Newsletter - Links - Advertise - Contact Us - Privacy

Stornoway’s Nicolson Centre completes

August 2 2012

Stornoway’s Nicolson Centre completes
Work to rebuild the Nicolson Institute, largest secondary school in the Western Isles, has been completed with the keys handed over by the main contractor FMP ahead of the start of the new academic year.

Accommodating 1,100 pupils the 3DReid designed school replaces the disparate complex of previous buildings with a single unified build, whilst retaining the C-listed Pentland Building and B-listed Matheson Hall.

A second phase of works entailing demolition of redundant school buildings to allow construction of dedicated parking and full size grass pitch will commence in a matter of weeks and complete by January 2013.

Cllr Angus Campbell, Leader of the Comhairle said: "The new Nicolson Institute is the largest single part of the hugely successful new schools programme. I am confident that these new schools will demonstrate that putting quality education in quality buildings will allow us to enhance our tremendous record of the highest educational attainment right across these islands.”

The Nicolson Institute is the fifth of six schools to be completed under the $125m Western Isles Schools Project.
Nicolson is the latest school to complete in the region following Point, Balivanich and West Side Primary Schools as well as the first phase of the Sir E Scott School in Tarbert
Nicolson is the latest school to complete in the region following Point, Balivanich and West Side Primary Schools as well as the first phase of the Sir E Scott School in Tarbert
The new school provides in excess of 13,500sq/m of floorspace
The new school provides in excess of 13,500sq/m of floorspace

The rear courtyard at the NI, looking toward the Pentland Building
The rear courtyard at the NI, looking toward the Pentland Building


#1 Posted by BambooBomber on 4 Aug 2012 at 14:55 PM
Its "the Nicolson Institute" - no 'h'.

This building is already suffering water staining on its white render. It is overscaled for the area, and uses foreign materials. The architects assumed all the world is flat and burrowed the building under the Pentland building in a bizarre move - the building has no finesse or charm.

My personal favourite part of this building is the concrete bunker which contains a series of shallow ramps in fank-like arrangement perpetually going backwards and fowards, backwards and forwards upwards from the lower level (the architects assumed the earth is all flat) up towards the Pentland building (the best part of the school).

The main problem I see with it aside its massing is the interior conditions which have classrooms stacked with their narrow edge facing out - which creates a bigger plan depth and darker classrooms (less windows).

And now for fussy nit-picking - they excluded the schools "NI" logo which the school developed years ago and which currently dresses the old buildings facade.

#2 Posted by BimboBummer on 4 Aug 2012 at 20:17 PM
The only thing right about that comment was picking up on the spelling typo.
#3 Posted by BambooBomber on 5 Aug 2012 at 16:45 PM
Have you seen the building in context? I dont give it too long before it looks very tired. And I reiterate, that its not fit for purpose in terms of delivering for education or for Stornoway. Look at the building from Moss-end, its gargantuan, foreign and vulgar.
#4 Posted by BimboBummer on 6 Aug 2012 at 15:22 PM
Yes, I have. Your comments are still innaccurate.

The shortest dimension in the standard classrooms is from corridor to outer leaf. Not as you state. Foreign materials? As absolutely everything has to be imported to the Isles are you proposing some sort of giant turf blackhouse / stone hobbit hole instead? It has a large (civic) presence when viewed along Sandwick Road, but you would be hard pushed to see it while walking along Mathieson Road. The bunker as you describe is the disabled access ramp to accommodate the level change across the site which equates to one floor level. Or should we just pretend the world is flat or that everyone is able bodied?
#5 Posted by nobad on 6 Aug 2012 at 17:13 PM
Comments are a bit harsh, seems decent enough to me. Who built the stonework? I like the internal timber stair aswell.
#6 Posted by E=mc2 on 6 Aug 2012 at 17:23 PM
The stone is a rainscreen cladding system by Tiles International from Cumbernauld
#7 Posted by SAndals on 6 Aug 2012 at 22:52 PM
The building's wing and spine form responded to fit within the fully operational exisiting school buildings, difficult construction phasing and a full storey slope across the tight site.
I think the scale of the front facades and materials are appropriate for the urban context and it's civic status and are similar in height to the adjacent Council Offices, hotel and larger houses.
As for the building not being fit for purpose, BB is showing his ignorance - the shallow teaching wings ensured every classroom has excellent natural daylighting and ventilation, (as does the Assembly and Sports Hall spaces) there are a variety of learning and social spaces internally (the multi-level central Street looks great) and externally and it more than meets the Comhairle's brief.
It is a big, complicated building - as all schools for 1100 pupils are - and this is a fairly traditional, formal and well executed design with some nice touches IMO.
#8 Posted by BambooBomber on 8 Aug 2012 at 11:41 AM
Blond sandstone is foreign - the victorian civic buildings of Stornoway are of pink variety. This blond sandstone is out of place. But a point of it fitting into the domestic setting of Matheson road - its that the massing is completely wrong - the site choice was completely wrong for a start.

