Designed by Jack Coia in the years preceding the Second World War, the Category A listed building of St Columbkille’s Roman Catholic Church in Rutherglen is an early example of the distinctive modern ecclesiastical architecture which his practice Gillespie Kidd and Coia famously produced. Behind an austere towering red brick façade, is a bright and airy Italianate basilica style church, with clean proportions and simple elegant geometry.
The 1970’s brought about internal alterations to align the interior with liturgical thinking of the time, however there was no extensive maintenance work undertaken to the building for the several decades following, and although the large congregation and active Parish kept the building in constant use, the building gradually declined and fell into a level of disrepair.
Page\Park Architects were appointed in December 2011 to complete a comprehensive building fabric and roof repair project, and this was followed by a second phase of work, an interior refurbishment, which was completed in Autumn 2016.
The latter refurbishment project sought to revitalise the church interior, and ensure its longevity for generations to come. With the elegant simplicity of the original Coia design, the intention was for new interventions to subtly celebrate the original architecture and returning it back to its former glory.
The internal works aimed to capture the original atmosphere of space and light, with repaired plasterwork and subtle redecoration which allows the natural light to elevate the simple architectural features and establish a ‘pure‘ and contemporary ecclesiastical space.
Choosing materials appropriate to the existing interior also became important, as an old church booklet described: “one realised how much pleasure came from the quality of the fittings; everything in the church was good, everything was designed to last another century.”
Existing original fittings and materials in the church were a durable pallete of brass, oak, and marble, and so selecting appropriate high quality materials to match or complement these was crucial.
Bringing the church up to date in terms of accessibility and environmental comfort were also clear objectives of the refurbishment. Rather typically for the west coast of Scotland, the large church could be particularly cold and draughty, and so the challenge was to integrate major new services to the building discreetly, as well as improving facilities by installing two new accessible WCs within the tight constraints of the plan.
The largest intervention internally was the new nave floor; a 340m2 suspended concrete floor was installed to replace the existing timber floor. The new floor is unusual in the fact that the structural concrete slab is heated rather than the screed on top. This was to allow for the refurbished pews to be bolted to the floor after completion; the heating pipes had to be set at a suitable depth in the floor build up which ensured that they would not be disrupted.
This slab has become the new main heating element in the church, augmented by refurbished cast iron radiators around the perimeter. Using low temperature warm water and the large thermal mass of the floor, the space is now consistently warm and comfortable. The new slab was built off the existing dwarf walls of the extensive undercroft. Insulated on the underside, steel profiled decking was laid onto which the slab and screed were set, and then finished with a surface of limestone tiles. The pale honed limestone tiles were laid with random widths, the intention being to create the sense of a single flowing stone surface rather than a tiled pattern floor. Expansion joints were required, so a slim brass profile was chosen along with an expansion fill coloured to match the limestone tile.
The extensive undercroft was useful in concealing the necessary new service runs and heating manifolds. Cable runs were also replaced and organised within the undercroft to serve a comprehensive new lighting scheme within the church. New spotlights were fitted discreetly to provide washes of light or to pick out distinct architectural features, and original light fittings such as the pendants in the nave were refurbished and re-lamped. The final touch was to refurbish and hang in place the original altar light within the sanctuary, which first featured in the now demolished gothic style church which stood on the same site, predating the current church by almost a century.
The church is now open to its parishioners again, hosting twice daily Mass services as well as a variety of events and prayer services. It’s a tall order to live up the statement made about the church when it originally opened- “everything in the church was good, everything was designed to last another century.” – but hopefully the new refurbishment will ensure new life and longevity for the building for many decades to come.