Durlston Castle, Swanage
Durlston Castle was built in the 1880s by the Mowlem family (George Burt) as part of a speculative venture. It is a Victorian fantasy, combining baronial comfort with two romantic stone keeps linked by a dramatic curtain wall. It is peppered with delightful examples of the Victorian attitude to collection and education, helping people to \'read great nature\'s open book\' The building is Listed Grade II. It marks a headland immediately to the west of Swanage, and enjoys stunning views of the Dorset coast and the Isle of Wight. It has recently found itself as the marker of the east end of the World Heritage site popularly know as the \'Jurassic Coast\'.

In 2003, the derelict castle was acquired by Dorset County Council. It is surrounded by one of the County\'s most notable nature reserves, the Green Flag award-winning Durlston Country Park, which comes within an AONB. Its inclusion in the World Heritage Site opened the doors to investment, and the current project, which started in 2004 and was opened this year, was supported by fifteen bodies including the County Council, the Southwest RDA, the Friends of Durlston, and the Arts Council. The largest funder was the Heritage Lottery Fund, with the scheme winning the award for Best Heritage Project in the 2012 National Lottery Awards.

The stated project aim was \'to develop and manage Durlston as an inspirational world class visitor facility with the highest commitment to conservation, learning, community involvement, sustainability and customer satisfaction\'.

The site is steep, and there are major castle entrances from the site at all but the highest of its four floor levels. At the third level, an unfortunate extension from the 1930s was demolished to make way for a new shop, and at the lowest level (level 1) a new exhibition space occupies the rough footprint of an original carriage shed. Together, these new building elements and the renovation of the derelict castle serve as a visitor\'s centre introducing the Jurassic Coast, providing detail of the flora and fauna of the nature reserve, and a destination for walkers (with and without dogs) along the coastal path.

The brief was developed by the Rangers representing the County in consultation with representation from the Jurassic Coast World Heritage team. It included education facilities, interpretation, a shop, and a café. It was agreed early on to retain the existing Rangers\' visitors\' centre as an education centre, and to use the castle as the new visitors\' centre.

The castle had been sadly neglected, and the extent of the physical damage to the fabric was not entirely clear until the project started on site. The damage from water ingress and dry rot was extensive. The interiors had to be stripped out and replaced with copies of the original match boarding, creating a new restaurant a little like a traditional cricket pavilion. The project provided the opportunity to restore stone and terracotta work, to replace the copper roof of the belvedere, and to replace pvc windows with timber working to the original details. It has also been an opportunity to establish a variety of landscaped areas adjacent to the building as it steps down the site. The curtain wall marks a sheer line in the landscape (and in the underlying geology) and it has been used to link triangular external areas: a meadow at level 2-3 and a paved area at level 1, both culminating in \'over the edge\' viewing platforms.

The new extensions are designed to support the shape and character of the castle, but to do so using modern material and details. The shop helps to re-establish the original symmetry of the castle approach, since its front wall takes the form of a non building (a dry stone wall covered in ivy). The exhibition area recalls the lean to form of the original carriage shed (long gone), and calls attention to the curtain wall by defining its length with a new skylight.

Two major art works are central to the design work and were the subject of detailed collaboration with the artists: in the restaurant, Lulu Quinn designed a series of edge lit wall panels with thousands of names of species found at Durlston. The moths alone run into thousands. As part of the access route to the castle, a geologic time line has been created by sculptor and letter carver Gary Breeze. It follows geological time from the car park down to the castle entry. Man appears just before crossing the threshold.

The overall project cost was around £5 million, including art works and interpretation. The building was carried out under a traditional JCT contract between April 2010 and November 2011.

In 2013 Durlston Castle received a commendation Civic Trust Award.
project:Durlston Castle
location:Swanage , Dorset
client:Dorset County Council
dates:2004 - 2011
cost:£5 million
awards:2012 - Winner - Best Heritage Project - 2012 National Lottery Awards
2013 - Civic Trust Award Commendation
2012 - Best Community Building (Southwest) - Local Authority Building Control Awards