September 2009

Managed to get round a few interesting buildings during Doors Open weekends in North Lanarkshire and Glasgow. First weekend was taken up visiting St Patrick’s, Scared Heart and St Bride’s Churches, all by Gillespie Kidd and Coia.  The churches were designed for the Catholic Church and are attributed to Andy MacMillan and Isi Metzstein who were responsible for the design output of the practice from 1956. I have a long personal connection with the buildings of GKC having been born in one, Bellshill Maternity, went to High School in one, Our Lady’s High School, and having been to mass several times in Sacred Heart while growing up in Cumbernauld. I also studied architecture at Glasgow School of Art while Professor Andy MacMillan was Head of Architecture at the school and had many crits from both Andy Macmillan and Isi Metzstein.

St Patrick's Kilsyth

St Patrick's Kilsyth

St Patrick’s is situated on a sloping site and is set back from the road with a large forecourt. Although the style is distinctly modernist, there is influence from traditional Scottish architecture.

The huge soaring roof almost floats above the huge brick walls, supported on unfeasibly slender columns which disappear into the walls.

Natural light floods through the full height windows on the West Elevation. The priest who was very helpful and allowed us access throughout the church explained how he is blinded at certain times of the year as the sun floods in and some blinds have been placed strategically to avoid this.

St Patrick's Interior

St Patrick's Interior

Sacred Heart is in the New Town of Cumbernauld. I was brought up a catholic in Cumbernauld and attended mass here several times and always remember the effect of the colourful light  It’s main feature is the stunning stained glass by Sadie McLellan. It is quite an atmospheric interior and is hugely contrasting to St Patrick’s with natural light only coming from the stained glass windows and rooflights above the altar.

Sacred Heart, Cumbernauld

Sacred Heart, Cumbernauld

stained glass by Sadie McLellan

stained glass by Sadie McLellan

The interior is almost unexpected as the exterior is fairly understated and it is tucked away in a rather run down housing area.the sculptural rooflights let natural light flood down over the altar and the ceiling over the main body of the church is lined in timber which is set off the walls giving the impression it is floating.

Sacred Heart Altar

Sacred Heart Altar

The third stop was probably one of GKC’s best known Churches, St Bride’s in East Kilbride. Loved and hated by many it really is an essay in architecture. There was formerly a Bell Tower or ‘Campanile’ on the site which was demolished in 1983. The story goes that there was no drawing showing the height of the tower and the bricklayers would ask daily how high they were to go. It was only when the architects turned up one day to see where they had built to and said ‘yip, thats about right there’.

St Bride's East Kilbride

St Bride's East Kilbride

There is a completely different feel to this building also. Someone said that they felt ‘like they were trapped in a brick’ and compared the building to a Rothko painting where he is trying intentionally to make the viewer feel uneasy.

St Bride's interior

St Bride's interior

For me, this is the most modernist of the three churches, with definite Corbusian influence which the architects would freely admit. I love the ceiling and the huge copper clad ‘light cannons’ that shed light over the altar.

GKC’s body of work for the Catholic Church has been plagued with problems and a number have now been lost. Heating these large spaces was difficult and expensive and water penetration has been an ongoing problem. That apart, these are some of the most important buildings in Scotland and have been listed to help protect them.  I would recommend visiting them, especially St Bride’s, in order to fully explore and appreciate the details and spaces created. There was a book published following the recent exhibition on Gillespie Kidd and Coia which is worth tracking down.

A lot more photos on my Flickr site and check out the Glasgow School of Art archive on Flickr

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2 Responses to “September 2009”

  1. 1 Kenneth Martin
    October 19, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    I build the model of this with Marcus McEwan when I was at the Mac. Its a fantastic building and probably less understood than som eof GKC’s other buildings. Of course you do realise that the ideas for the elevation is cribbed from other eminent modernist Architects granted GKS have put a very interesting spin on them.

    • 2 scarpadog
      October 19, 2009 at 2:10 pm

      There are some obvious influences, Corbusier and Aalto especially and some less obvious like maybe Lewerentz. Although these influences are there, I think the architecture of GKC has it’s own original distinctive style shaped from geographical, political, cultural, religious and social backgrounds.

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