Isle of Bute Forest Centre

, Subject : Design

Isle of Bute Forest Centre, by Roots Design WorkshopRoots Design Workshop is delighted with its recent proposal for a Forest Centre on the Isle of Bute, which came second in an open competition.

The building was for the Bute Community Land Company (BCLC), which was formed in 2010 to facilitate a community buyout of approximately 160 hectares of historic woodland, coastline and commercial woodland for the benefit of the people of Bute. The Forest Centre is to contain Gathering, Kitchen, Workshop, Laboratory and Bunkhouse spaces with associated Shower and WC facilities, and be sustainably designed and resourced.

To start the Team had an ambition to design a building whose form and scale suited its rural setting. It was therefore decided to use long, low forms that would mimic the landscape, and to set-out the building to suit timber-framed construction, an appropriate method of building in this setting.

Moving on, Roots Design Workshop considered how these basic forms would be articulated. Timber cladding was proposed throughout; ‘bulky’ in section and unsawn in finish in an attempt to reflect the forested location; profiled sheeting would be used on the roof, a common material in rural settings; grass would be used on the roofs of the service spaces, to blend the building with its setting and provide new habitats; a minimal and appropriate use of glazing would be employed. The treatment of the timber cladding and glazing varied such that the external appearance of the building reflects how it is used.

The way the Centre fitted into the site was given great consideration, and a sensitive approach agreed upon.  Hard landscaping was minimised to reduce storm water runoff; gravel and other surface materials with a low visual impact were used to soften the development; the buildings were raised off the ground to accommodate the sloping site and reduce the amount of concrete needed for the foundations; and the building was sited on a part of the site not susecptable to flooding.

Another strategy employed was to break up the mass of the building so it didn’t dominate its forest setting. So, rather than place the accommodation in one form, the Team decided to create a cluster of forms, with individual buildings for each of the spaces. This meant the building would blend more easily with the surroundings.

Moreover, the invidual buildings were joined by an external cloister so they became interconnected. This created a central enclosed external courtyard; which becomes another valuable space for the centre. Breaks between the invidual buildings allowed for glimpse into and through the cluster; further breaking up the form by blurring the edge of the buildings.

The Team were also keen to avoid too much regularity in the scheme. So the individual buildings weren’t perfectly aligned and each took on different scales; reflective of the accommodation within.  So the main spaces, such as the Gathering space and the Workshop, were housed in a larger building than the Bedrooms. This also created a natural hierarchy in the cluster, helping it to be understood, used and appreciated.

The separation of spaces also meant that the private (or night) areas such as the Bunkhouse, were separated from the public (or day) areas such as the Workshop, making the Centre functional and in-tune with its users. For example, there could be a noisy children’s game and quieter research field trip taking place at once without disturbing one another.  Separating the buildings also allowed the proposal to follow the contours down the hill, again helping it fit into the site.

The individual buildings were sited and organised according to their need and in relation to the site. The public spaces faced the views to the east; the Wet services were grouped together around the courtyard, so their location suited all the other spaces and increased the efficiency of service layouts and drainage; the private spaces were to the rear of the cluster.

A ‘green’ approach to the servicing of the Centre was also proposed.  Porous or permeable paving schemes (SUDs) were included to naturally drain away any surface water; routes and buildings were lit with movement activated lights rather than (urban) streetlights; a grey-water recycling scheme was to be considered, linked to a reed-bed treatment plant.

A passive energy approach was considered when developing the design.  So, the cloister around the courtyard would act as a thermal buffer to minimise heat loss in the winter and avoid overheating in the summer; natural light was allowed to enter the depth of the building via the courtyard reducing the need for electrical lighting; local, ecological and non-toxic materials were suggested where possible (such as sheepswool insulation); local timber with minimal or low toxicity preservatives was proposed for the cladding; and the scale of the rooms was design to suit heating by wood / pellet burning or underfloor heating (powered by a renewable source).

In addition to these passive measures, modern-day renewable energy technology was also included in the form of solar panels, and the forest park’s micro hydro scheme.  A solid fuel stove in the Gathering space provided space heating and was connected to a stone chimney; which itself provides a strong vertical element to the cluster, helping to anchor it to the site.

Roots Design Workshop believes that this proposal is a successful blend of spatial design, environmental design and construction design. The result is a building that is perfectly suited to its site and the people who will use it.

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