A dilapidated granary at Llawndy Farm in Talacre, North Wales, has a new lease of life as a £950,000 information centre dedicated to explaining the intricacies of oil and gas extraction, and its impact on the environment. The sandstone building dates from the late eighteenth/early nineteenth centuries, and, according to architect Clive Hardman of Colwyn Foulkes' Colwyn Bay office, has been 'inappropriately botched up over the years'. But its location made it the ideal candidate for bhp Petroleum's visitor centre: it is highly visible, both from the main road and from passing trains, and, most importantly, is close to the oil-rig in Liverpool Bay. 'As the information centre is the public face of the oilfield, it was important to be as close as possible to where they actually struck oil,' Hardman explains.
The purchase agreement states that the property will revert to the farmer in 50 years' time, prompting a strategy of minimal intervention. Stonework has been repaired, windows rebuilt where necessary, existing trusses have been sand-blasted, dpcs and new floors have been installed, and most of the functions in the 895m2 centre have been squeezed into the existing E-shaped footprint, with offices/administration in one 'arm', teashop/wcs in the middle arm - the oldest part of the building - and exhibition/multi- purpose areas in the remaining space. A chunk of exhibition space has been dry-lined so that services can run behind the internal skin, but otherwise the structure is exposed: 'We didn't want the building to take away from the exhibition,' says Nick Colwyn Foulkes.
New additions to the building are expressed as two glass boxes. The smaller is the viewing platform, inserted at first-floor level above the control room in what was formerly a two-storey tackroom, which offers views of surrounding wetlands - which bhp Petroleum is maintaining as a bird sanctuary - and of the rig. A double-storey gateway next to the tackroom has been filled in with dark blue glass. The largest addition is the reception area which is enclosed by an envelope of steel and tinted glass, chosen to minimise solar gain. 'It looks quite dark from the outside,' says Hardman, 'but the receptionist is permanently based in there, and we couldn't have the poor girl frying to death.'