Issue 213
May/June 2020

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Aug 13, 2020

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New found recognition for the Corbusier of the Borders

Former Bernat Klein Studio

SOME THIRTY years after his death, in 1993, the work of the Borders based architect Peter Womersley is receiving the attention many might think it should rightly have done during his lifetime.

As is, sadly, so often the case, that attention is partly due to the endangered nature of some of his work. But the news is not all bad. Granted, one of his most eye-catching designs, the brutalist concrete Fairydean Rovers’ stadium in Galashiels was closed in 2018 following concerns for the safety of the structure. But thanks to the efforts of the campaigning group Preserving Womersley, with the support of the local council, it looks as though the A-listed structure can be saved.

Stadium for Fairydean Rovers FC, Galashiels

Another, more challenging landmark building, the B-listed boiler house for the former Dingleton Hospital in Melrose is looking forward to a new life as home to a development of five luxury flats. The architect Gordon Duffy has received planning approval for the £ 1.5m conversion, creating the homes within the massive concrete shell of the structure.

Womersley had the good fortune to have an inspired patron during his lifetime, the textile designer Bernat Klein who commissioned both a dwelling house – High Sunderland – and a studio in a country setting near to Galashiels.

The studio, one of Womersley’s most attractive buildings, has survived unoccupied and (mercifully) un-vandalised over the years while the house has recently changed hands to owners who are reported to be worthy recipients of the charge.

Former hospital boiler house, Melrose

To coincide with this revival of interest in Womersley’s work, Klein’s daughter, Shelley, who grew up in High Sunderland, has written an account of living in the house, bemoaning amongst other things the fact that its modular glass walled design failed to produce a house with "doors I could slam" or, until she demanded it, a bedroom with any enclosing door at all.

As it happens the book, The See Through House, is being read by Barbara Flynn as BBC Radio 4’s Book of the Week from May 18 to 22.

The architect Crichton Wood has more favourable memories of the house, having been invited by Shelley’s parents to see round the house during preparations he was making as an architectural student for a study tour of Borders architecture.

As Crichton puts it:

"Back in the 1990s I had to organise an architectural tour of the Borders. One of my choices among the mainly castles was the studio, so I asked permission from Bernat Klein. As a result I had one of the greatest architectural revelations of my life – not the studio, but his house.

"I had not rated the house, again designed by Peter back in 1957. Outside, I felt the building resembled a large well designed Scout hut, not one I would have chosen to visit.

"On arriving to organise the visit, I was warmly invited into their house by Bernat and his wife. I was quite overcome by a real feeling of joy as I walked into this beautiful modernist space. It was stunning.

"The space was complex, with an open plan living space on different levels. The use of materials was exceptional, including exotic hardwoods and marble which was combined with exquisite fabrics specially designed by Bernat. This combination was set off by light flooding in from all sides between built in furniture that seemed to float along the walls with a minimalist fire place commanding centre stage.

"Many modernist buildings can be rather austere and not a place you would like to live: this was a home, yet with a dignity that uplifted the spirits. It is simply architecture, and no surprise that it is one of few buildings of the 50s and 60s to be A-listed."


AA trveller's guide to Scotland's Train Stations
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An extensive new preface by the Ross Herald of Arms, Charles Bunnett, Chamberlain of Duff House