Elements from almost all of the portfolio of Welsh Slate products were specified for a landmark visitors’ centre in Snowdonia for a whole host of reasons, only one of which was the quarry’s close proximity.
Some 320m² of bespoke sizes of Welsh Slate’s Heather Blue roofing tiles from the company’s Penrhyn Quarry in Bethesda were selected by Anglesey-based Dewis Architecture, and laid by Greenough & Sons, for the roof of the new BREEAM “Excellent” Ogwen Valley visitors centre in the Cwm Idwal area of the National Park.
These were complemented by 140m² of Heather Blue floor tiles throughout the building, 80m² of cladding to external and internal walls from the Cwt Y Bugail quarry in Blaenau Ffestiniog, and 30m² of traditional “crawiau” slate slab finish to external boundary walls.
In addition, 500m² or 100 tonnes of hardstandings from glacial boulders were sawn to form slabs to a thickness of 80mm (and flame textured for improved slip resistance) at the quarry five miles away.
Dewis Architecture’s brief from the Cwm Idwal Partnership, which brings together the Snowdonia National Park Authority, Natural Resources Wales and the National Trust, was to design a landmark gateway building for the reserve while respecting its sensitive natural environment.
And they met this by designing an organic building which takes its architectural concept from the surrounding materials, topography and ground formations such as glacial synclines and buttressing.
The former warden’s office/garage/workshop and snack bar, which was originally built in the 1970s and attracts 125,000 visitors every year, has been transformed by main contractor Derwen Llyn over 14 months into a landmark centre featuring an office, interpretation area, changing areas and food kiosk.
The £600,000 centre was funded by the CAN strategic project (Communities and Nature) through Natural Resources Wales and part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government.
Gareth Moriarty Owen of Dewis Architecture said: “The site is subject to extremes of weather so longevity of material specification was of paramount importance. But we also specified Welsh Slate because of the quality of the material, its environmental benefits, the specialist knowledge and advice, and its close proximity to site.
“It was specified for the roof material as it was the most durable and suited material for the roof concept which was random diminishing courses chosen to reflect the striations and layers of the surrounding mountain ranges.
“It also satisfied local planning authority stipulation on the use of slate products that said slate roofs are to have slate of uniform colour and texture consistent with natural local Welsh slate. I personally would not specify alternatively sourced roofing slates from any other location, China or Spain, as they are vastly inferior, do not have the same weathering characteristics, and are from different veins or build-ups of slate deposits.
“The wall and floor materials were chosen for their numerous benefits – the external cladding was sourced from slate tips following site visits to hand-pick the suitable stock by both the head stonemason and myself. Similarly, the glacial overburden was sourced from Penrhyn, less than five miles away from site, from stock piles previously used as barrier material on the roads leading up to the quarry. These were sawn at Penrhyn and transported to site, therefore providing enormous environmental benefits reflected in the BREEAM scores. Welsh Slate were on hand throughout the project with manufacturing suggestions and advice in this regard.”
He added: “The finishes provided by Welsh Slate form an integral part of the project, closely linking the building to the site and its natural surroundings. Also, slate’s sustainability was of high importance due to the BREEAM requirements.
“The Welsh Slate products complied with the aesthetic and performance requirements of the project excellently, fulfilling them in every way possible. They interface beautifully with the other natural and man-made finishes which is a testament to its natural value and flexibility.
“The Welsh Slate elements afforded the building the opportunity to reflect natural elements such as the buttressing seen on the nearby mountain, Tryfan, and the angular synclines visible from Cwm Idwal, formed by glacial erosion during the last Ice Age.
Emyr Williams, director of land management at Snowdonia National Park Authority, said: “We wanted the new building to achieve three things. It had to be sustainable, fit for purpose and fitting to its environment. With the help of Welsh Slate, it fulfils all of these.”
Welsh Slate architectural manager Markus Bischoff added: “This project was particularly important to us for several reasons. Firstly, it’s a flagship building that’s right on our doorstep that makes full use of a wide variety of our product portfolio from two of our quarries.
“Also, Emyr said the new building had to be sustainable which Welsh Slate certainly is, as it is a completely natural product that can be re-used at the end of its shelf life. This can be up to hundreds of years for some roofing slates so that shows just how fit for purpose quality Welsh Slate is. And given the fact Welsh Slate has been 500 million years in the making on our doorstep makes it immensely fitting to its environment.”
Gareth has specified Welsh Slate many times over the past 10 years in practice.
“It is basically used on every project, whether as a roofing material to satisfy planning obligations or purely as a matter of personal affection for the material I’ve grown up around,” he said.