Reiach and Hall Architects has been given the Editor’s Choice award for Nucleus, the Nuclear and Caithness Archives in Wick
This is an exceptional piece of architecture materially, aesthetically and functionally: it’s made well, looks stunning and fulfils, indeed exceeds, its brief – effectively reimagining what an archive building can be in both form and function.
The brief for the building, for a national archive preserving the records of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and incorporating the local Caithness Archive, could on paper have just required a large, blank shed. Equally, on its exposed site next to Wick airport, situated in the unforgiving, low-lying watery and bleak surroundings of what is known as the Flow Country, it could have remained inward-looking, ignoring context.
A large, double-height cellular concrete archive block defines the western edge of the site, accommodating but also symbolising the long-term security of the archive, and contributing environmental stability through its mass.
Separately expressed, the single-storey block of administrative and public access spaces, including a community room and exhibition area, is orientated out to views to the coast, offering literal and figurative openness to the public but also to public scrutiny. Together these two elements, connecting around a series of protected ‘lochan’ water-courts help, like all good architecture, to ‘build the site’: essentially making a place from their architecture.
What is also impressive is the quality of the building materially – especially given that it was delivered through a Design and Build contract, with the architect involved throughout the build process. The building is both built to last and a thing of beauty, with Reiach and Hall nicely reworking the shed aesthetic not in its form but in its simple, industrial materials, with its silver anodised aluminium cladding gently reflecting light from water and sky.
Reiach and Hall is having a bit of a ‘moment’ right now, hitting a sweet spot in terms of its output and approach. The practice’s Riverside Campus at the City of Glasgow College, designed with Michael Laird Architects, was shortlisted for the RIBA Stirling Prize in 2016, as was their City Campus there in 2017. The latter was also shortlisted for the Doolan Award and won the AJ100 Building of the Year award. Here again with this project this is a practice that is repeatedly proving itself capable of delivering large, well-made and notably public-spirited buildings that go beyond the design brief.