Iona Visitor Shelter

Location: Baile Mor, Isle of Iona

Client: The National Trust for Scotland

Type: Public Visitor Centre & Exhibition Space

Completed: 2015

Contractor: TSL Contractors Ltd (Mull)

Structural Engineer: John Peden Associates (Oban)

Quantity Surveyor: Morham & Brotchie (Oban)

Furniture Manufacturer: Harvey McLean (Ayr)

Exhibition Materials: Tea & Type

Photography: Ross Campbell

Each year the Isle of Iona is reported to receive around 130,000 visitors travelling across as foot passengers on the ferry.  Iona Abbey, a building of international significance, is a main draw for many visitors who travel there specifically to learn about the cultural and religious history of the island.  

The Iona Visitor Shelter was an important opportunity for the National Trust for Scotland to highlight the significance of the island’s other assets of natural flora and fauna whilst introducing visitors to the conservation and education work that is carried out by NTfS to help protect this unique habitat.  

Acting as an informal visitor centre/exhibition space, the shelter was intended to provide a much needed landing and orientation point for visitors to the island.  Our brief was to design a building that would belong in the village whilst also welcome in visitors passing on their way to and from the ferry.

In our response to the brief we sought to acknowledge the history of the shed that existed on the site previously and its role in the island’s social culture as Fire Station and Ferry Waiting Room.  We opted to work with the same form of the shed on the exterior and tie the material palette in with colours featured on neighbouring buildings.  Understanding the severity of the exposed island climate we opted to incorporate more contemporary durable materials that would require less maintenance than some of the materials used previously. 

To make the space inviting we have used roof lights to draw natural daylight deep within the building to brighten the space.  The barn doors that were a feature of the previous shed were replaced by large window openings to make the clean contemporary space inside as inviting as possible to passersby.  To add warmth to the interior we have designed dramatic long wooden benches produced from a smooth, rich, honey-coloured and sustainably sourced Iroko.  Matching benches also sit to the front of the Visitor Shelter to encourage use of the open space to the front.

Bespoke Iroko benches designed by Roots and manufactured by Harvey McLean Custom Joinery. Exhibition content produced by Tea & Type.