Lamer Island Battery, Dunbar


Completion Date:


Building owner/client:

rankinfraser landscape architecture

Architect or lead designer:

rankinfraser landscape architecture

Local Authority Area:

East Lothian

Nominating Body:

rankinfraser landscape architecture

Project Description

Dunbar is a historic harbour town on the south east coast of Scotland. This project is for the design of a new public gathering and performance space within the Category B Listed Lamer Island Battery. This civil defensive bastion was built in 1781 during the American War of Independence to protect the town from John Paul Jones. The site subsequently housed a hospital for infectious diseases and a military hospital during WWI. Whilst latterly it became a ruin, it remained full of potential due to its stunning location, rich history and intriguing topography.

In 2009 Dunbar Harbour Trust engaged rankinfraser to prepare a feasibility study looking at ways in which the battery could be reimagined as an attraction for visitors and a local resource. The brief focussed on 4 themes: improved access to and within the battery, repair and conservation of the stonework and other historic elements, creation of a destination within the harbour to promote tourism and economic regeneration, and the creation of a multi-purpose performance and events space.

The design seeks to exploit the site’s palimpsest, using it to inform and guide the design and distribution of various contemporary interventions. The amphitheatre for example is integrated into the void of the former hospital building so as to leave the trace of its presence. A process of archaeological investigation therefore preceded and informed the design work. A responsive and sympathetic approach was taken to the discovery of further elements of historic interest as they were uncovered during the course of construction. Examples include the discovery of a fumigation oven, sink and hospital foundations and opening up of long hidden ammunition storage vaults.

Community engagement was been thorough and continuous over the course of the project with a dedicated website set up to gather views and inform local residents of progress. A key component of the project was the commissioning of a site specific artwork by the artist Donald Urquhart. ‘Sea Cubes’, is a series of interactive stainless steel cubes engraved with drawings of ‘foraminifera’. Parallel to the artwork project was a series of consultation events and a schools engagement project which culminated in a public exhibition of screen prints of plankton by Primary 7 children alongside new works by Donald.

Interpretive elements were integrated as far as possible into the furniture and structure of the space so as not to detract from the spatial quality of the battery itself.

Supporting Statement

The Dunbar Harbour Trust support the nomination of Lamer Island Battery as an excellent example of how community engagement together with the required investment can, in the hands of people with the vision and skill to deliver an excellent design, rejuvenate interesting architectural buildings and can give them a new and joyous purpose in the community once again.

We recognised our responsibility to ensure the harbour is an attractive asset for locals and visitors to the town and we had not been making the most of its interesting landmarks.

The community was involved in this project from the beginning and we undertook a consultation period in the Spring of 2014. This included carrying out a survey of harbour visitors and online questionnaire to local residents and community which helped us shape the brief for the improvement works to the Battery. The key points from the feedback included;

- retain the open and free public access

- improve the access, addressing the issues of the uneven path made from loose material

- repair the existing fabric but not a full restoration

- better interpretation and things to see in the Battery

The design team successfully delivered an attractive but robust landscape based design which is high impact but low maintenance and appropriate for the number of visitors and the open coastal environment in which it is located. It is of its age but sensitive to the old structure and the layers of history uncovered as the works progressed – and the design was adapted to make features of what we found.

The Dunbar Battery is the Architect’s Journal Architecture Awards 2017 Budget Project of the Year and their Judges commented that “there’s a real depth to this design” with the new interventions handled “beautifully well”. It was also one of 15 international projects shortlisted for the Architectural Review’s ‘New Into Old Awards’, 2018.

The works to the Battery were a catalyst for the successful improvements in the harbour and the rejuvenation of the Battery not only means the structure is fit for purpose for the next 50 years but the new features installed gives the space a new role going forward.

The feedback to the new Battery in the community has been unanimously positively and in the 6 months since its completion more people are visiting the harbour and staying longer to enjoy the area. The Trust has also encouraged local groups to use the Dunbar Battery for performance and events. The summer highlight was around 150 people of all ages enjoying a 42-piece touring youth orchestra from Holland, while over 200 brave souls braved the elements for a carol concert in December.

This year the Trust has set up a “Friends of Dunbar Battery” community group to work with us in developing use of the Battery and we have already provisionally booked eight events for the year ahead and are reaching out locally, regionally and nationally to create more opportunities for all to enjoy the unique setting in Dunbar.