Blueprint for Brockhole
BY DEREK WOOLERTON
Planit-IE’s award-winning jetty at Brockhole on Lake Windermere was simply the first stage in the rethinking and repositioning of this important Lake District landscape to satisfy the requirements of 21st Century visitors.
The Lake District National Park is the largest of England’s National Parks and attracts in the order of 15 million visitors a year Although most climbers, walkers, sailors and cyclists are aware of the vast range of natural resources and the facilities that are available to them, a large number of other less knowledgeable visitors want to simply experience the landscape and enjoy the associated cultural and heritage assets of one of the most attractive corners of the UK.
Unfortunately, memories of wet Lake District visits and the overcrowded ‘honey pot’ centres of Bowness and Ambleside often fail to excite adults and children, although a number of outstanding planned and designed facilities are available for the visitor which complement their setting and enhance the experience of the landscape character of the National Park. These ‘hidden gems’ include Blackwell, Bailie Scott’s Arts and Crafts House restored by architect Allies and Morrison, the Jerwood Centre in Wordsworth’s Grasmere by Benson + Forsyth and Napper Architects and even the Love Shack, Sutherland Hussey’s 2011 RIBA award winning tree house, which are all exemplars of outstanding design. There are high hopes that Carmody Groarke’s competition winning Windermere Steam Boat Museum, not yet constructed, will also prove to be an exceptional visitor attraction.
Another recent addition is the jetty at Brockhole, a substantial steel, timber and stone structure which provides a new docking facility for large Lake Windermere passenger ferries and allows access directly to the Lake District Visitor Centre. The construction of the jetty, a Landscape Institute 2012 Award winner, is the first phase in the implementation of a masterplan for Brockhole which includes a comprehensive programme of radical improvements and innovations aimed at establishing a world-class visitor attraction.
The jetty is seen as a key part of a travel plan designed to attract more visitors to Brockhole by sustainable means. Its design, commissioned by the Lake District National Park in 2010, was conceived by a consortium of landscape architects, marine engineers and cost consultants and provides a good example of landscape-led multi-disciplinary team work. It successfully addresses the technical challenges involved in designing a freeboard pontoon for passenger embarkation and disembarkation and a permanent fixed landside facility that provides a link between the visitor centre and the lake.
The brief called for the design to be practical, fully DDA compliant and environmentally sensitive. The landside facilities, designed by Planit-IE which acted as landscape architect and lead consultant, consist of a ticketing facility (the drum), a canopy which offers protection for waiting passengers, seating, paths, timber decking and traditional stone walling and steel gates and enclosures. Mature trees grow through the ramped decking within removable steel inserts and this gives an immediate feeling that the jetty is part of a mature woodland setting and that it has been present in the landscape for much longer than is the case.
The form of the drum and the canopy are organic in both plan and elevation. Materials have been skilfully selected and include a combination of green timber cladding and decking and curved glass to create a structure that relates very successfully to the wooded lakeside setting, the local topography and the circuitous paths which lead up to the visitor centre. The use of liquid copper (a waterproof membrane containing copper flakes which acquires a patina like the solid metal) to create the roof of the canopy and the roof and supports of the drum is innovative in this location, enhanced by the patina that has developed rapidly and which assists in assimilating the structures into the woodland location.
Simple and thoughtful detailing and careful workmanship are also apparent in the construction of canopy supports, steel fencing, seat supports, hand rails and gates where there is evidence of a practical and elegant ‘Arts and Crafts’ approach to a suite of fittings. This is most appropriate for a location within Brockhole’s Thomas Mawson designed registered garden.
The success of this design lies in its achievement of almost impossible objectives. The jetty is not only well integrated into a sensitive lakeside location, but also provides an exciting point of arrival and departure that makes a bold and powerful design statement. Above all, it is a delight in the landscape and makes a small but significant contribution to the built fabric of the Lake District.
The Brockhole masterplan
The Lake District Visitor Centre at Brockhole, the first to be established in a National Park, has for many years provided a range of traditional facilities aimed at informing and educating visitors about the natural resources, cultural associations and heritage assets of the National Park.
However, notwithstanding recent innovations at Brockhole, including the new jetty and the introduction of a popular Treetop Trek aerial adventure facility, decreasing financial resources and a consequential reduction in staffing levels have resulted in the Centre becoming ‘tired’ and lacking visitor appeal. The National Park Authority has recognised that a comprehensive programme of revitalisation is needed has set out a number of aims and objectives for Brockhole to become ‘an orientation centre which provides an all-weather destination and a taster venue that encourages exploration of the Lake District’ and which ‘acts as an exemplar of sustainability’.
