A new coastal aviary aims to make an impression while its architecture blends into the natural environment I am once again on the 'English Riviera' and the weather has been kind.
Brisk is the word. Clear sky, warm sun, palm trees and - just to remind me that I am still in Britain - a breeze sufficiently strong to make the promenaders keep their coats on. Where else can you be soaked by the spray of a decorative fountain at 50 paces?
I am putting my childhood demons - Ted Rogers at the Princess Theatre - to rest by venturing to the charming resort of Torquay for the first time in 30 years. While nothing much seems to have changed, there are great plans afoot for a turnaround in the town's fortunes.
Torquay is situated on the north side of a huge bay of the English Channel; to the south, unsurprisingly, is Torbay. Over the years, Torquay has experienced a decline, typical of many UK seaside resorts unable to compete with the climatic certainties of 'abroad'. Nowadays, large areas of Devon are reputed to have a high level of social deprivation and unemployment, sufficient to be given EU Objective 2 status funding, which aims to support the economic and social conversion of areas facing structural difficulties.
While much of the town seems to be improving, the area around the eastern pier - an area known as Beacon Cove - is still in a poor state of repair.
A generation ago, this part of town was dominated by the Marine Spa, built in 1857, a monument of grand Torquay architecture.However, after a tragic swimming fatality in the 1960s it was closed and redeveloped during the 1970s by Joe Coral (of bookmakers fame) as the 'Beacon Leisure & Entertainment Centre'. Commonly referred to as Coral Island, the name reflected its isolation rather than its treasures. Even though it fell into ruin and was recently demolished, parts of its concrete shell and multi-storey car park still remain, acting as a reminder of times past and as a barrier to the area being an acceptable place for tourists to wander.
Bar, zoo, cars Derek Elliott founded his practice, Kay Elliott Architects, in 1978. Born in Torquay and educated at Malvern College and Cardiff University, he started his business designing bars and cafes with a little help from his father, who ran a soft drinks business and who was able to point him in the right direction for potential clients.
After designing a bar/cafeteria in Paignton Zoo, which seemed to arrest, somewhat, the zoo's financial decline, Elliott recognised the opportunities of this niche market.
'European zoos had always been a cut above what the British had to offer, ' he says, and so he funded a few of his staff to go on a Grand Tour, to learn from best practice. The report back to Paignton Zoo encouraged it to appoint him to design the Rhino House. Fifteen years and £6 millionworth of work later at Paignton, Kay Elliott has won several Animal Welfare Awards and become the expert in the field. Its Helsinki Aquarium opens in July and in the same month its Dutch zoological attraction opens. Designed in conjunction with West 8, it will have the largest number of penguins in captivity and the largest piece of structural acrylic through which to view them.
Now the firm has about 18 staff and an impressive portfolio, ranging from visitor attractions in Shanghai (see page 51) to leisure complexes in the south west, notwithstanding bread-and-butter commissions for education facilities and housing.
As a local, Derek Elliott had always been dismayed by the wasted opportunity of the Coral Island site, with its spectacular views over the sea. Eventually, with £10,000 of his own money, he carried out a survey of the area, commissioned a structural appraisal and conducted a business plan/market analysis of the area's potential. His assessment concluded that 'there was no point in upgrading Beacon Cove unless the route to it was also upgraded'.
The results encouraged him to challenge the indecisive council's plans, which had included proposals for a schemes as varied as a church or a Harry Ramsden's restaurant . After his initial approach to the council, in 1998, his idea for an outreach arm of Paignton Zoo has been agreed. The £13.5 million development principally involves three parties: Paignton Zoo; Whitbread (in return for a Brewer's Fayre pub); and the Regional Development Agencies (both European and South-West region), the latter putting more money in than originally requested. Public/private funding is split 2:5 respectively.
Sufficient cash has not been made available to demolish the 1970s car park which adjoins the aviary site, and so Elliott is using the inherited levels of the site to his advantage and refurbishing the car park frontage with a bay-front walkway, glazed workshop/units and new harbourmaster's office. CABE has been in close correspondence, which Elliott has found useful, and slight modifications, including a turret focal point to the harbourmaster's office, have been incorporated as a result of its intervention.
Torquay rock Participatory dialogue with parties on the existing site have been fraught and relocation proposals have been challenged by some, who feel that they have been given second best. While some argument remains, most of the discussions with affected businesses have been resolved amicably.
Elliott sees his 'Living Coasts Marine Aviary' proposal as another pearl in the Devon and Cornwall necklace. It will exhibit various wildlife species in near natural conditions.Visitors will be able to get to see penguins, otters, waders and auks in close proximity and it is intended to be more of a sanctuary than a zoo.
As part of overall enabling works, the harbour is currently being lined to protect the neighbouring houses (the remaining half of the dock is geologically sound). The existing inner harbour will be maintained as a wet dock by an underwater skirt which will drop to allow boats to pass over. A new bridge, which will connect the two harbour piers, will also be lifted to allow boats through, and will totally change pedestrian patterns by opening up the east pier area.
