Demolish, Restore or Re-use? How a derelict hospital became one of the most sought-after addresses in Inverness

Lowering the roof onto Great Glen House.

When a 150-ton crane lowered the first of two roofs onto one of the iconic towers at Great Glen House, it was a milestone moment in the ongoing transformation of the former Craig Dunain psychiatric hospital in Inverness into a development of stylish apartments and townhouses.

But while preservation purists might lobby for buildings like this to be returned entirely to their former glory, the sheer cost of restoring all their architectural elements is often prohibitively expensive.

The concept of “adaptive reuse” – ie. re-purposing old buildings for new use – can provide an attractive alternative for both developers and communities alike, allowing treasured landmarks to retain their historic integrity, while at the same time changing the building’s use entirely and introducing the 21st century technology demanded by modern occupants.

alancing the preservation of Craig Dunain’s historic interest within a budgetary framework was the challenge faced by Bell Ingram Design when the firm was appointed to deliver a full architectural and planning service by developer Robertson Homes. After lying empty for almost two decades it suffered a final insult when large parts – including the historic chapel – were destroyed by fire in September 2007 causing more than £5 million of damage.

Considering the sheer scale of the devastation, restoring this B-listed gem to its original state was never going to be a financially realistic option … but demolition was equally unthinkable.

Drawing on Bell Ingram’s experience of working on the conversion of another 19th century psychiatric hospital building in Dundee, the solution was a practical and viable scheme which would preserve and enhance the architectural and historic interest of the building.

While the chapel could not be saved, its ornate carved doorway has been preserved and will provide a route from the car parking through to the landscaped gardens.

Years of neglect and decay meant that the sash and case windows couldn’t be salvaged but you’d never believe the replacement spiral balanced timber windows aren’t original.

The stonework has also been repointed and a specialist cleaning system used to “wash” the walls at around 150 degrees to restore the beautiful colour without damaging the stone.

The roof of the building was remarkably intact – a testament to the skills of the Victorian craftsmen who worked here – and the original chimneys and spires have all been restored as Craig Dunain rises from the ashes.

Bruce Stephens, Director, Bell Ingram Design, said: “Projects like this are so satisfying because you are watching a building that’s become redundant, either through age or technology, come back to life by giving it a brand-new purpose and securing its future for subsequent generations. There’s no point conserving buildings like Craig Dunain if no-one’s going to use them because they’ll just fall back into disrepair.

“Whether it’s working out problems caused by the original construction methods or calculating how to support a ceiling while you remove a single rotten beam, repurposing these old buildings always throws up unique challenges and technical issues that you need to resolve.

“It’s not like putting together a kit house which does not usually have the same complexity.

“However, developments like Craig Dunain give you a real appreciation of the skills that were involved in the original construction, particularly in terms of masonry and joinery. The craftmanship here in Inverness is fantastic and the quality of materials is really exceptional – hard stone unlike the softer sandstone you often find is post 1920s construction.

“These days you would never constuct a stone building of this quality with all the decorative turrets, towers and spires that you see on the Great Glen Hall because the cost would be so prohibitive. That’s why this kind of development is so attractive to buyers who are getting the very best of both worlds … a brand-new home finished to modern standards inside a Victorian stone shell.”

➤To find out more about the services offered by Bell Ingram Design contact Bruce Stephens tel. 01738 621 121 or email bruce.stephens@bellingram.co.uk Find out more about Robertson Homes’ developments at www.robertsonhomes.co.uk

Published on 19th August 2019