History in Structure

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Carbrain Totem, near Glenhove Road, Cumbernauld

A Category C Listed Building in Cumbernauld, North Lanarkshire

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Latitude: 55.9502 / 55°57'0"N

Longitude: -3.9796 / 3°58'46"W

OS Eastings: 276480

OS Northings: 674783

OS Grid: NS764747

Mapcode National: GBR 19.Y5Y8

Mapcode Global: WH4PY.VP4X

Entry Name: Carbrain Totem, near Glenhove Road, Cumbernauld

Listing Date: 13 March 2017

Category: C

Source: Historic Scotland

Source ID: 406621

Historic Scotland Designation Reference: LB52419

Building Class: Cultural

Location: Cumbernauld

County: North Lanarkshire

Town: Cumbernauld

Electoral Ward: Cumbernauld South

Traditional County: Dunbartonshire

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Brian Miller, 1966. Monolith, in situ cast concrete, square plan column sculpture, 4.6m in height, with swirling pattern relief to lower section and extruded tubes to upper section. It is set in a hard standing pedestrian pathway system between a dual carriageway and a housing area.

Statement of Interest

Carbrain Totem is a notable example of post-war town art sculpture in Scotland conceived as part of comprehensive programme of public art. The sculpture is contemporary with the adjacent housing area at North Carbrain and has been specifically set within a pedestrian precinct. It is a local landmark within a pedestrian pathway system. The sculpture is located in its original position in an urban setting and is unaltered.

It is among a small number of surviving works by the artist Brian Miller who is recognised for his contribution to public art and who made an impact on the development of Cumbernauld New Town.

Age and Rarity

The construction of Cumbernauld's new town began in 1963, beginning with the internationally regarded megastructural town centre. Carbrain, directly adjacent to the town centre to the south, is divided into north and south areas and was completed by the early 1970s. Totem is located in North Carbrain.

Traditionally, civic art focused on monuments, memorials or sculptures and has been part of the built environment for thousands of years. A stone sculpture of a significant person on a plinth or an elaborately carved architectural monument often set in a formal public space typifies this convention. In the UK, by the middle of the 20th century, a more locally relevant and socially aware approach to public art which also took into account the context in which it was to be placed was emerging.

The creation and expansion of Scotland's (and the UK's) new towns during the post-war period provided an ideal backdrop for the creation of a more socially relevant public art programme to take place. Scotland's five post-war New Towns (East Kilbride, Glenrothes, Cumbernauld, Irvine, Livingston) were all committed to a greater or lesser degree to a public art programme but the scope of each of these varied. Earlier new towns (known as Mark I towns) such as Harlow in Essex, East Kilbride in South Lanarkshire (and early on in the foundation of Glenrothes in Fife) added modern sculpture to the townscape, many of which were by recognised modern artists such as Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, and Benno Schotz. While enhancing the public realm, these sculptures were not integral to the town plan.

Mark II towns such as Cumbernauld which moved away from the 'dispersed' or low-density Garden City concept to holistically planned environments were ideal locations for the integration of art as part of ground breaking planning ideas that favoured a compact urban setting. The separation of people and cars was an important aspect of this type of planning and artworks integrated into the public realm played a significant part of this comprehensive approach to urban planning.

Cumbernauld, designated as Scotland's third New Town in 1955, was 'conceived as a prototype of this new high-density planning ideal' (Docomomo, 1994). Its first chief architect and planning officer was L Hugh Wilson who consciously rejected the sprawling 'neighbourhood units' of the earlier New Towns. The town is planned therefore, in its first phase, as a fairly dense conglomeration of residential areas set around a hilltop spine. The most architecturally audacious of the individual elements of Cumbernauld was Phase 1 of the Town Centre designed by Geoffrey Copcutt, and built 1963-8. In its complete form it was one of the most thorough realisations of megastructural planning advocated by forward thinking architect planners of the period, known as the 'New Brutalists'.

North Carbrain is one of the housing areas closely connected with the town centre megastructure. Much of the housing in these interconnected areas won awards for their innovative designs and planning. While there has been later criticism of the practicality of the centrally planned town with its town centre megastructure, Cumbernauld is regarded as representing a significant moment in urban planning. In 1993, the town centre was listed as one of the 60 key monuments of the post-war period by Docomomo.

Totem is unaltered and remains in its original location. Its setting has not changed from the date it was erected. It was conceived in the first phase of Cumbernauld's development. It forms part of a large and concentrated body of work in Cumbernauld New Town which has largely been demolished or removed in the last 10 years.

Architectural or Historic Interest



Plan form


Technological excellence or innovation, material or design quality

The sculptural use of moulded concrete was the preferred material for public sculpture of this period which also reflected the material of its corresponding built environment.

Brian Miller (1934-2011) is recognised as an important artist of his generation. Along with David Harding, the first appointed town artist for Glenrothes, Miller is regarded as a pioneer in modern public art in Scotland.

In 1962, Miller began working in the engineers' department at Cumbernauld Development Corporation as a draughtsman and afterwards was appointed as Town Artist, an official position within the Chief Architect's and Planning department. This is significant as it was a public appointment but it is not known if this appointment came before that of David Harding (appointed as New Town artist for Glenrothes in 1968).

In 1964, Miller set up a Design Team and its first major task was to design and build the Cumbernauld Town Centre car park which is known to be the forerunner to the concept of the Totem sculpture within its precinct.

Miller's team grew from just him in 1964 until he retired in 1990 to include, model makers, art students, photographers and sign makers. The work created during this time varies from large concrete sculptures, painted murals on housing and town infrastructure such as underpasses. Miller's work influenced contemporary artists and sculptors as well as student artists. He also encouraged many young adults into following a career in the arts as part of the Youth Opportunity scheme.


Totem remains in its original setting within a post-war urban context. It is integrated with the architecture and spatial planning of the town.

Located at the eastern edge of North Carbrain, the sculpture is set in a planned precinct, specifically positioned between a dual carriageway and a housing area (Carbrain 5) at a junction in public pathway system – one of the most elaborate of underpass systems in the new town.

Regional variations

There are no known regional variations.

Close Historical Associations

There are no known associations with a person or event of national importance at present (2017).

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