This project at Horgabost on the Isle of Harris has been developed by the West Harris Trust which took over ownership of the crofting townships on the west side of the island in 2010. Their aim is to revitalise the community, providing sustainable employment and housing opportunities. The community’s efforts have resulted in the construction of a mixed use enterprise building and a cluster of social housing, all powered and heated by a new wind turbine.
The location for the development on the west coast of the island is typical of Harris. The rocky landscape meets the crystal clear sea at a series of unspoilt golden beaches. The area is designated as a National Scenic Area.
The community enterprise building which forms the focus of the site has been named Talla na Mara. It has been designed to respond to the distant views, and shaped to respond to the immediate rocky topography. The main hall/cafe space opens out onto a deck looking north and west to sea and mountains. The building consists of three simple forms sliced and oriented to create sheltered entrance spaces and an undulating outline that sits comfortably in this extraordinary landscape. The timber cladding has faded to a natural grey, recessive in the landscape, while the entrance is accentuated by a vivid yellow, a reminder of the local flora of the surrounding machair grasslands. The building is carefully sited and the decking scribed to reveal the 3-billion-year-old ice-scoured bedrock which acts as the datum for the building.
Tall Na Mara consists of a hall space which serves as a cafe/ restaurant during the day, a foyer/ exhibition space, three offices including one for the Trust, and three business units. The centre hosts events and performances and has a flexible marquee extension which can provide additional space when the building is used as a venue for weddings or larger gatherings. There are also three camper van pitches which allows the community to derive benefit from the increasing popularity of the island as a holiday destination.
The six houses, a mix of two and three bedroom, were developed with the Hebridean Housing Partnership to provide much needed affordable rental properties. In addition the masterplan for the site includes two plots for private house development.
The houses are designed as three asymmetrical forms, stepped and cut to accommodate the natural flow of the landscape and maximise the views from each house. The houses continue the theme of simple weathertight forms and sit together with Talla Na Mara as a complementary group of buildings.
The project is powered by a wind turbine on the hill above the site which provides electricity to all the buildings and heat to the community building by means of a hot water storage system.
The project overcame the challenges of building in a remote location. It is now a popular destination for visitors and community alike. It provides a welcome hub of activity supporting a number of new jobs and providing facilities which bring the rural community together.
Supporting StatementLocals and visitors comment on the unique design of the building which blends so well into the landscape. It has transformed an unused stretch of croft land into a community hub and a successful business operation for West Harris Trust and other parties that lease parts of the building. The business units are in great demand and the artists who have leased spaces comment on how inspiring it is to be working in well-appointed studios overlooking such stunning seascapes.
The restaurant facility within the building has provided a popular venue for visitors including those using the adjacent campervan ‘hook ups’ and the camp site nearby. Members of the local community also appreciate this facility as it is now the only café type provision in the vicinity. Although the restaurant is run by a third party, a group of volunteers assist at events such as community lunches, fundraising or social events, and the four weddings which have taken place through the last year. Talla na Mara enables couples to fulfil their ‘beach wedding’ dream no matter the weather. The building has also hosted a number of conferences since it opened and its location provides a central point for the whole of the Western Isles. A film club has been established and the community enjoy screenings of films for the first time on the West Side of Harris. The foyer of Talla na Mara also provides a gallery space where art work by various artists has been exhibited as well as old photographs of the local area.
The efforts of the community to fundraise for a defibrillator, now located outside the building, and the volunteer training in its use recently provided in Talla na Mara provides reassurance for the community. The building will also provide a key location and central hub in the event of an emergency or during any long term loss of power due to severe weather.
The project has been transformative to the community and, to translate the words spoken in Gaelic by the child who named the building Talla na Mara, it is “a super name for a fantastic building”.