The site of the former school in the district of Back, Isle of Lewis, has been a vacant wound in the area ever since the school buildings were removed. It is a site of emotional connection and historical association, with many having either being educated there or being related to those who were. Situated on the main road through the district, nearby to a popular local business cluster including a shop to one end, and the large Free Church to the other, the site is ripe for development to bring back into public use for the benefit of the community.
Comann Eachdraidh Sgire a’ Bhac have identified this site for a new heritage centre, a brief that would satisfy a long overdue need for a local meeting place that will conserve and record the local history of the area. It is envisioned that the new construction will be welcoming, friendly and fully accessible to all.
A long, linear plan is devised stretching from front to back of the site. An entrance is positioned midway down this span within a fold of walls towards the east, aligning to the chimney and heart of the plan. Upon entering the selection of options is immediately apparent – public zones such as the kitchen and exhibition / gathering areas open out and are framed by a ridge light that directs western light deep into the volume. Subsidiary accommodation and the archive are located to the rear, where the strong enveloping roof form is folded downwards.
We have utilised a simple palette of materials: white painted masonry, natural slate roof structured with timber rafters and small areas of turf. These are the staple of traditional construction in the islands, but are reinvented through new forms. Towards the road larger masonry elements create a signboard to the passing public, and a larger blade creates a visual terminal to the building whereupon a large barometer is placed, creating an eye-catching reminder of our reliance on the natural environment.
We have devised the building to anchor it into the streetscape, creating considered public space around and integrating directly to the street allowing a visual connection to the immediate environs as well as the further context such as the church, the shoreline and reefs at Vatisker looking towards the Minch and the Sutherland mountains as well as the inland Loch a’ Tuath. Nearby Lighthill was used by sailors to navigate by night in Loch a’ Thuath, we anticipate that Comann Eachdraidh Sgire a’ Bhac will be a renewed beacon in the landscape, establishing its presence on this significant site once again.