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Architect selected to replace razed Fair Isle bird observatory

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ICA Architects has been picked to redesign a timber bird observatory and guesthouse on a remote Scottish island after the previous building burned down

The Glasgow-based company was selected ahead of five other practices to land the job on Fair Isle, which is home to about 55 people and located 30 miles south of Shetland.

The previous observatory was designed by Colin Armstrong Associates and constructed from timber modules in 2009. However, it burned to the ground in March. The fire service has not been able to detect a cause of the fire. 


Douglas Barr, chair of project-backer the Fair Isle Bird Observatory Trust (FIBOT), said the new observatory would also be made from timber and designed ‘along the same lines’ as its predecessor.

But the new building will be bigger, providing 52 beds plus a restaurant and research space. Between April and October, eight or nine people will be employed at the observatory.

The advantage of using timber, said Barr, is that modular or prefabricated components can be used to ease build conditions on the ‘very difficult’ site.

susannah parnaby fibot

susannah parnaby fibot

Source: Susannah Parnaby

The razed site of the Fair Isle Bird Observatory

All construction materials and equipment must be transported to Fair Isle by boat, but the island’s small harbour rules out the shipping of large items.

The island also does not have accommodation for a large number of builders. Hasty construction is also important, as the prevailing weather conditions make its very difficult to build in winter.

ICA’s design will also have to provide power generation, as Fair Isle does not have access to enough power to supply all the requirements.

A planning application will be submitted to Shetland Islands Council next spring.

FIBOT hopes to have put in foundations by the end of next September, so that construction can take place in the spring of 2021.

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