An t-Eilean – The Island

Highlands and Islands Council
Lisa Mackenzie Consultancy

An t-Eilean – ‘The Island’ – was designed by Lisa Mackenzie of LMC to provide a dedicated outdoor installation art space on the new Inverness College Campus, built by Highland and Island Enterprise (HIE). As such it is an unique object in many ways: a gallery; an island and a bespoke structure/art object in its own right.

In the finished structure, air and light permeate the built form to differing degrees from different directions: from above; big sky, but also from the penetrated sides via the interstices between serried columns; a single dramatic window to the north, and also horizontally along the single bold full length slot below one of the massive walls. This all comes as a surprise and a delight to the user, creating a sensation of floating airiness but also one of seclusion and privacy which at odds with the solidity and size of the concrete itself. This creates a dynamic tension and sense of otherness that places the user in an appropriate frame of mind for experiencing the art within. That this is accomplished without overpowering the contents is all the more remarkable.

AED were brought in during Stages B-D to provide input on architectural engineering aspects of the project. After proof of concept work we were able to introduce the subtle yet dramatic opening beneath the entire 16 metre long north elevation. This added to the permeability of the structure that is such a key feature of the design. We then developed a construction methodology for the free standing columns and also provided materials guidance throughout including the timber elements for the access bridge and the internal fit out. We also advised on tree selection and temporary support using our silvicultural experience; a by-product of our work in sustainable timber construction. Perhaps most importantly, AED and LMC worked in tandem to produce the detailed specification for the project, focusing on three things in particular: white visual-grade concrete; post-fixed bronze elements and FSC hardwoods. The visual concrete specification included: cements, aggregates, admixtures, mix design, shuttering and tie bars, curing, method statements, trial panels, materials and labour control procedures. It also dealt with the shape and form of the concrete in every detail. Together AED/LMC specified individual shuttered finishes for each elevation of the structure. The bronze elements specified included the double doors that secure the area at night; the lit floor slot and the surround to the window centred on Ben Wyvis in the distance. Particular attention was given to the selection of responsibly sourced durable hardwoods for the timber elements of the access bridge and the edge protection within the structure itself.

The result is an iconic structure which, as part of the high quality landscape environment in which it sits, provides an outstanding resource on the new campus.

An t-Eilean won the Landscape Institute Scotland (LIS) Placemaking Award in 2015.