest animation of a portion of the Scottish landscape has a context that is both wider than previous adventures in Glen Lyon and at The Storr on Skye, and more domestic. When the definitive history of the company’s projects comes to be written, the clearest parallels will be found in 1998’s The Secret Sign in the natural arena of The Devil’s Pulpit near Drymen and 1990’s The Second Coming at the abandoned St Rollox works in Springburn, by its predecessor, Test Dept. How the religious echoes in those names chime with the re-purposing of a Roman Catholic seminary might be a matter of discussion.
What Hinterland spectacularly succeeds in achieving is showing off the wonderful modernist form of the concrete structure Andy MacMillan and Isi Metzstein designed and built at a time when the firm of Gillespie, Kidd and Coia was producing remarkable work for the church. The symbols that have been used to reference that original purpose – clusters of church candles on stepped altars, an outsided thurible swinging and smoking over the flooded central space – may be obvious, but they are balanced by the altogether more complex messages of the graffiti un-named artists have added to the surfaces over the years, much of it highly accomplished, and the natural woodland around, which has been partly tamed to provide a canopied pathway to the building.
The lighting and projection work (by NOVAK) is technically superb and requires a full hour to appreciate, illuminating the textures as well as the truly remarkable form of what still remains of the ruin. That Hinterland will allow thousands to appreciate a piece of work that was previously only discovered by the adventurous few cannot be undervalued. That experience is soundtracked by a score by Rory Boyle that borrows from appropriate if obvious sources (Stockhausen, Part) for the St Andrews University chapel choir and trumpeter Bede Williams, the recording of which is similarly finely projected. But those elements are never more than decoration to the main architectural event, a celebration of form that cares little about function.