Thursday, February 22, 2024

Lightly Peated

Whisky, Blabber 'n' Smoke


Macallan Building

Macallan are building a brand new distillery on their estate and when it’s open I will be as excited by the building as much as the whisky. It will mean I will have to visit again, not because I feel I need to learn more about Macallan, though you can never pass up the opportunity to learn something new, but because I will have to see the building.

There are few other places where this would be the case, as distilleries are not usually examples of high architecture. For sure they all represent the age they were built and can sometimes be attractive just because of that, especially when combined with a scenic location, but they mostly look what they are: functional buildings. As you walk round most of what you find attractive is the age and associated history, not the design. I will admit the pagoda roofs are lovely and provide a neat visual shorthand for the distillery below but the buildings themselves are usually a bit of a hotchpotch.  This gives a problem for the architects of a modern distillery because, as malting is done off site, they have to design something to compensate for the lack of pagoda, something else that will visually pull the building together (unless they give up completely and just produce a box). Mostly that has been the case  in the last 60 years, they have produced boxes (look at Tomintoul or Caol Ila). There has though been one interesting exception, where an architect with an established reputation and who was also a prominent figure among the great and the good, was commissioned to design a new distillery. Tormore (I have previously written about it here) was designed by A.E. Richardson, who has the distinction of designing the first post war building to be listed (Bracken House for the Financial Times) and as such is the only distillery that can be compared with the new Macallan.

A.E Richardson was born in 1880 and the Tormore commission was in 1958, when he was 78. Macallan was designed by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners. Richard Rogers was born in 1933 and so was 79 at the time of the commission. Both Richardson and Rogers have honours: Richardson was a knight, Rogers is a baron. Richardson was a professor of architecture at the UCL, and a president of the Royal Academy, Rogers has also had extra curricula activities, including being and architecture advisor for the mayor of London and mayor of Barcelona, setting up the Urban Taskforce, and giving the Reith Lectures in 1995. Both have been responsible for buildings that have been listed, though Richard Rogers gets the prize here as the Lloyds Building is Grade 1. The point at which the comparisons fall down is that Rogers didn’t actually design Macallan, it was done by a team led by Graham Stirk – but hey no comparison is perfect! Nevertheless the central point is the Tormore and Macallan were designed by practices of high repute. However the design outlook of those practices couldn’t be more different.

Richardson looked towards the past for his visual language, even though he would use modern design methods. You can see that he wanted to incorporate the vernacular and use local materials as a result Tormore has a look of monumental folksiness.


Macallan visualisation
Visualisation of distillery sitting in hillside


This of course is not the way of RSH, they have always been pioneers in a form of techno modernism. In the past they have been famous for shiny metal cladding and putting services on the outside. Their image is one of being forward looking. However these days way can never look forward without looking back so that one of the design cues for Macallan is from ancient Scottish earthworks, which actually ties in neatly with the need to be energy efficient (a very current preoccupation). You can obviously pick the past you want to hark back to. Richardson might have been nostalgically romantic, but in its modern/ancient way the Macallan distillery is just as romantic.

Model of new Macallan Distillery
Model of new Macallan Distillery

The key to the new building and what is obvious is that the roof is a thing of wonder. At 63m x 207m it is the largest and most complex timber roof in Scotland, using curved Glulam beams to support a roof deck that will be covered in sedum.  To me this is almost like a passing on of a flame. C.C. Doig came up with the shape of the pagoda in 1889 for Daluaine distillery and, as I have already said, went on to become a symbol of the industry. Now this new and adventurous building will also be defined by its roof. Mind you such things don’t come cheap as the building will cost £100,000,000. Perhaps its just as well Macallan sees itself as a luxury brand.


P.S. The architecturial illustrations come from  RSH+P website, where more information can be found

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