Case Study 17: Polphail Village

Alex Hale and Historic Environment Scotland

Figure 119: General view of Polphail village, taken from the south-east © HES

The two-storey accommodation blocks are built to a unitary standard and comprise single blocks or up to three conjoined. A stand alone accommodation block at the extreme north-east of the site was surveyed in detail and the following describes the specific components. The building is rectangular on plan that measures 13.3m from east to west by 7.5m transversely. It comprises a mono-pitch roof, rendered concrete gables, and slab floors. The external side walls are timber framed and where surviving, clad in horizontal timber boards. Each unit incorporates covered access stairs, situated at either end, within the gable ends, and aligned in parallel with the gable. The building is divided horizontally into two equal portions by a full height, mid-way concrete wall. Further internal partitions include brick walls and plasterboard divisions, although on the date of visit only two of the free-standing, brick walls remained and these appeared not to be pinned to the roof. The building is divided to provide a bathroom/toilet facility on each floor and 16 individual bedrooms in total, with storage space under the stairs. Overall the accommodation, based on this design, could have provided space for over 400 individuals. On the date of visit, the remains of all of the buildings although roofed, were in a ruinous state.

The ruins of Polphail industrial village are situated on the east shore of Loch Fyne, 570m south-east of Portavadie marina (Canmore ID 288014) (Figure 120). The village was designed by Thomas Smith, Gibb and Pate architects and has been subsequently described as being ‘sadder than a deserted holiday camp’ (Walker 2000, 432). It was built between 1975 and 1977, in order to house workers for a construction yard, to build oil platforms. The village was never occupied and began its decline into ruin shortly after completion. The village comprises a central three storey building; a single storey, L-shaped laundry and services building; and 19 outlying accommodation blocks. The central buildings are arranged to form a courtyard and provide space over the basement and ground floors, for catering facilities, recreation rooms and administrative offices. A second floor comprises accommodation for staff. The 19 accommodation blocks are arranged in an arc, from the north through west to the south-east of the central building.

Figure 120: Laundry block. View of graffiti art by System from south west © HES

In 2009, a collective of six artists, Agents of Change used the village as the canvas for their creative work. The artists in Agents of Change who worked at Polphail were: Stormie Mills, System, Derm, Remi/Rough, Timid and Juice 126 (Figure 121). Agents of Change are globally recognised artists and their intervention at Polphail altered the significance of the village. Over the course of a number of days they created over 75 individual and composite pieces of art, using the surfaces that the abandoned buildings, external and internal walls and fittings presented. The works ranged from at least 16 haunting figurines in various locations by Stormie Mills, to large-scale representations of individuals, such as the actor Kelly MacDonald by System; linear constructions of text by Derm; abstract forms and text by Remi/Rough; sinister drip forms by Timid and bright splashes of colour by Juice 126. They made a short video, entitled ‘Ghost Village’, of their intervention (

Consequently, increased numbers of visitors came to the village and additional graffiti art has been created. These additional pieces appear to respect and complement the existing works. In the case of one example, the original wall render that had been painted has subsequently fallen off and Smug has put a piece on the exposed brick wall. The site was visited by Historic Environment Scotland in 2016. A comprehensive photographic record and a number of site plans were undertaken to record the graffiti art and the buildings as part of the Scotland’s Graffiti Art Project. At the time of writing the village was due for demolition as part of a redevelopment scheme.

Polphail Bibliography:

  • Walker, F A 2000 Argyll and Bute: The buildings of Scotland series. London.

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