Skye-based architects Dualchas, along with Norwegian partners, have been selected to provide the design master plan for the proposed Ionad Hiort/St Kilda Centre in the Uig area of Lewis.
The appointment, which is funded by Highlands and Islands Enterprise, is another major step towards delivery of a world-class facility which will also act as a global exemplar for “remote access” to UNESCO World Heritage sites.
The selection of Dualchas and their partners, Reuilf Ramstad Architects of Oslo, complements the recent announcement that the London-based consultancy firm Metaphor has been given the remit of advising on the contents of the centre. A third consultancy, still to be awarded, will work on the business case.
Iain Buchanan, chairman of Ionad Hiort Ltd – the charitable company formed to take the project forward – said: “We are now at a crucial stage in developing the case, supported by these three inputs, which will then go to funding bodies.
“The vision presented by Dualchas and RRA was outstanding and we are confident that we have people of the highest calibre developing every aspect of the project, in close consultation with local interests”.
Neil Stephen, director of Dualchas, said: “Our connection to the Hebridean islands and experience of development in rural communities on the west of Norway should give us a specific insight into what is required”.
He added: “This has to be a true collaboration which gives the wider community of the Western Isles a sense of ownership. With careful thought, ambition and flair, the centre will emerge not only as a celebration of these magical islands but as a world-class hub that is a driver of investment and change”.
Reiulf Ramstad of RRA said: “It is of great interest to work with Ionad Hiort on this outstanding project. The uniqueness of St Kilda makes the task challenging and the experience of a lifetime. We believe that our co-operation of a mixed Scottish and Norwegian design team will enhance the architectural experience of this astonishing place and its history”.
Plans for Ionad Hiort had their origin in a competition sponsored by HIE, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, VisitScotland, the National Gaelic Arts Agency and the National Trust for Scotland to identify the best location for a St Kilda Centre.
St Kilda is a double World Heritage Site and, subsequently, UNESCO adopted the project as a “pilot” for how to develop remote access to the many World Heritage Sites which are not easily available to visitors.
The groundwork has been led by a local organisation and strongly supported by HIE and other public bodies, including Historic Scotland. A feasibility study by James Rebanks, a specialist in UNESCO World Heritage sites, last year endorsed the fundamentals of the project, leading to the three consultancy roles. Two part-time workers are also about to be appointed.
Councillor Alasdair MacLeod, chairman of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s Sustainable Development Committee, said: “The Comhairle is pleased that the development phase of the project is progressing well.
“This is another significant milestone along the road to the creation of Ionad Hiort and we look forward to the strongest possible case emerging for what would, without doubt, be a transformational development for the Western Isles.”