naturalspace magazine : Sustainable architecture and the natural world: Natural Space Ltd  

Glencoe Text

Glencoe Visitor Centre is part of a three-project study that examines the beauty of wood. Gaia architects have designed what is considered as Scotland's most ecologically sound building in the historic setting of Glencoe. Inspired by practice in Norway where the long history of building with untreated wood gives practical as well as characterful solutions, their use of locally produced untreated wood is a wonderful example of the emerging confidence in nature's most friendly material. See also the Telemark Lofthus and Caledonian Forest sections.

The Glencoe Visitor Centre is perhaps the most ecologically sound, major building in Scotland. Built from locally sourced timber, free from chemical treatments, the building is a successful attempt to tread lightly on a historic landscape and to allow the natural conditions to remain dominant and undisturbed. Gaia Architects have drawn on their Norwegian experience to demonstrate that wood, correctly and carefully detailed can be used in its untreated state in the harshest of environments.

To reduce the visual and ecological impact of the centre, it is designed as a series of small domestic scaled buildings that take on the appearance of a traditional Scottish clachan (Gaelic for village). The buildings are lifted off the ground (like the Telemark lofts in the previous section) therefore allowing the landscape and waterways to run undisturbed beneath. The trees were retained and allowed to grow through the new walkways underlining the importance of what came first. Their roots and nourishment are unaffected by the centre and conversely the centre is unaffected by the trees.

The external public spaces are designed as walkways that lift the visitors off the ground. From an aesthetic perspective this isolates the landscape and allows the visitor to experience the undisturbed historic scene. From an ecological perspective it removes the visitor disturbance and lightens the footprint on the land while helping to resolve the access between the buildings that have a drop of 4 metres over the site.

Gaia Architects have an un-shakeable belief about what makes a building green. Stepping back from the usual solar panelled, turfed roof approach that so often in their opinion gives an over reliance on new and expensive technologies, they prefer a method of common sense using tried and tested simple solutions. " If it makes sound environmental and economic sense - then use it, but if it is merely an unresearched gimmick and it does not actually save the planet, save money or generally contribute to the environmental agenda, then why do it?" says Howard Liddell, Gaia Architects. So out with the photovoltaic panels, heat pumps, conservatories, reed beds etc that in their opinion merely paint the building "green", and in with common sense, energy, water and resource conservation, good design and good choice of materials. The result is a building that is soundly green and gives no harmful health effects, is recyclable - uses bolted and screwed untreated components. A careful choice of materials has led to recycled newspaper being used for floor, wall and roof insulation, while sheep's wool has been used to seal the window frames. This gives a well sealed but vapour transfusive building envelope that responds well to its use with natural ventilation being used predominately.

One of the simplest and most daring ecological aspects of the visitor centre is in the use of untreated wood as a cladding on the roof. Similar to the methods used 700 years ago in Norway, timber larch uses its untreated natural properties to keep out the rain. The larch has been used also as a screen on the walls and is left with a rough sawn finish as this increases the rate of evaporation of the rain once it becomes wet. It helps the panels to dry out much quicker once they are saturated and also gives better protection against cracking from UV degradation. The panels are the only materials in the visitor centre to be nailed instead of being bolted or screwed, the nail heads are finished flush to prevent the end grain of the timber from being exposed.

The use of locally produced timber and especially in its raw untreated state is a great advert for the Scottish forest industry. By sourcing locally, it reduces the ecological footprint through lower transport considerations and helps to stimulate the local economy. Expertise in the timber industry is currently strong but Gaia Architects would like to push the boundaries still further and really demonstrate the full potential of wood as a durable and aesthetically pleasing material. With the renewed interest in the forests' ecological restoration and the changing perception of the durability of wood in general, the optimism is there to create a sustainable forest industry culture that draws from the landscape and gives back to the local economies. Ecological architecture goes much further than the site boundary, it's a total process that takes in the lives of people in the communites. Where job creation, health and common sense go together. The visitor centre has tried to address these issues and has provided a clear model for others to follow.

Eco Summary

1 Clachan form of building reduces the energy needed to ventilate the buildings.

2 Raised off ground to lighten building's footprint on the landscape.

3 Water comes from a spring that is treated by silver copper ionisation in order to avoid chlorination.

4 Sewage is treated by an ecologically system and returned to the river.

5 Materials are ecologically benign and non-toxic.

6 Built using Scottish untreated timber free from chemicals.

7 Walls floor and ceiling are vapour permeable.

8 Building can adapt to different uses by being totally flexible.

9 Construction is layered to allow easy maintenance.

10 Entire building can be dismantled and re-assembled, components are screwed or bolted, untreated to encourage recycling.

11 Health benefits from high degree of natural ventilation.

12 Highly insulated structure and components.

13 Heating is fuelled by locally sourced woodchips that give off only as much carbon in burning as they absorbed during growth, therefore CO2 neutral.




other text files : Sweden : Bedzed : House For The Future : Oslo Life : Telemark Lofthus : Caledonian Forest :Astrology

  naturalspace magazine : Sustainable architecture and the natural world : copyright Natural Space Ltd 2004