In Spring 2012 the National Park Authority commissioned the preparation of a masterplan for Brockhole following an open invitation to tender which attracted some 80 consultants at the PQQ stage, invited submissions from 11 and an interview process for a shortlist of six. Planit-IE was selected and appointed in March 2012 and since then has led a multidisciplinary team in advising the authority on how to achieve its aims and objectives.
The National Park Authority described a long ‘shopping list’ desirable active and passive uses including water sports and adventure play, a new visitor centre, ‘events areas’ and places for education, gentle strolling and quiet contemplation. Associated infrastructure was required to respond to the needs of vehicular and pedestrian access, circulation and servicing, all with an emphasis on sustainability and all to be sensitive to Brockhole’s setting as an English Heritage listed historic Mawson garden. With little guidance provided on capital budgets for new facilities or for on-going management, the brief was clearly challenging!
Planit-IE rose to the challenge, developing its response to the brief by means of a route familiar to most landscape professionals.
An understanding of the ‘bigger picture’ flows from useful descriptions of the historic site and gardens as originally designed by Thomas Mawson in 1899/1900 as a setting for Brockhole house, the Mawson garden as it is today and the positive and negative attributes of the current visitor centre site. The analysis of a series of ‘layers’ including planting character, ecology, circulation, the visitor experience and buildings, and their inter-relationship allows Planit-IE to ‘explain where clashes and harmonies, opportunities and constraints exist across the estate’. The process resulted in the identification of ‘key challenges’ which are then used as a basis for establishing ‘guiding principles’ which cover the topics of ‘balance, robustness, brand and image, carbon and phasing’
The Planit-IE masterplan for Brockhole is grounded in the disciplines of site planning that are well understood by the landscape profession. It is described under three over-arching headings — ‘Grab (catch people at the front door), Grasp (unveil the joys of Brockhole and Gasp (don’t let them leave the Lake District)’ which are useful ‘hooks’ to aid the enormous task of marketing the site and attracting necessary inward investment.
Overall the masterplan layout is well worked, clearly resolved and has a structure that is convincing. Activity areas flow seamlessly into one another with sweeping path alignments linking facilities and points of interest which will assist in dispersing visitors throughout the site. Particularly interesting components of the masterplan design include the site frontage (‘Approach’), which is currently low-key in character and fails to generate a sense of anticipation or excitement for the visitor. Ideas include resurfacing the carriageway to slow the pace of traffic and the creation of an entrance that is ‘of the Lakes and not highways driven’ all directed at ‘establishing Brockhole’s onstreet image’. Plans for the main access to the visitor centre site to be provided through the historic Mawson gateway at Brockhole will provide a glimpse of the original Mawson concept, while proposed woodland parking will also improve significantly the arrivals area and allow visitors to relate to the facilities on offer. The suggested addition of new contemporary gardens, if handled carefully, could also usefully augment the inherent attraction of the historic garden site.
The provision of an iconic multi-functional and multi-level visitor centre at Brockhole is an essential part of the whole, a facility that will be required to house a leading-edge visitor centre, café, exhibitions space, wet weather shelter and play area together with site management offices. The Planit-IE concept is bold (and would almost certainly rely on a commercial operator) but could be the most important catalyst to Brockhole becoming a truly world-class visitor facility. However the potential impact of a substantial visitor centre at Brockhole together with proposed new facilities and retained facilities (Tree Top Trek) cannot be overlooked. The development will need to be very carefully designed, delivered and managed if it is to be compatible with Brockhole’s sensitive lakeside location within a relatively small registered historic garden and parkland estate in the Lake District National Park.
The Planit-IE masterplan has clearly provided a sound basis to accommodate change Its implementation and the success of the new Brockhole visitor facility will largely depend on the availability of adequate finance and, crucially, on a high standard of enlightened landscape management over its lifetime. It is perhaps inevitable therefore that the Masterplan has been designed to have ‘a long life and a loose fit’, which needs to ‘respond and adapt to opportunities and challenges’ and is a ‘working tool’ and a ‘blueprint for Brockhole’s development and progression over the next 15 years into a world-class visitor facility...’
Derek Woolerton is a director of Woolerton Dodwell Associates. He has curated with Susan Dawson the exhibition Thomas Mawson: Landscape and Architecture in the Lake District.