In 2014 Olli Blair, then of ABIR architects, was approached by R&B Distillers to design the first legal distillery on the Isle of Raasay, an island the same size as Manhattan Island off the east coast of the Isle of Skye. The site itself has impressive and open views to the south and west over Churchton Bay to the Cuilin whilst sloping steeply to the east behind the existing Borodale House, a former estate manager’s house converted in 1980s to a hotel. The hotel which had suffered from years of lack of maintenance, ceased trading in 2013.
The brief was to provide a new distillery and visitor centre with accommodation centred around a revitalised Borodale House to take advantage of the location and views.
The distillery, visitor centre and associated buildings completed in early 2018 have placed the original Borodale House at the heart of a contemporary architectural response using it as a marker for scale, form and massing. The topography of the site leant itself to a linear design with the individual building uses expressed as separate components tied back to the site by the original house; individual roof forms (alluding to Raasay’s distinctively shaped hill, Dun Caan, and the abstracted form of traditional distillery malting houses.); and the material palette which contrasts the traditional dressed stone and lush landscape of the surroundings with modern and agrarian materials such as zinc, block, brick and stone. A gold clad pavilion clearly defines the visitor entrance.
The interior draws on the geology of the island and uses whitewashed timber lining board and whisky box motif throughout to connect with traditional highland and distillery vernacular. In the gathering room where tours start there is a large feature wall made with various ‘stratas’ of different rock from the island. It incorporates discarded elements of dressed stone from the Raasay House refurbishment and other found objects to form a tactile centrepiece to discussion around location, geology and water– essential components in the whisky making process. Larch display boxes are scattered throughout the interior as though washed up from the SS Politician.
Bonded warehouse provision is also concealed by setting the building higher up and further back on the site, keeping the roof pitch as low as possible and using a mix of evergreen and deciduous planting.
The proposals take into account the constraints of the site, its setting and ecology and the technical requirements of a highly regulated distilling process to deliver a design which is sensitive to its context without being afraid to express its function
The new distillery and visitors centre offer high quality employment (with many positions being taken up by young people from the island) and a first-class visitor attraction. Both are significant in safeguarding the future of Raasay’s fragile community.
Raasay forms part of a significant new Hebridean whisky trail and as well as its core purpose of making whisky the distillery also provides high quality accommodation, runs a programme of cultural and musical events and sits at the heart of the island community.
Scotch Whisky distillery
Isle of Raasay