A former egg transit store at the end of the Crinan Canal on Loch Gilp, Argyll & Bute, has been converted into a heritage centre by Edinburgh-based Oliver Chapman Architects (OCA). Unsurprisingly dubbed ‘The Egg Shed’, the Ardrishaig Heritage & Community Hub provides a heritage interpretation centre for Scottish Canals, plus retail and community facilities.
Opened in 1801, the 15-lock, 14-kilometre-long Crinan Canal provided a route for boats travelling between the Firth of Clyde and the west coast of Scotland, circumventing the arduous and often dangerous journey around the Mull of Kintyre. As the Scottish economy expanded during the Industrial Revolution, the canal was used by commercial and fishing vessels trading between the industrial heartland of Glasgow and the West Highland villages and islands. The village of Ardrishaig developed around the east end of the canal on Loch Gilp, becoming a bustling port and harbour for both passenger and freight traffic. Queen Victoria’s visit in 1847, at the start of a journey along the Crinan Canal, also helped initiate tourism for the area.
Although still a thoroughfare for the timber industry, the village has since suffered an economic decline. The new building aims to help address this by providing a destination for learning about the rich heritage of the area, alongside facilities for both visitors and local residents. Space is provided for interpretation and orientation through a permanent exhibition on the area’s history, its natural heritage and the canal, with supporting retail and a landscaped external public space. A separate volume contains a multi-purpose hall for community use.
Sitting adjacent to the historic heart of the village, with views over loch, harbour and working timber pier, the Egg Shed ties together the diverse strands of the area’s maritime heritage, industrial legacy and picturesque location, allowing tourism and industry to once again sit hand-in-hand.
Formerly an oil storage depot, the prominent site on the edge of Loch Gilp had long been a derelict eyesore. The disused oil tanks and other industrial apparatus were removed, leaving the older structure dating from Ardrishaig’s days as a thriving marine transport and fishing community. Its asbestos roof was removed, and existing openings in the walls were widened to enhance views of the loch and provide a welcoming entrance to the community space. The new building has an industrial appearance, with the simple pitched-roof form of the existing building extended across the new structure, and new walls and roofs clad in red steel.
The previous industrial use, and the fact that the site was on land reclaimed from the sea loch at the end of the nineteenth century, meant that development was not straightforward. Large parts of the funding had to be allocated to dealing with the legacy of contamination, and to raise the ground level across the site as protection against coastal flooding. Given the vulnerability of the location and ever-rising sea levels, flood-resistant materials have been used up to a height of one metre above internal floor level as a further measure to help ensure the longevity of the building. This datum is expressed internally as a deep concrete plinth upon which the lighter upper construction sits.