Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Aberdaron Coastal Tourism Centre of Excellence

This blog post was published last July, so is totally out of date now.  However, it does provide a valuable insight into the architect's approach to the design of Porth y Swnt (as it's now called), which is due to open in March.

Aberdaron will be the location for a new heritage
centre.  But how do you design a building for such a beautiful place?
Photo: © Turtle Photography
"God is in the detail"  

So said the Aberystwyth-based architect Iwan Thomas at a meeting I recently attended.  We were considering sketches for a new building that will be built in the heart of the picture-postcard village of Aberdaron on the Llŷn peninsula.

The project will be one of the most exciting developments to take place on the Welsh coast over the next couple of years.  It will involve the creation of a new visitor building at the centre of the picturesque cluster of higgledy-piggledy white-washed houses that huddle around a beautiful medieval seaside-church 

The need for a building to interpret the area's rich natural and cultural heritage has been discussed by the community many times over the years.  But it was purchase of the village car park - together with Henfaes, a former guest house - by the National Trust that was the catalyst that enabled the project to be a possibility.  Then, a successful grant bid to Visit Wales for a Coastal Tourism Centre of Excellence ERDF grant, turned that possibility into a reality.

The Aberdaron area is exeptionally
rich in nature and culture.  Soon there will
be a facility that will help people learn
about it.
 When you consider that this will be the only new building to be built in the heart of one of our most beautiful villages for a generation or two, then you'll realise that the discussion with the architect could not have been more important.  

The discussion was an insight to the sort of questions that architects have to wrestle with when designing for a sensitive site: A contemporary building may disturb the visual harmony of the village; a vernacular building may come over as mawkish pastiche; a tailor-made building may be difficult to adapt if the purpose changes; a future-proofed building that's able to cope with any change may end up an undistinguished 'box'...

Luckily, Iwan Thomas was able to tap into the combined experience of a group of some of the most eminent architects in the UK, during a recent advisory visit of the Trust's architectural panel.  The result of that meeting was the realisation that the starting point for a new building should be based on a greater appreciation of what makes Aberdaron beautiful now.  

Looking at the village through the eyes of an architect is a revelation:  You notice that funnelled gaps in between buildings invite exploration; and how glimpses through gateways into small yards enclosed by whitewashed walls add to your curiosity; and how domestic and working buildings interact with each other to create pleasing diversity.  Above all, you begin to appreciate that the gaps between buildings – and the way that they relate to each other – are as important as the buildings themselves.

Fired up with these observations, Iwan summarised the situation nicely.

“We must work with the grain of the village…the building will only succeed through the quality of its detailing and the richness of its materials.”

With the benefit of this approach, Iwan has started to sketch out some tentative designs that will be shared with the community and the planners over the next few weeks.

Having been instrumental in this building’s conception, and possessing in equal measures a passion for its purpose and a wish that this special village retains its unique character, I was mightily relieved that we have found an architect who is prepared to work in such a sensitive way.

If you’re interested in coming along to see the sketches – and to have an opportunity to comment on them – there’s an open day at Henfaes, Aberdaron on the 13th of July.

Henfaes is located at the centre of the village.  The new visitor centre will be located near the car park behind this building

No comments:

Post a Comment