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Sunday, June 26, 2022

Restoring pride in a region

Careful to lavish the same attention to detail on stately homes for royalty as on industrial sites, Donald Insall Associates (DIA) has added Amlwch Port??s Visitor Centre in Anglesey to its list of award-worthy projects alongside the Windsor Castle fire restoration.


So how do you justify spending £850,000 on industrial copper bin sheds?


Rich History

To understand why, Donald Insall Associates went back to the late 18th and early 19th centuries to when Amlwch, on the Northern Coast of Anglesey with Parys Mountain as its backdrop, was the main exporter of copper to the World. Amlwch provided a wide wharf and a new road above from which wagons tipped the copper ore down the rock face via timber chutes into massive copper storage bins on the quayside below. Over time, the supply of rich copper ore diminished and industrially active areas became derelict wasteland. The bin sheds decayed and became overgrown. Life went on around them through the centuries and only one remained roofed.



It has taken the commitment of worthy organisations like Menter Môn, Amlwch Industrial Heritage Trust and Isle of Anglesey County Council, and their vision of how this heritage could be explained to a new generation, to resurrect the buildings, restore pride to a region and to make Amlwch a ??destination??. The challenge was immense.


Revealing the Rock

The excavated rock facedown which the ore was once tipped to the quay side was completely covered in ivy. Within the existing roofed bin there was a concrete block wall concealing the rock face. Pulling this concrete block wall down to reveal and expose the rock face beyond within each bin was key  to illustrating the context of the site and amplifying the exterior setting of Parys Mountain to deliver an enriched visitor experience.


It proved the most demanding design and detailing challenge within the project and now forms a key interpretative feature; the historic staining of copper ore on the rock face, the old mechanical fixings still in place. It provides a unique backdrop to project historic images onto and to provide the visitor with an immediate and tactile opportunity to touch the wet and stained rock face.


The revealing of the rock face also provides the visitor with opportunities to interpret what it was like for the miners to go down Parys Mountain to excavate the ore.



Timber Chutes

Only one historic timber chute remained on the quayside and it was in a ruinous condition. DIA considered the timber chutes also to be an integral link to describe and illustrate the system of tipping the copper ore down the rock face. As a result, all vertical circulation within the visitor centre is via a series of oversized replica timber chutes, one within each bin as would have been originally.


These new chutes are timber lined externally and internally, and their narrative can be clearly read on the external and internal elevations. They are constructed to parallel the existing chute details and are coloured within, a bright orange, to counter the otherwise dark, muted interiors.


Old Exterior

The project demonstrates careful conservation of a Grade 2 listed historic monument to strict conservation standards. The natural environment of the Port had provided a beautiful existing building palette, complete with lime roses (intricate patterns due to wind erosion of lime) and lichen stained lime and stonework externally. This was left, and the mix was painstakingly copied to include the coal and rubble aggregates which the 18th century builders would have utilised.


The decision not to re-point and clean the rock face of staining and archaeological leftovers internally was not an insignificant one, and indeed of equal importance to any painstaking conservation of pointing. Accepting the bins as industrial sheds – crude in form, wet, and imperfect ?? was absolutely integral to the Amlwch Industrial Heritage Trust??s philosophy of delivering a truly authentic interpretation of the copper industry.


The rock face was also carefully penetrated with steel shelves and subtly pinned back in some areas to allow the Trust members to climb with ropes on the wet surface as a living wet wall to provide visitor with displays.


New Interior

The new building is built as a bespoke steel structure, anchored into the wet copper-stained rock face and with every single socket detail unique in design and differing in dimension and position to carefully accommodate the excavated historic undulations internally. It allows water undulating down the rock face due to hygroscopic pressure to channel to the new French drain hidden at the bottom of the rock face. This avoids damage to the new construction which included a palette of frameless glass, copper banding, silvering oak, lead, slate and steel.


Harsh Environment

The harsh marine and salt-encrusted environment at Amlwch has accelerated the change of all the new natural materials and muted colours. The oak is silvering, the rock face changes both in colour, temperature and texture as it changes from being wet to dry with the weather; and the copper used took six weeks to turn from shiny to a dark purple-brown – a process which usually takes almost two years!


Modern Detailing

The existing copper bin remains un-punctured. Within the new extension there are carefully constructed framed views of the port, the other existing copper bin relics, and timber chutes, at both child and adult level.


The window shutters and doors slide into various positions to accommodate different security and lighting effects internally according to varying needs. The glass doors are marked with a set of telescopic copper doors which at night close up and neatly parallel the other set of oak doors.

Re-use of the existing building and industrial setting provides a sustainable approach. The building is heated utilising an air source heat pump and energy provisions are controlled by movement. All supplies and contractors used have been local to North Wales.


The visitor centre includes ticketing and shop amenities, rest-room facilities, a new lift, interpretative displays for adults and children, and multi-purpose auditorium facilities. The project was delivered on site over a 14 month period and on budget at £850,000 (including a £250,000 interpretation fit-out).


Tony Barton, Architect and Deputy Chairman of Donald Insall Associates, in praising the project team at its Conwy office said; ?DIA worked closely with Menter Môn and the Amlwch Industrial Heritage Trust to fully understand the site??s features and focused on delivering key analogies of the historic relics of Amlwch Port. This was achieved with the new forms, the materials used and the visitor experience. We wanted the centre to be unique and authentic. Visitors gain a lasting understanding and appreciation of the centre??s environment, the rich industrial heritage in Amlwch and its significance world-wide.??


So what does everyone think?

Neil Johnstone, Heritage Manager at Menter Môn, the enterprise agency for the Isle of Anglesey commented, ?We are receiving extremely positive feedback from stakeholders and the local community. The project has realised the challenge of combining a functional space with architectural concepts that relate to the heritage we are interpreting based on the copper mining industry.??


Work continues for the DIA team on the long-awaited restoration of the UK??s last surviving open pan salt works, closed in 1986. The historic Lion Salt Works in Marston near Northwich, Cheshire will be developed into a ??living museum?? for future generations.


For more information telephone 01244 350063 or visit www.insall-architects.co.uk


Photos courtesy of Dewi Glyn Jones.




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