WITH news of the demolition and redevelopment of the Cumbernauld town centre, Dr Ray Lucas from the Manchester School of Architecture reflects on the thirty years he spent growing up in Cumbernauld.

Others can speak to the historical significance of Cumbernauld town centre and what it represents, but I would like to write about it from the perspective of someone who grew up and lived in Cumbernauld for about 30 years. I have now made a career as an architectural academic, and my interest is not in history but in society: how people make places.

Making my way through architecture school, and later as an academic, I was often treated as a bit of a curiosity due to this background. Cumbernauld was discussed and alternately imagined of as either a modernist utopia or some sort of dangerous hinterland. The name invited all sorts of assumptions from others accompanied by my dread for the inevitable “what’s it called?” from the infamous television adverts. Whilst we residents have always had something of a love-hate relationship with the town centre and Cumbernauld more broadly, it was for us to make those criticisms, not for others to declare it an irredeemable ‘carbuncle’.

The National:

The town centre is many things to many people, and there is no single narrative of its use or meaning. That is its strength: that there are many overlapping stories of how we spent our time there, navigating its curiously cavernous interior, running up long ramps or waiting at the undercroft taxi rank. On summer days, we would walk from Abronhill to the town centre, through woods and glens, taking in the range of different houses and their arrangements, crossing bridges and play areas, encountering strange concrete sculptures and of course - the underpasses. The building itself is remembered for establishments that shaped us: the Scan Bookshop; the central library where I read my first books on architecture; Woolco and the St Enoch clock.

The National:

This uniqueness of the space is something to celebrate, not to fight against or combat.

We took these spaces for granted: that’s what it means to grow up with something – it was always there, accepted as a part of life. This structure that is so alien and strange to others was totally normal for us. That’s not to be uncritical of it, to ignore its flaws and issues, but the underlying problem has always been one of under-investment. Compare the town centre to the Barbican in London and you will see a very similar architectural language but in a building that has been cared for and developed with facilities appropriate to the number of people who live there. London had the investment where a Scottish New Town would be left to languish.

There are pragmatic reasons for refit and renovation, not least the significant and irresponsible environmental costs of demolition and newbuild. More importantly, it is a truly unique space that, with a little imagination and care, can be made to work.

More simply put, we’ll miss it when it’s gone.