A team from Edinburgh Napier University is encouraging members of the public to view
brutalist buildings in a different light – through the use of music and design.
The University’s SituLab Research Group – which consists of musician, composer and
academic Katrina Burton and design academics Sam Vettese and Katharina Vones –
have used their passion for post-war architecture to shape their ongoing
project into how the public respond to modern architectural heritage.
As part of the recent 3 Harbours Arts Festival, the group opened the doors of St
Gabriel’s RC Church in Prestonpans and invited members of the public to visit
Built in 1965 and designed by George Kennedy and Michael Landon of Alison and
Hutchison and Partners, the striking Catholic church is one of the best
examples of modernist architecture in Scotland, with its white rendered walls
and unique design contributing to its distinct look.
In an effort to get attendees thinking about the various parts that make-up the
church, a musical composition by Dr Burton was performed at various points
throughout the day event.
Inspired by certain attributes of the building, including the side windows that cast
beams of light over the altar, the dappled effect of the stained glass and the
sweeping waves that envelop the building, Bachelor of Music (BMus) students
Joanna Stark (cello) and Caitlin Monaghan (percussion) performed the piece to
attendees across the duration of the event.
Dr Burton’s composition for St Gabriel’s follows a similar piece inspired by
Craigsbank Church in Costorphine for last year’s Doors Open Day. She most
recently presented her music at the Barcelona Pavilion during Barcelona
Architecture Week in May.
Dr Katrina Burton said: “Some site-specific composers explore the acoustics of a
space but my aim is to create a work that, when performed in situ, complements
the architect’s aesthetic and enhances the public’s engagement with the space.
The informal nature of my in-situ performances stimulate dialogue about music
and architecture and break down the usual barriers between the
composer/performer and the audience. Conversing with the public is one of the
most enjoyable and rewarding aspects of these events for me.
“Having the freedom to explore a building as performances are taking place really
encourages a closer connection to the corresponding musical textures. Some
people come for the music and leave with a newfound interest in architecture
and vice versa. It’s great to involve Edinburgh Napier BMus students in my
research and I’ve really enjoyed working with Caitlin and Joanna.”
Alongside the event’s musical offering, attendees were also able to take home a unique
souvenir of the day – a 3D printed model of the church.
Designed and produced by Sam Vettese and Katharina Vones, the limited edition models
were accompanied by a range of digitally printed badges that, like the musical
composition, were directly inspired by the architectural elements of St
A musical model, which contains excerpts of the music, was also present at the
event. Broken down into five sections, attendees could build the model and
control the order in which they heard sections of the composition depending on
how they re-built it. This specific model was designed by Katharina Vones, with
Edinburgh Napier PhD student Denise Allan instrumental in designing its
electronics to allow the piece to be heard.
Dr Sam Vettese said: “The musical 3D printed souvenir continues along the
lines of previous research, where the public can recreate their own
personalised version of the building’s shape and remembrance of their musical
experience. This is a more complex version of our previous 3D printed souvenirs
with the addition of electronic components that trigger excerpts of Katrina’s
site-specific musical composition.
“There was also digitally printed, handmade fabric badges featuring little pieces of Katrina’s musical score and photographs of St Gabriel’s church. These were given away in an unexpected act of ‘guerrilla kindness’.”