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Forsinard Flows field centre and observatory plans come under fire

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April 16 2014

Forsinard Flows field centre and observatory plans come under fire
The Pentland Partnership, a body comprising the RSPB, SNH, The Forestry Commission and Highland Council, has come under fire for a £9.6m scheme including the development of a field centre and observatory on an internationally significant area of peat bog in the Forsinard Flows nature reserve.

Two applications have been approved by Highland Council for the site; one entails erection of an Icosis designed observation platform whilst another details plans for a field centre and accommodation block designed by Colin Armstrong Associates.

The observatory is intended to offer tourists views across the peatland, informing public opinion on the need to conserve habitat, and will be built adjacent to an existing trail. Objectors however are calling on the Heritage Lottery Fund to refuse funding for the scheme on the grounds that it would have an adverse effect on the environment it seeks to highlight.

In their design statement Icosis said of the Scottish larch clad build: “The observatory site is located within an area of blanket bog habitat and, as such, all efforts will be made to both minimise disruption to the ecosystem and avoid any long term damage to the vegetation and local habitat.”

A separate field centre would be built on the site of an existing house, providing accommodation for conservationists and space from which monitoring and research of the peatlands can be conducted.
Studies undertaken by Colin Armstrong Associates and Bell Ingram concluded that the re-use of existing buildings would not be cost effective
Studies undertaken by Colin Armstrong Associates and Bell Ingram concluded that the re-use of existing buildings would not be cost effective
The viewing deck sits at 5.5m above ground level - deemed the optimal height to provide the necessary views without intruding on the landscape
The viewing deck sits at 5.5m above ground level - deemed the optimal height to provide the necessary views without intruding on the landscape

16 Comments

Alex Dickson
#1 Posted by Alex Dickson on 16 Apr 2014 at 13:31 PM
No wonder the locals and conservationists are disappointed, both of these projects look terrible
Jonathan
#2 Posted by Jonathan on 16 Apr 2014 at 15:01 PM
I disagree Alex, I really like the observation platform, a piece of subtle architecture: very sculptural and minimal. It's a catch 22 with the environment though - trying to build in a sensitive area to highlight the sensitive area and bring visitors in. The building itself is a paradox, in some sense would be better to build nothing and continue as is, but then you are not going to help visitors and assist in the education programme.

Almost a similar argument with the wind turbines: are they destroying the environment or trying to save it?
Andrew Brown
#3 Posted by Andrew Brown on 17 Apr 2014 at 20:28 PM
Don't know enough about the objectors stance to form an opinion, but the observation platform looks very interesting, like a modern timber broch in the landscape.

Icosis are doing some very nice stuff these days.
Perplexed
#4 Posted by Perplexed on 21 Apr 2014 at 16:50 PM
On this evidence Icosis should be designing both buildings.
CAD Monkey
#5 Posted by CAD Monkey on 22 Apr 2014 at 18:06 PM
Yes, it does look like quite a nice design. But lets face it, it does look "plonked" and kind of spoil the very nature of the site. Why do you need a "viewing deck" anyway???
Andrew Brown
#6 Posted by Andrew Brown on 23 Apr 2014 at 10:47 AM
Given the site (which I admit I don't know well) I'm not sure how an anonymous/discrete building could have worked. If the client (not the architect) has decided that they need a viewing deck, surely it's better to be bold and confident than half-assed contextual?
CAD Monkey
#7 Posted by CAD Monkey on 23 Apr 2014 at 12:06 PM
I disagree completely. I think this is clearly a situation where a sensitive contextual approach is required. Architects seem desperate to produce statement buildings at every opportunity, when actually a little more thought is required to respect the site.
Andrew Brown
#8 Posted by Andrew Brown on 23 Apr 2014 at 12:55 PM
What would you do CAD monkey? The context for the site is a flat peat bog, so I'd be interested in what you feel is the best contextual way to approach this site?

You suggest that architects are desperate to produce a statement building, as opposed to the built environment being anonymous and apologetic when the context is a more natural one.

In my opinion I find it heartening to see schemes where architects have confidence in their designs, without thinking that every man made object must be anonymous or it ruin its context.
Art Vandelay
#9 Posted by Art Vandelay on 23 Apr 2014 at 13:41 PM
I'd agree completely with Andrew. In a site that appears as exposed as this, virtually anything is going to appear as a 'statement' - a horizontal intervention in a horizontal landscape. I'd much rather see something with a bit of flair than yet another timber clad building trying to be oh-so-contextual, but in reality looks as if it's landed from space.

