Professor Gokay Deveci (SSS) at the Torry Dolphin Centre, Greyhope Bay
Image by: Martin Parker, The Gatehouse

Dolphins at the Battery – connecting to our marine world

By Jenny Frost - 11 February 2022

Ahead of the opening of the new Greyhope Bay ‘Dolphins at the Battery’ Visitor Centre this spring, Professor Gokay Deveci from The Scott Sutherland School of Architecture & Built Environment, reflects on the centre’s historical significance and it's impact on the local community.

Back in 2017, myself and a team of students, became involved with charitable organisation, Greyhope Bay, with the aim of creating a world class marine experience centre and visitor attraction that would connect Aberdeen and the North East to our marine world. Working closely with the Greyhope’s Managing Director, Fiona McIntyre, we set out to preserve the history and heritage of the old artillery battery which has overlooked the harbour since 1860 and been used to defend the city from threats during both world wars.

We wanted to create an ‘off-grid’ eco-friendly facility that would become a vibrant destination in Aberdeen and a hub for the local community. With this in mind, an idea was borne to repurpose shipping containers, finished with timber cladding.  Our ambition was to create a tourist, hospitality and community centre that would contribute to the circular economy. By upcycling material, we could reduce the overall carbon footprint of the project whilst making it more affordable.  ‘Dolphins at the Battery’ would create a community space with a dolphin viewing centre, café, education and community hub, offering a ready-made canvas and unique window to the sea.

Steeped in history as the former WW11 defences, Torry Battery is considered one of the best areas in Scotland to see Blue Nose dolphins and Minke whales. When the centre opens this spring, people will be able to see these amazing cetaceans in comfort from Aberdeen for the first time. Beyond this, I see the ‘Dolphins at the Battery’ serving as a new community centre that will allow people to connect with the natural environment whilst fostering better relations with one another.

The new centre is about much more than a stand-alone building. It has been designed innovatively and thoughtfully to strengthen the community around it. A significant element of the work for the staff and students at SSS throughout, has been to work closely with the Greyhope Bay Community Group to understand their needs.  Communities like Torry and the wider city of Aberdeen, feature a diverse mix of people with different ways of life but most communities generally revolve around family, social ties and networks. It is an architect's role to foster these communities and to deliver a positive impact for them.

With this in mind, we have created a multi-layered visitor experience that offers multiple ways to connect with the community. We have created an educational space to enable visitors to learn more about the marine life on their doorstep and also a place to connect with the local community. We’re hoping the centre will provide opportunities for wildlife and heritage tours, artist led creative workshops, community events, outdoor learning and more.  Above all, the project reflects our ambition to nurture and sustain the local communities and to bring residents closer together.

The centre also echoes Aberdeen and the North east's ambition to transition beyond oil and gas. It has sustainability at its core and operates entirely off-grid.  Solar and battery power are harvested from rainwater and treatment technology filter the water supply. This supports our aim to run a low impact sustainable centre and we are grateful to the contributions of everyone involved who have supported our vision and made the build possible.

The Greyhope Bay dolphin visitor centre is breathing new life into a historical monument and embracing the future and current needs of residents whilst respecting the historical significance of the area. It has given a new lease of life to an endangered site and offers a new future for Torry Battery, that will draw people to the area and make it suitable for modern-day use.  This has a lasting legacy that can be replicated at other historical sites across Scotland.

This marks a culmination of a journey from the original idea to the construction, and finally to the opening of this amazing centre. The project reflects the role architecture has in nurturing and sustaining our local communities and the potential to bring communities closer together. I am really grateful to the design and construction team who have helped deliver such a challenging and innovative project.

The Dolphin's Visitor Centre offers a bright future for the Torry Battery and reaffirms the area’s environmental and historical significance. I am delighted that this community project has come to fruition. I see this as the starting point towards a much bigger ambition. Ultimately, my hopes are that we build upon this success and create a world class research and marine centre, that would welcome people to the North east. I’m looking forward to seeing Greyhope Bay thrive in the years to come.

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