And you can hardly notice it from Matheson road - actually you can see this building above Matheson hall from the middle of Stornoway!!

White render? Why not harled? why not stone indigenous to the area? Why not an imaginative response to the existing buildings on site?

The concrete bunker is vile - Im suggesting some imagination here would have been good - and I think burrowing under the Pentland building is bizarre - why not step the section of the building insted and let it follow the topography?

The point about it fitting with the buildings around - firstly the council building should never be used as a benchmark for anything good. But secondly this photograph is being kind to the perspectives (looks like w wide angle lens was chosen)... the buildings facia line is above the ridge height of the council building - it completely dwarfs it!

Its huge, broad, a hulk with no charm or finesse and when it starts to look tired...

in terms of ticking boxes in a boring brief, this building is probably sucessful - but is this architecture? I think not.
#9 Posted by Neil on 8 Aug 2012 at 12:34 PM
It's a building, looks like it's been competently done but're right, it's not architecture.
#10 Posted by SAndals on 8 Aug 2012 at 13:02 PM
Ahhh - the great "what is architecture" debate...well, I would suggest ticking boxes with local materials and fitting in with the local context is a rather amateur and short sighted vision...but to address your points;
Like the Victorian's did in Stornoway, this building uses a different material to emphasise it's pressence and civic importance by contrasting with the domestic vernacular.

The site and it's constraints are given to the architect, and the design breaks down the mass of the footprint as best it can.
The context isn't just residential, this part of Stornoway is a mess of many building types and scales and the design is of a similar height to it's civic neighbours.
The single storey Matheson Hall is addressed in the plan layout and used to close off the 4th side of the quiet study courtyard.

I have not seen the rear courtyard but nothing is burrowed under the Pentland Building. Saying that, I'm sure a plethora of ramps is not that bonnie but is necessary for access. As for stepping the building - creating an additional floor is a ridiculous suggestion with all manner of practical, financial and educational reasons against it - unfortunately Bamboo (isn't that a foreign material?) Bomber reveals he hasn't worked on anything near as large or complicated a building type.

Re: Render - we did render our PSs which are located in rural contexts - go have a look and get back to me - love to debate these as well.

Re: it being a huge, hulk with no charm or finesse, that reminds me of a girl I used to know...still, her mother loves her. She's not architecture tho...
Trombe Wall
#11 Posted by Trombe Wall on 8 Aug 2012 at 13:38 PM
It is tough to get a full understanding of the scheme from the few images available, but having visited Stornoway on numerous occasions, this new school is certainly welcome.

The I think the facade treatment is very restrained and should sit well against the many formal and listed buildings of the surrounding area. Perhaps a site outwith the town could have considered, but surely a civic building such as this should be within the heart of the town. To fit the brief on this site, to me, is impressive space planning.

I agree with BambooBomber that the building should indeed be harled, but just because the existing buildings are clad in pink sandstone, doesn't make that material indigenous. What stone is indigenous to the area? Cladding a building with stones standing on their end would never achieve the required breeam rating.

I haven't seen the 'bunker', but given that the main gas storage plant for the island is across the road, perhaps this was part of the Comhairle's brief. There are so few young folk on the island that this may be seen as wise move.

How can a school be described as a boring brief? The central space, which will have briefed only a sqm size, looks to be have been designed imanginatively with maximum flexibility for the school.

There is only one word for Bomber's point on delivering education, unsubstantiated. How can you claim this before it is even open?

The rest of your claims appear wild. I suggest you get online, order a copy of Ching and start at the beginning.
#12 Posted by SAndals on 8 Aug 2012 at 14:06 PM
Picking up on one of BB (Big Brother?) comments re: signage - I think the "ni" would have looked lovely on the stone plane by the entrance - tho not in yellow as it would be nearly as illegible as the metallic lettering there at present - who specced that, boys? Surely the (lack of) contrast doesn't meet visually impared guidelines???
#13 Posted by BambooBomber on 8 Aug 2012 at 20:26 PM
SAndals reveals that your part of the design team for this then quickly ask who specified the signage? The signage doesn't stand out against the blond sandstone.