There's a lot of scope for a more dynamic structure that can tick all the boxes in terms of impact and context whilst also offering something of a more sculptural and imaginative quality. I would have said that this site would be screaming out for something of this ilk rather than the arguably more permanent structures we see here.
Art Vandelay
#10 Posted by Art Vandelay on 23 Apr 2014 at 15:50 PM
Or even, a vertical intervention in a horizontal landscape!
CAD Monkey
#11 Posted by CAD Monkey on 23 Apr 2014 at 16:00 PM
The best answer is - don't build it/anything here actually.

If they must .... then I'm afraid I will not give out free advice.

You cannot disagree that this particular proposal will "have an adverse effect on the environment it seeks to highlight".

Nobody has explained why the viewing deck is necessary? To get a better view of the birds???

And another thing....I thought Lottery Funded projects had to be DDA compliant. Has this 3 storey design considered how wheelchair users access the viewing deck?
Andrew Brown
#12 Posted by Andrew Brown on 23 Apr 2014 at 19:36 PM
People can think that the proposal doesn't "have an adverse effect on the environment it seeks to highlight". This is what happens when you live in a pluralist society with multiple opinions.

Rolling out the DDA to critique a concept image is a bit desperate is it not?

I was going to continue the discussion but rolling out the old "I will not give out free advice" line means there is no point, as you won't offer your own opinion for what suits the site best (which I was genuinely interested in), but are happy to criticise others on their proferred approach.


CADMonkey
#13 Posted by CADMonkey on 23 Apr 2014 at 21:34 PM
You could be influenced by:
Scara Brae, Orkney
Clava Cairns
The use of Ha Ha's at Hopetoun House

The formation of gently sloping graduated peat slopes and use of HA HAs in the landscaping to screen a new naturally screened contemporary intervention is worthy of consideration. This could also result in a raised viewing platform (but not at 3 storeys!)
Something along these lines may disturb some more ground, but may ultimately result in a much more subtle intervention.
Re.DDA - this already has planning, and has been costed, hence the funding figure stated, so it is hardly a concept image is it?, unless an early set of images are being presented.
"Lets forget about DDA for now, it spoils things" doesn't wash with me. Fail to design for DDA, design to fail.

But ultimately, the site just isn't suitable for a building.
Andrew Brown
#14 Posted by Andrew Brown on 23 Apr 2014 at 23:15 PM
For me - "all efforts will be made to both minimise disruption to the ecosystem and avoid any long term damage to the vegetation and local habitat.” is preferable to your suggestion of "Something along these lines may disturb some more ground, but may ultimately result in a much more subtle intervention." Isn't this contradictory?

Obviously we're looking at this from different opinions, but I don't see why placing a contemporary piece of architecture in a landscape by default makes that landscape worse. If you look at the Reiulf Ramstad Norwegian Tourist Routes projects they sit in stunning sensitive locations, but are of sufficient quality and confidence to be able to add to their context, without hiding from it.

Closer to home - Flanders Moss by Robin Baker managed to a) sit confidently with surrounding context, and b) be a high observation platform without the accessibility police preventing it from happening.
stephen
#15 Posted by stephen on 25 Apr 2014 at 17:08 PM
er... that little observation tower is the least of your worries. Look at the other building!!
As for building in a landscape, you're damned if you do and damned if you don't. I've seen more sensitive approaches and better looking buildings (maybe Jensen and Skodvin hotel in Norway?), but I've also seen worse.
George
#16 Posted by George on 2 Nov 2015 at 02:55 AM
Deeply ironic that objections to the RSPB building were based on visual impact and the so called spoiling of a wilderness area. Forsinard I have known well for 50 years, and it is a small community even by small standards. It was once a thriving wee place, with families living and crofting, who also gained work on the big estate of Forsinain. pre foot and mouth, it had a thriving auction mart that had several sheep and cattle sales each year, well attended events with people meeting from all over the northern counties. This gave a much welcome boost to the now closed hotel. The mart was closed for some spurious reason to do with clip boards and jobsworths. Now there is no crofting and the RSPB is the only game in town. A fragile community much damaged by remote unsensitive government who offer nothing to communities such as this. The damage began in the late 60s as blocks of land were sold to forest plantations of dense green cash crop sitka spruce and lodge pole pine.Tax breaks for city spivs. Unfriendly to wild life and damaging to the flows.
So those objectors decided it would be a great idea to object to what they called spoiling the environment by... graffiti that had all the visual impact of a New York subway train. http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/4697557

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