Birds'-eye view The main contract work on the aviary began last week. It is such a complex structure that the 1:5 scale model that takes up the entire floor area of a side room in Elliott's office has been necessary to help visualise the layers. A convoluted entrance route takes the visitor up to the auk's area under their 'glass bottomed' diving pool and out into the open. The route wends its way in a figure-ofeight up to the auks' nesting points, then round to the penguin beach and viewing platform.
From the highest level, with views out to sea, the visitor will travel down towards the sea ducks, waders and everyone's favourite, the otter pools.
Then indoors, through the obligatory shop and restaurant - housed in the restored stone arches of the original Victorian building - before leaving.
The thick landscaping will allow the auks and penguins to nest in natural habitats, while disguised, low-voltage (non-harmful) cabling means that the visitor can stand within touching distance, with no traditional glass barriers or railings between them and the exhibits. The principal feature, which the architects hope will go unnoticed, is the net, which covers the whole site to contain the birds. Made of fisherman's net - 25mm grid polypropylene mesh - it is tied at the base and held aloft on poles up to 19m high.
Usually, in this sort of structure, the net's steel supports are held in tension and as the material stretches and slackens, the steel has to be re- tensioned occasionally. Consequently it is overdesigned to take the strain. The costs for this were prohibitive and, in consultation with Vector Special Projects, the architect has devised a new structural mechanism. The posts will now rest in 'sand pots', and when the steel requires tightening, more sand will be added to the pots to raise the posts higher. This 'tensioning from below' invention has saved the scheme thousands of pounds.
However, the architect hopes that these posts and net will disappear in the consciousness of the visitor and wildlife alike, so continuity between the pool areas and the sea is maintained. Also, from the south side, the thick landscaping scheme should blend in with the existing dense tree cover along that part of the hillside.
Concrete 'rocks' will be moulded from existing outcrops to form realistic seascapes and the architects hope the natural impression will encourage several native species to be re-introduced to the region. By re-modelling the coastal scene on the upper floors, visitors will get a seamless view over the high point, as if looking over a rock-pool in the original cliff face.
Work is scheduled to take one year to catch the summer holiday trade in 2003. By then, Elliott hopes that this area of Torquay will have been upgraded by a dramatic, and yet naturalistic, intervention into the coastline.
Heating, cooling and ventilation systems aim to utilise the natural resources provided by the promontory location and proximity to the water; which includes the benefits of low coastal summer temperatures, a dense structure for dynamic energy storage and sea water coolant.By pumping sea water through pipes in the slabs, the building aims to avoid the need for refrigeration cooling.
Two high-efficiency, dual-assist, low NOx condensing boilers will generate low temperature hot water at 80C flow, 60C return for radiator heating and kitchen/wc taps.
In the principle internal public areas, the concrete mass is designed to store warmth in winter and 'cold' in winter, and the building management system and services have been designed accordingly.Natural ventilation requirements for the tunnel areas and pathways will be provided by means of Monodraught windcatchers.
Costs These costs are for the Living Coasts Marine Aviary only; excluding harbour regeneration, pub, workshops, fees, etc.
Cost (£) Pre-commencement works 5,500 Demolition 105,753 Access/scaffold 50,689 Remedial work 15,000 Groundworks 56,190 Concrete 540,876 Waterproofing/tanking 234,194 Profiled metal roofing 23,034 Masonry 55,765 External cladding 17,826 Structural steelwork 222,835 Stairs, ramps, handrails 102,876 Finishes 136,118 Doors, gates, windows 153,003 Solar shading 20,000 Above ground drainage/ sanitary fittings 50,000 M&E 600,000 BWIC M&E 35,000 Sub-station 30,000 Lifts 40,087 Water filtration and BWIC 621,116 Wave machines 82,961 Acrylic windows 202,903 Rockwork 240,000 Themed finishes 50,000 Aviary net 290,000 External works (exhibit) 128,698 External works 82,482 Site drainage 34,840 Bird care building 60,000 Kiosks, access, safety, etc 22,500 Beacon Cove Access Works 129,000 Preliminaries 550,608 Overheads & Profit 225,000
AGREED MAXIMUM PRICE 5,214,852
FUNDING Whitbread £2.5 million European Regional Development funding £1.75 million South-West of England Regional Development Agency Private Investment Programme £1.75 million Paignton Zoo £7.5 million
TOTAL £13.5 million
CREDITS CONTRACT Project Partnering Contract (PPC 2000)
CLIENT Paignton Zoo
ARCHITECT Kay Elliott Architects
ENGINEER WS Atkins
QUANTITY SURVEYOR Hills
CIVIL ENGINEER Will Gannon & Smith
CONTRACTOR Dean & Dyball
LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT Rathbone Partnership
DESIGN AND INTERPRETATION O'Leary Prescott
WATER TREATMENT IAT