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Mountaineering &
Research Centre

Outline

The second project in the BArch studio programme encouraged the same rigorous procedure and application of research demanded in the Extreme Machine project.

In this project, the brief required a greater understanding of the local climatic conditions in a chosen extreme environment, where basic habitable qualities, often taken for granted, are lacking. The adverse conditions, strong winds, reduced daylight and freezing temperatures make habitation impossible for only the most adapted and resilient creatures.

In the project, it was necessary to devise a method of energy generation through the facade design in order to ensure self-sufficiency in an isolated context.

Date

January 3, 2008

Context

The chosen site for the second studio project is located in the heart of Snowdonia, North Wales. A unique glacial U-shaped valley or Cwm, excavated by rotational glacial movement since the end of the last ice age, provides the backdrop for the site, which sits towards the upper reaches of the vast rock amphitheatre. The site itself Twll Du, or the Devil’s Kitchen is a narrow pass through the sheer rock face, where acidic rainfall has eroded away this narrow section of alkaline rock revealing a wealth of geological history clearly visible from the pass.

Sharing similar characteristics to that of the crater at Lake Bosomtwe, from the previous BArch project Extreme Machines, the size and orientation of the cwm, has an effect on the local climatic conditions. In this case, the high cliffs provide shelter from the wind, and complete shading from the sun for a large proportion of the year. Taking this into account, in addition to the high altitude of the cwm, makes it one of the only remaining habitats for certain plant and insect species, which have survived here since the previous ice age.

The vast rock amphitheatre of Cwm Idwal holds particular interest to mountaineers and climbers, as well as geologists who come from all over the world to uncover the secrets of the unique glacial valley. The large visitor numbers usually focussed in the summer months, however, poses a threat to the local environment in a habitat of fragile plant and insect species. Erosion caused by hikers over the loose rock scree of the Cwm, and rock climbers on the exposed rock faces can cause rockfalls, presenting a clear hazard to native species as well as fellow visitors.

The lack of any facilities or accommodation, on or close to the site restricts the amount of time afforded to visitors, who generally arrive in the morning and leave in the afternoon, spending only a single day to enjoy the setting. In the case of researchers and geologists, this greatly restricts the amount of valuable research performed, thus making long-term research tasks lengthy and costly.

The brief for the project demanded a detailed understanding of the qualities of natural lighting in a site largely overshadowed by its surrounding terrain. The design of the facade must maximise the amount of natural light to the interior through reflection, and refraction in additional to fulfilling the necessary functional criteria such as energy conservation, and moisture and draught exclusion. The facade must also seek a method of energy generation, to ensure full self-sufficiency.

Located in an area of outstanding natural beauty, the intervention must also provide views out over the scenery, to break with the feeling of enclosure.

Gallery

Design Response

Responding to the brief, a mountaineering and research centre was proposed for the project. The centre would provide a place of learning, enlightenment, and respite for day-travellers, from the sometimes harsh natural environment of the cwm.

The proposed mountaineering and research centre locates itself at the upper reaches of the glacial valley, orientating itself to maximise solar exposure, and at the same time providing a platform from which to view the landscape, and escape the harsh climate.

The light qualities of the site were studied. Responding to solar geometries, a solar-responsive facade of articulated ‘fin’ elements was adopted. Sunlight, especially at times of low solar altitude can be deflected in to the building throughout the day to maximise the level of natural lighting to the interior.

Taking inspiration from a form of ‘pad’ fungus with grows at high altitude in Snowdonia, the building fulfils the concept of minimal ground disturbance, by cantilevering out volumes, from the sheer rock face, thus protecting the delicate population of plant and insect species which grow on the loose rock scree below. A series of aerodynamically-formed facades wrap the spaces, taking on a compact form to minimise wind loading.

The initial concept of the research centre, acting as a ‘looking-glass’ into the geological landscape is also reflected in the form of the centre.

Related Projects

Follow the links below to explore other similar, related projects

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Allen Lambert Galleria, Toronto

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Webheath Academy Primary School

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Urban Agriculture Community Jack Richardson Design

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