Designing The Sill

Inspired by the landscape and of the landscape

This iconic new building will harmoniously reflect the distinctiveness of the Northumbrian landscape in both its shape and the materials used in its construction. Its centrepiece will be a beautiful Whin Sill grass roof, planted to replicate the unique natural grasslands of the surrounding area. The Sill’s fully accessible living roofwill sweep gently upwards, giving visitors a bird’s eye vantage point across one of the UK’s most magnificent landscapes and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hadrian’s Wall.

From its biomass boiler to its spacious photovoltaic atrium, The Sill will meet the highest standards of sustainability. The building will have inherent conservation messages throughout and will raise awareness of the impact of climate change both through interactive displays and our own commitment to be a green facility: 80% of our energy needs will be met by on-site renewable energy generation.

The Sill will be built on the site of our existing visitor centre and YHA hostel at Once Brewed, and is named after the nearby internationally-renowned geological feature, the Great Whin Sill. The Sill will open its doors in summer 2017.

Final design concepts for The Sill

Award-winning architectural practice Jane Darbyshire and David Kendall Ltd were selected by Northumberland National Park and the Youth Hostel Association to explore concepts for the new landmark building, which will replace the existing outdated facilities at Once Brewed near Steel Rigg on Hadrian's Wall.

After months of extensive public consultation and refinement, The Sill project and design team is delighted to announce the final design concepts for Northumberland's new Landscape Discovery Centre; a stunning example of participative design.

Side elevation design

With some 1,700 people inputting their ideas and feedback, the designs have been refined in consultation with partners, the public and expert review. The resulting proposal is for an emblematic building shaped to reflect the undulating contours of the Whin Sill landscape and, with roof lights echoing Hadrian's Wall glacial lakes. The latest concepts incorporate a palette of materials that reflect the natural landscape of the surrounding area, from dry stone walling to its standout feature, the UK's first 'Whin vegetation roof' created from Northumberland's rare Whin Sill grassland and native plants found in Northumberland National Park.

Side elevation design
View from the south east showing the main visitor entrance

Designed in consultation with members of the community and supported by high-level peer review, Jane Darbyshire and David Kendall (JDDK) took all feedback into the design process to produce two updated design concepts and subsequent site plans, which were released to the public in summer 2013. Extensive public input highlighted the importance of a building that sits sympathetically in the landscape and the final designs are reflective of this concept 'inspired by the landscape and of the landscape.' The innovative Whin vegetation, which will contain a variety of the rare plant species found in Northumberland National Park, will transform the visitor experience. This centrepiece of the building will be accessible to all, with visitors able to walk on the roof with flat access for wheelchairs and pushchairs, and explore at close quarters the rare wildlife of the Northumbrian landscape, whilst taking in stunning views of the surrounding countryside.

The 'Whin vegetation roof' project represents a pioneering move to create a roof structure engineered out of this rare plant material, and as the first of its kind to be piloted in the country, this ground-breaking initiative will inspire visitors to experience, enjoy, understand and care for the landscape for generations to come. Trials of the plants to be grown on the Whin vegetation roof are soon to start at Once Brewed and Walltown, and will be open to the public to view.

View from the north east showing first floor café with panoramic views

The final design concepts will soon be taken into the planning phase of the project, with a planning application due to be submitted early in 2014. This marks another exciting step forward for the project as a whole.

An innovation in sustainable design

The Sill will become an innovation in responsible, sustainable design – from its biomass boiler to a spacious photovoltaic canopy, the building will be constructed to high environmental standards. Its overarching aim is to create a space which will transform how people experience, enjoy, understand and care for the landscape; its high standards in building sustainability and environmental excellence will set the model for the future.

As part of the original design brief, JDDK have incorporated learning facilities, modern, group-friendly accommodation, conference, exhibition and retail amenities, as well as a local produce café and communal spaces into the design. As the project moves forward, the team are working closely with the interpretation designers at Bright 3D as plans for the exhibition space are brought to life. This will be an innovative, vibrant space, allowing visitors to explore all aspects of landscape. Art and external play spaces will make The Sill an exciting place for visitors to start a discovery of the landscape of Northumberland and beyond. The overarching theme for the exhibition space is 'hidden in plain view' and will explore a variety of different aspects of the landscape. The centre will also house superfast broadband, five external activity areas, serviced office accommodation for outdoor activity businesses and areas for retail of local produce.  

A flagship centre of discovery, The Sill will become a touchpoint for visitors from across the UK and further afield, integrating habitats, wildlife and people into design, development and management of the site.

Architects' vision of The Sill

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