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Bluestone development in Wales takes shape

Ambitious projects call for ambitious designs. It's not everyday and upturned boat is turned into a water park, but that's what's happening in Wales. in a £110 million project.

Channel 4's popular TV show Grand Designs always features the vision of a dynamic, but sometimes not completely informed, client and a number of dramatic construction set pieces.

Regular viewers of the programme will be familiar with the "will it fit or won't it fit?" commentary of the presenter, Kevin McCloud, as a crucial and expensive piece of the design is delicately craned into posit ion.

Well, in Wales a particularly grand design is taking shape under the construction management of Alfred McAlpine.

For a company that is proud of its reputation for not tak ing unnecessary chances, it is a very different kind of scheme. Indeed, at Bluestone it has a client of vision, planning constraints, fantastic designs incorporating boat shapes, rivers, log cabins and complex landscaping, all designed and constructed by specialist teams.

Bluestone is a £110 million environmentally-friendly short break holiday development in the heart of Pembrokeshire and is one of the biggest construction projects in Wales. It is the dream of local developer William McNamara and is set in 500 acres of land, around half of which is in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park.

"Alfred McAlpine has been working with William McNamara and the Bluestone team since he first had the idea of the park 10 years ago, " says Stuart Hirst, the project manager for Alfred McAlpine on the site.

"Ou r team assisted Bluestone with the design and planning phase before construction began in earnest last December."

Because the site straddles the jurisdictions of two different planning authorities, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority and Pembrokeshire County Council, it required a dual application, originally submitted in November 2002.

Then, following the extensive planning process, permission was granted by the council in July 2003 and by the national park authority in January 2004.

The proposals secured the final go-ahead following a decision by the House of Lords to approve the project in 2006.

"Our business recognised the potential of the scheme and, eight months into the contract, it is great to see the concept turning from an idea into reality.

It is going to be a remarkable development when it is completed. The water park is going to be a showpiece part of the project, " says Mr Hirst.

Indeed, the water park is a grand design all of its own. It is shaped like an uptu rned Welsh coracle; the primitive fishing boat used until quite recently along the coast by many local communities, and features a massive glulam timber frame.

While many of the materials for the building were sourced locally, the key elements of the frame are 20 huge wooden 'ribs' that had to complete an 820-mile (1,320 km) international journey all the way from Switzerland, accompanied by its own team from specialist contractor, Haring & Co AG.

"We were thinking in terms of encapsulating an environment where it was summer all year round, rather than just const ruct ing a building, " says R ichard Harris, communications manager for Bluestone .

"It was also crucial that the structure was in keeping with its surroundings and when the architects, Powell Dobson, came up with the idea of a coracle shape, that seemed very appropriate. It's a fun concept - and fun is what the water park is all about."

The water park sits in a fold of the Pembrokeshire hills. Alfred McAlpine's team has excavated down to be able to sit the different swimming pools, pump rooms and leisure complex in the ground and then landscaped the surrounding area to give it the appearance of rising from the ground. The glulam beams create the structural form of the roof and give the building a striking, graceful shape - even in its unfinished state.

"There will be a very large leisure pool with wave technology that produces a range of waves for body surfing, and restaurant and cafe areas, " says the water park's architect, Gareth Howell, of Powell Dobson Associates. "There will be a flume ride, a wild water ride, a lazy river which takes you outside the building and plunge and spa pools."

The envelope is finished with cedar sh ingles and light is allowed in through the roof using ETFE panels, similar to those used at the Eden Project in Cornwall.

The latter are inflated membrane pillows which are lighter in weight and more sustainable than glass. It lets light into the building and can also help to control the light levels in and out of the building.

The coracle, which, according to the Bluestone team, will be given a suitable christening in the summer, will be around 45 m wide and 60-70 m long, with the reception and outside seating areas extending it to a length of almost 100 m.

"It was a reasonably complex design, which is one of the reasons why we chose Haring, the Swiss contractors which had worked with us at the Eden Project, " says Mr Hirst.

So, when the three 25 m articulated lorries arrived from Switzerland after their two-day journey across the Continent, sea and then the M4, everyone held their breath. Alfred McAlpine's team had been working to meet a tight deadline; they were on schedule and had finished the foundations, footings and huge concrete posts that the frame sits upon. But there was still that moment when everyone on site wondered: will the frame slot into place or not?

On arrival of the beams at the site, Haring took control of their assembly and, using local cranage, they rapidly lifted them into position - and indeed every thing did slot into place.

The four-man Swiss team stayed with the project and worked around the clock to finish the first stage of the frame two weeks ahead of schedule - just in time to witness their compatriot Roger Federer win the Wimbledon men's singles final yet again. Haring operated cherry-pickers to work inside the frame, assembling the beams piece by piece. All bedded into the carefully designed and finished foundation.

The construction of the envelope, within which the steel structure of the pool's changing rooms and restaurants, sits started in June. The whole envelope will be substant ially complete by the end of September.

"It is a team effort and we have all been impressed with the Swiss team. But we were not just watching the Haring team. The way we had programmed the job allowed us to continue working safely around the Swiss, doing concrete works at ground level, constructing the floors for the side of the pool, while the pipework was laid for the pool area itself. The plan is to continue working side-by-side as ETFE and the cedar shingle facade are constructed over the framework of glulam beams, " says Mr Hirst.

The site is vast and the scope of Bluestone is truly a grand design, phase one of which is scheduled for complet ion in the summer of 2008. Right now, the water park is the star - but not for long. If the park meets its targets, phase three will include a snow centre.

Now, what shape will that be ? An upturned ski slope, perhaps?


Client: Bluestone Mansford Estates Main contractor: Alfred McAlpine Civil and Structural Engineer: Jacobs Architect: Powell Dobson Associates M&E Engineer: Tandy Building Services Consultants Specialist subcontractor for the water park building envelope: Haring & Co AG