Merthyr Tydfil Council is recruiting a design team for an estimated £50 million revamp of Cyfarthfa Castle and surrounding areas in Wales (Deadline: 17 May)
The team selected for the projected £250,000 contract will spend about 12 months drawing up a ‘visionary and exemplary strategic masterplan’ to transform the historic country house into a new visitor attraction focusing on the area’s industrial history.
The 25-year masterplan will identify a range of cultural, industrial heritage and landscape projects around the Grade I-listed Cyfarthfa Castle and its 77ha grounds. Cardiff-based ALT-Architecture worked with the Design Commission for Wales to develop the project brief for the local authority.
Source: Image by Keith Willoughby
Gareth Chapman, Merthyr Tydfil Council chief executive said: ‘The publication of this tender is a crucially important milestone on the road to realising our ambitious vision for Cyfarthfa and the whole town. We are determined that this will be a project of the highest quality. I hope it will engage the interest of the best talents in the country and beyond to help us reach our goal.’
Carole-Anne Davies, Design Commission for Wales chief executive said: ‘Merthyr has every reason to expect quality and creativity of an international standard. Cyfarthfa and its environs have a history of globally significant innovation. There is every opportunity to recast that history with renewed ambition, to capture public imagination and galvanise new visitors to Merthyr Tydfil and the wider region.’
Located around 37 km north of Cardiff on the edge of the Brecon Beacons, Merthyr Tydfil became a major centre of iron production during the early industrial revolution due to the local abundance of iron ore, coal, limestone, lumber and water.
The Cyfarthfa Castle was built in 1824 by the architect Robert Lugar for the Crawshay family who controlled the largest ironworks in the town. The building and its grounds were purchased by the local authority more than one 100 years ago and transformed into a public park, museum and school.
The latest project will regenerate the Cyfarthfa Estate and other heritage assets across Merthyr Tydfil such as the Crawshay furnaces and River Taff through a series of large and smaller projects which will be delivered over the next 25 years.
The masterplan will build on the conclusions of the Merthyr Tydfil Industrial Heritage Design Charrette held at Cyfarthfa Castle in October 2017 which called for a cathedral-like venue for industrial heritage, a connected landscape, broader geographic connections and year-round events.
A later report by the Design Commission for Wales based on the charette – dubbed Crucible – called for £50million to create a centre of national importance centred around the castle and won backing from the local authority.
The team selected for the commission will draw up a ‘creative, multi-layered’ masterplan featuring a new museum or visitor attraction capable of receiving around 300,000 visitors a year. Other long-term interventions and a series of quick-to-deliver early stage projects will also be required.
Teams selected for interview will present to a panel featuring Peter Clegg, senior partner at Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios; Martin Knight, managing director at Knight Architects; Amanda Spence, architect at ALT-Architecture; and the local authority’s regeneration programmes manager, Zoe Thomas.
Applications may be in English or Welsh. Bids will be evaluated 80 per cent on quality and 20 per cent on cost.
How to apply
The deadline for applications is 12noon on 17 May
Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council
Triangle Business Park
Tel: +44 1685725000
View the contract notice for more information
Q&A with Carole-Anne Davies
The chief executive of the Design Commission for Wales discusses her ambitions for the competition
Why are you seeking a design team to create a ‘visionary and exemplary strategic masterplan’ for Cyfarthfa Castle?
The Design Commission for Wales made a bold approach to Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council, encouraging them to work with us on an ambitious project for the future of Cyfarthfa Park and Castle and the wider Merthyr area. Working with them, our own team led by architect Amanda Spence, then Design Advisor here at the Commission, supported by myself and Geraint Talfan Davies our project champion, we developed a design charette which we hosted at Cyfarthfa on 21st October 2017 alongside partners including the Welsh School of Architecture.
More than 60 people joined us that day to explore the potential of the area. Our subsequent report - ‘Crucible’ - set out key opportunities and recommendations. These were adopted by the full Council in their entirety. The project continues to be led by the originating Design Commission team, in partnership with the Council. The Crucible report and the emerging project have been positively received by the public, partners and the Welsh Government.
Merthyr Tydfil’s place in the social, political and industrial history of Wales is unrivalled – its history is of global significance. It is the crucible wherein the industrial revolution was forged, where the creation of the world’s largest centre of iron production transformed a small hamlet into Wales’ largest town. The ironworks of Cyfarthfa, Dowlais, Penydarren and Plymouth employed thousands and propelled Wales into a global industrial economy, characterised by investment in new ideas, technologies and techniques, making Merthyr Tydfil’s name in the late 18th and 19th centuries synonymous with innovation. The town’s rich store of heritage assets offers a unique opportunity to achieve the coherence and impact that Merthyr deserves. With bold vision those assets could yet stamp themselves on public consciousness in a way that befits the town as a place of regional, national and international significance.
What is your vision for the new visitor attraction?
We aim to raise the projection of Merthyr to the level of its true historical importance; to transform Cyfarthfa from a local project to a national project – a National Centre for Industrial Heritage, achieving international quality standards. We wish to create at Cyfarthfa a transformative visitor attraction, that will benefit the whole of Merthyr and to do so at a quality and scale that would make it an anchor project for Wales and the UK. The location is significant in scale and in terms of connections to the wider region including the outstanding Brecon Beacons National Park area. It is important to understand that this is not a restoration project, although it will have a restoration component. It is a much more ambitious, strategic and multi-layered opportunity that will recast Merthyr’s globally important stories and connect them to the contemporary world. There is an opportunity here for a major architectural intervention. Our vision is about design excellence and quality landscape development. Innovative curation and storytelling will need to ensure a mix of rich narrative and powerful spectacle, using the latest display techniques to celebrate our history and provide a springboard to the future.
What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?
The brief has been very carefully thought through and provides opportunities for creative teams that are committed to design quality and innovation – irrespective of size. We are confident that both new and established talent will find the brief stimulating and challenging. All teams will need to meet our requirements and match, or exceed, our ambition.
Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/designers be procured?
In Wales at the moment we see several long-term projects emerging that are of national importance, some, like this, of large scale. These are projects of major significance including several infrastructure opportunities, including transport and the new Metro. The impact of our ground-breaking legislation - the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act - is significant. It is fully integrated with new place-led national Planning Policy Wales 10 launched in 2018, and sets clear long-term expectations for sustainable development, citizen involvement and at its core, the importance of well-being. For Cyfarthfa, the masterplan brief asks for fresh opportunities to be identified and we expect new and additional projects to emerge from it.
Are there any other large-scale heritage masterplan projects you have been impressed by?
Many of the precedents we drew upon are included in the original Crucible report and range from Halden Zolverein and the wider landscape work at Essen; the IBA Emscher Park at the Ruhr district in Germany of and Kroller Muller at Otterlo, in the Netherlands. There are many more ranging from San Francisco to our own World Heritage Site at Blaenavon Ironworks, all of which help signal the quality and ambition we are seeking. It has to be exceptional.