Margam Discovery Centre 

Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council

Project of the Year Winner 2009

Client Neath Port Talbot CBC
Contract Value £7 million
Date of Practical Completion April 2009
Project Managers & Quantity Surveyors EP Harries LLP
Architects Welsh School of Architecture & Loyn & Co Architects
Mechanical & Structural Engineering AECOM
Electrical Engineering AECOM (Formerly Faber Maunsell)
Clerk of Works Neath Port Talbot CBC
Planning Supervisor EC Harris LLP
Main Contractor WRW Construction Ltd

The Site

The 850 acre country estate is situated two miles east of Port Talbot, set on the southern slopes of Mynydd Margam, a largely forested mountain.

Its history can be traced back to pre-historic times, Bronze and Iron Age, and evidence exists of Roman and Celtic occupation.

The Brief

Sited within the Grade 1 registered Historic Garden and Landscape, the project was to provide an environmentally sustainable visitor centre and sustainable energy showcase centre whose audience would get a better understanding of the environment.

The building would act as both a base for residential courses that run within and around the park and a point of information and interaction for other daily visitors.  It was important that the centre formed part of the route around the park and was accessible by all visitors.

The Accommodation

The centre comprises single storey accommodation which includes teaching labs, WCs, kitchen, refectory and reception and a two storey residential block comprising of en-suite bedrooms.

Most of the single storey accommodation is supported off the ground on stilts.

The residential area comprises a two storey accommodation block with 34 en-suite bedrooms, with facilities for the disabled and people with special needs. The building also houses an area for the public including a reception, public toilets and changing facilities.

Enhancing the centre’s educational role, many of the building services have been made highly visible with graphical displays of energy consumption and savings.

For maximum efficiency and to minimise environmental impact, the timber framed building has been largely constructed off site, using timber from sustainable sources, with pre-fabricated modules being assembled on site.To minimise heat losses and the need for mechanical services, the building has been insulated to standards in excess of Building Regulations requirements.

Space heating in the teaching block is provided by an underfloor heating system served by a  wood pellet biomass boiler, which also serves radiators in the accommodation block.

Wood pellets for the biomass boiler are stored in a high capacity external silo to minimise frequency of deliveries and thus reduce the carbon footprint of the site even further.

As biomass is considered to be a carbon-neutral fuel, the use of a biomass boiler has been predicted to reduce CO2 emissions by 40%, giving the centre a predicted carbon footprint of less than 10 kg.CO2/m2 per annum.

Supplementing the biomass boiler in winter a gas fired condensing boiler has been installed, this uses the low return water temperatures from the underfloor heating to maximise condensing. Hot water in the teaching block is provided by solar thermal panels, supplemented by the boiler plant when necessary.

The centre is designed to be mainly naturally ventilated via a combination of opening windows and automatic roof lights, the latter being controlled via rain and temperature sensors to prevent overheating in summer and ensure occupant comfort

Rainwater is stored in a below ground water tank and used for flushing WCs and urinals within the public toilets. Mains cold water is used a secondary source of supply to the tank to ensure minimum water levels are maintained.

The north-facing roof lights also help to maximise penetration of natural daylight while minimising solar heat gains. Daylight is supplemented by predominantly fluorescent artificial lighting, using a combination of high frequency T5 sources in teaching areas and compact fluorescent in accommodation areas.

In order to provide demand-controlled lighting, the classroom lighting is linked to photocells to dim the lighting in response to daylight levels, while occupancy detection is used in all areas of variable occupancy.All services are controlled through a building management system (BMS), with extensive monitoring of energy consumption to ensure that systems are operating at maximum efficiency.

Jane Davidson – Wales Assembly Government Minister for the Environment, Sustainability and Housing – presenting the Building of the Year Award 2009 to Councillor Alun Thomas and Gareth Nutt of Neath Port Talbot CBC