Glad you brought up the primary schools - one design for each school (some larger some smaller) with a different colour facade for each. Bravo.

The reason I brought up the pink sandstone is because the blond sandstone was the answer given from Sgoiltean Ura as a "response" to the clock tower and Matheson Hall.

The "ridiculous" suggestion is not nearly as ridiculous as shunting this building a story below the Pentland building - the costs with doing so must have been astronomical and compounded with the unsightly retaining walls that now pepper the site, its pretty absurd.

And as for delivering for education. Speaking as a former Nicolson Institute pupil I can say that I am glad that the Pentland Building remains and has been retained as a technical department (the old gym conversion looks good). I would still spend alot of time there. However looking at the space standards of the classrooms Im disappointed and particularly at the Art Department where currently the school enjoys brilliant facilities in this area - and Im not convinced these qualities have been replicated.

Also I have the Ching books. Makes some salient points but the drawings are on the ickie side.
#14 Posted by SAndals on 9 Aug 2012 at 07:09 AM
Morning BB - I thought I was agreeing with you on the are correct, I used to work with 3DReid and was one of the team responsible for securing the 6 schools for the office, but was not intimately involved in delivery of the schools - hence not knowing all the detail.

The project architect has sent me an image of the rear courtyard which I hope UR will upload. Tbh, I was expecting alot worse from your comments. As an FP you will recall that there was an existing retaining structure along Matheson Rd(?) to the rear of the old bulidngs/leisure centre. We moved this line back towards the Pentland to create an important external social space for pupils with amphitheatre seating, soft planting and, of course, ramped access to comply. I don't think the resultant space is as bad as you are making out, but hey ho.

Re blond sandstone, I can't recall but think the reference is picking up on the light sandstone quoins of the clocktower and MH?

Re: Art classroon - again, I don't know where these are - but the brief areas are pretty standard across the country, so lobby your MP. Saying that, I came across the issue of classrooms being smaller than traditional schools alot, but at 70/80-odd sq m for a class of 20+ pupils they are a good size. Plus, the Curriculum for Excellence also encourages learning in different areas - maybe they could have an Art class in the variety of additional opportunities the design has afforded - concrete rubbings in the bunker, for example?

Re: Primaries - pls look beyond the colours.
#15 Posted by BambooBomber on 9 Aug 2012 at 13:49 PM
Yes that retaining wall was much smaller in comparison to the multitude that now exist and was removed some years ago when the leisure centre was demolished - I dont see the justification for the site response linked with a pre-existing retaining wall.

The concrete bunker is vile. Im not keen on the steps below the pentland building - I dont see much in the way of soft landscaping, but maybe theres a potted plant somewhere.

Re the primary schools - it seems that beyond the colours there is a standard formula...
#16 Posted by SAndals on 9 Aug 2012 at 14:06 PM
Re: PS - yes there is a standard that your criticism? That 4 buildings which are 90% the same, in a similar context, look like each other? OK, you got me...but wait, what about that standard formula...?
#17 Posted by BambooBomber on 9 Aug 2012 at 17:05 PM
Well a 'courtyard' for each site isnt very site responsive is it? Again its a "one size fits all" approach that I find troubling, equivalent to McDonalds plonking one of their standard drive-thrus anywhere. Problem here is that its not burgers going through these buildings but children. Question is, will they be inspired? Granted, there is the spill over area between two classrooms...

#18 Posted by SAndals on 10 Aug 2012 at 09:51 AM
Would you not agree, the PS sites, and context, are all similar? The family of schools approach has been well received - did you see the recent A+DS exhibilition at The Lighthouse?
One size does not fit all - each is tailored to suit the requirements of the school, but follow a common approach determined over a an extensive period of consultation with stakeholders.
The long linear plan responds to the feu widths of crofting best illustrated around the Balivanich site. There is very little built context around the sites, so they deliberately are outward looking to the landscape - the teaching rooms wrapping round the core creating a interial and external social heart to the school.
The Courtyard - a sheltered external learning/social space - is absolutely site (and climate) driven. All PS sites are exposed - one existing school had erected wind breaks just to be able to open the doors, another had it's roof blown off - and the courtyard proportions and angle of PS roofs were wind tunnel tested to create a tempered external environment all year round. The entrance courtyard also creates a sheltered arrival space.
Classrooms have floor to ceiling windows overlooking the landscape and also natural light from the rear, excellent tempered natural ventilation without the need to open windows and tall ceilings following the roof pitch.
The break-out spaces/wet teaching areas between classrooms also have sheltered recesses relating to an outdoor teaching area.
The library spaces are open plan and spill out into the courtyard (which could be more imaginatively landscaped but are a blank canvas for the school to personalise) and there are no narrow corridors in the teaching areas.
Will the children be inspired? The building and site will contribute to this the rest is down to the parents and teachers.
As for your analogy...I'm lovin' it. Your superficial critique, not so much.
#19 Posted by urbanrealm on 10 Aug 2012 at 12:12 PM
An image of the rear courtyard 'bunker' has now been added.
#20 Posted by SAndals on 10 Aug 2012 at 12:26 PM
See - not so bad, BB.
Quite a few pot plants as well.
#21 Posted by BambooBomber on 10 Aug 2012 at 20:19 PM
How about a photo within the bunker I was initially referring to? (to the left of the image?). However upon reflection I suppose anyone could easily be convinced the unity of this basin is indeed a bunker as well.

