TALK | Recycled Heritage: Bare Ruin’d Choirs

Dates: Tuesday, August 12, 2014 – 19:00
Location:  Harold White Theatre, Level 2, 757 Swanston Street


Edward Hollis will discuss the potential of bare ruin’d choirs; exploring how ruins – at the first glance, relics of failed pasts – can be recycled to provoke and provide settings for debates about their, and our, future, using St. Peter’s Seminary Kilmahew, Scotland as a case study.

Edward Hollis is one of a number of leading experts working with Scottish arts charity, the NVA on an ambitious public scheme to rescue and reinvigorate St Peter’s Kilmahew – the world renowned former estate and 20th century religious college complex that sits shrouded in beautiful woodland near the Firth of Clyde in west Scotland. Our own Professor Alan Pert, Director of Melbourne School of Design and Professor Gini Lee, Elisabeth Murdoch Chair of Landscape Architecture, are also involved in the project.

Mr Hollis is an architect, writer and Deputy Director of Research, Edinburgh College of Art at the University of Edinburgh. Using a holistic approach, Hollis will consider ruins in the context of the built environment as a continuous process of ruination, recycling and renewal.

He sums up his view using Shakespeare’s Sonnet LXXIII

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest. 
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed, whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well, which thou must leave ere long


Shakespeare’s Sonnet LXXIII begins with a double metaphor. The ageing poet compares himself to the autumn of the year. He then compares the autumnal trees themselves to the ‘bare ruin’d choirs’ of abbey churches whose dereliction when he was writing was only a few decades after the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

This is an account of a ‘bare ruin’d choir’ which, as the subtle alteration in tone in the ninth line suggests, contains all the promise of a glowing fire. This case study will explore how ruins – at the first glance, relics of failed pasts – can be recycled to provoke and provide settings for debates about their, and our future.

The sonnet ends with an injunction ‘to love that well, which thou must leave ere long’; and the story that this case study describes is an experiment in caring for the ephemeral and the liminal. This is, therefore, not just an argument about ruins, but about our approach to the built environment as a totality, which is a continuous process of ruination, recycling, and renewal.

Edward Hollis studied Architecture at Cambridge and Edinburgh Universities. For the subsequent six years he practiced as an Architect in Sri Lanka and then in the practice of Richard Murphy, well known for his radical recyclings of ancient and historic buildings in and around Edinburgh.

In 1999, Edward Hollis began lecturing in Interior Architecture at Napier University, Edinburgh, working with students both in the design studio and in more theoretical disciplines. In 2004, he moved to Edinburgh College of Art, where he is now deputy director of research.

Working with follies and ruins in Sri Lanka, with modern interventions to historic buildings in Scotland, and in the notoriously slippery discipline of Interiors, has focussed Edward’s research and theoretical thinking on the notion of time, story, and building, and the ways in which all of them are recycled.

Edward Hollis is currently working on a number of research projects. His first book, ‘The Secret Lives of Buildings’: a collection folk tale stories about mythical buildings was published in 2009; and ‘The Memory Palace: a book of lost Interiors’ in 2013.He is currently involved with plans to revive the ruins of Gillespie Kidd and Coia’s seminary at Cardross in Scotland.



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