I like your description of the Primary Schools and it does sound far more considered than the Nicolson but I wholeheartedly resent your comment that there is "very little context around the sites" - you could not be more wrong.

You highlight the croft patterns of Balivanich - but there is no such pattern at that point of Bayble or Barvas. In Barvas, there is a pretty river running down the back of the site which I dont think was fully utilised - the standard formula failed here.

However what you say regarding the arrangement of the classrooms etc is convincing - so if it works then its better than it appears.

My concerns were (are) that there is little autonomy between the schools except for colours or frosted glass patterns. However I suppose that is a moot point.
#22 Posted by BimboBummer on 11 Aug 2012 at 11:47 AM
Some spritited discussion here about the merits, or otherwise, of integrating a necessarily large building into the edge condition of established urban grain. The old NI - itself a large sprawling mess and jumble of inefficient buildings - the Sports Centre, Council offices and random hot potch of car parks and other buildings which used to occupy the site did nothing to reinforce the characteristics of the old town.

There is an old aerial view here,+stornoway&hl=en&ll=58.210317,-6.378658&spn=0.004482,0.00986&sll=47.73855,12.508828&sspn=46.955713,80.771484&t=h&hnear=Sandwick+Rd,+Stornoway,+Na+h-Eileanan+an+Iar+HS1,+United+Kingdom&z=17

#23 Posted by BimboBummer on 11 Aug 2012 at 11:55 AM
More pictures here!/media/set/?set=a.141611145881448.26142.140964942612735&type=3
#24 Posted by BambooBomber on 17 Aug 2012 at 10:48 AM
I certainly hope this is teething problems - but with only one small window to open in each classroom and saftey bars giving an aurora of a "prison" - there seems to be less than enthusiastic praise for this building.
#25 Posted by SAndals on 17 Aug 2012 at 13:12 PM
Who knows what the problem was - the classroom ventilation is designed to work without opening the windows, so on this exceptionally warm day there may have been an issue.
As always BB there are 2 sides to every story, as you may have seen on last night's news? If not -
From around 7:14...there seems to be very enthusiastic praise for this building.
#26 Posted by dirige on 17 Aug 2012 at 14:17 PM
BBC site reports the school is closed due to chemical spill:
#27 Posted by BambooBomber on 17 Aug 2012 at 14:41 PM
Theres actually always three sides to each story - yours, theirs and the truth.

However in this case, there is no "my story" in this - there is just the teachers complaining of a prison like atmosphere which was compounded by the unfortunate "lockdown" yesterday.

However today is a cold day, driving past the school the windows are all thrown right open.

Remember today is the first day that all pupils are admitted to the school- it now has to stand the test of time.
#28 Posted by Momus on 18 Aug 2012 at 00:38 AM
Your truth you mean? Zzzzzzzz Maybe when you are all 'growed' up you can engage in a big boys conversation without resorting to tabloid journalism. One or two articles in the architectural press venting your spleen does not a valid commentary make. Oooh the windows are open therefore it's failed. Pathetic.
#29 Posted by SAndals on 18 Aug 2012 at 07:58 AM
BB - please clarify which of my posts is untruthful? The only non-subjective comment I can see which is not true is your original post re: classroom layout.
Trombe Wall
#30 Posted by Trombe Wall on 21 Aug 2012 at 09:14 AM
A happy Client and End User, that really is Architecture.

Post your comments


All comments are pre-moderated and
must obey our house rules.


Back to August 2012

Search News
Subscribe to Urban Realm Magazine
Features & Reports
For more information from the industry visit our Features & Reports section.