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Inch - epaper ⋅ Ausgabe 4/2019 vom 05.12.2019

Whisky lovers usually have no trouble distinguishing between hills and distilleries – the latter are those with the pointy pagoda roofs and the stone walls. In Speyside, however, a second look might be worthwhile. Five of the hills are actually Macallan’s new distillery which hides under a spectacular, undulating timber roof.

Artikelbild für den Artikel "DISTILLERY: ROOFSCAPE" aus der Ausgabe 4/2019 von Inch. Dieses epaper sofort kaufen oder online lesen mit der Zeitschriften-Flatrate United Kiosk NEWS.

Bildquelle: Inch, Ausgabe 4/2019

Whiskyfreunde haben in der Regel kein Problem, zwischen Hügeln und Destillerien zu unterscheiden. Letztere sind die mit den spitzen Pagodendächern und den Natursteinwänden. In Speyside jedoch mag sich ein zweiter Blick lohnen. Fünf der Hügel dort sind Macallans neue ...

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aus dieser Ausgabe

... Destillerie, die sich unter einem spektakulären, wellenförmigen Holzdach verbirgt.

Wonderful Moray Speyside: rolling hills, a calming riverscape, lovely villages – as pretty as it may be, the landscape isn’t really the main attraction of this part of Scotland. Most come here to take a tour at one, or better several, of the area’s famous whisky distilleries. On the constant lookout for the characteristic pagoda-shaped roofs and large stone-wall warehouses, whisky lovers tend to completely ignore the surrounding hills. Well, next time they had better take a second look or they might miss something tasty.

Five of these hills are actually Macallan’s new distillery and visitor centre. In a most stunning fashion its giant undulating timber roof mimics the local landscape: five hummocks topped by green meadow, supported by an almost invisible steel frame and closed off by a glass wall from top to bottom. As dramatic as this ‘roofscape’ may be, it’s just the shell for more wonders inside: copper stills in a temple-like circular arrangement, a warm, spruce cassette roof and a product presentation rivalling any art museum.

Macallan, founded as a small farm distillery for single malt whisky in 1824 by Alexander Reid and today owned by the Edrington Group, wanted something special to increase their production by 15 million litres per year. The London-based architects Rogers Stirk Harbour & Partners certainly delivered. It’s probably only a matter of time before the new distillery becomes a set for the next Bond movie. The roof’s green hills would even make the perfect backdrop for a reboot of another famous British series – but legend has it that the word “Teletubbyland” is expressly banned by the management.


On-site work for the £140-million project began in 2014. Today, the 207-by-63-meter-wide building looks as if it is buried deep underground while, in fact, it was done by carving away the hillside. All the excavated earth was screened and later used to backfill against the retaining wall and to cover the roof.

The basic layout consists of five square sections with circular interiors starting in the south with the visitor centre and a ‘cave privée’ for 150 privately owned casks. Next are three still houses, each with 12 of Macallan’s famous ‘curiously small’ stills, and the mash house with Scotland’s largest mash tun in the north. All under one giant roof with an 18-meter-tall timber dome over each section. Only the dome over the visitor centre with its 27 meters sticks out to mark the entrance.

The undulating roof of Macallan's new distillery perfectly echoes the surrounding landscape: From the right angle the timber construction looks just like another few of these round Speyside hills.

Especially at night, the distillery and the visitor center (left) look as if they have been dug right into the hillside. The terrain, however, was cut away and the excavated earth used to backfill against the retaining wall and to cover the roof.


Although the iconic shape of the roof perfectly picks up the pattern of the surrounding hills it wasn’t entirely an artistic choice by the architect. While a dome is the preferred shape for wide spanning roofs, it also helps with the temperature management. “The stills and the air above them are very hot, ” says Bob Lang, former director at Arup and responsible for civil and structural engineering. “In order to minimize the fan power to push the air through, we simply let it rise and vent out of the roof. That meant that we needed to look for a domed form, which also happens to fit into the landscape very well.”

The high temperature differential was also an argument for the use of timber, which has a negligible thermal expansion and also a low weight compared to steel. It’s also good at resisting longitudinal forces and bending moments, the predominant loads in such a dome structure. Nevertheless, the roof is not entirely made out of timber.

Since the building has glass walls on two sides and is disconnected from the retaining wall it has no structural walls to transfer the loads from the roof. Instead, the engineers opted for a steel frame to keep the roof up. Each of the ‘hummocks’ rests on an octagonal tubular steel frame propped up by four V-columns. The sinuous roof edge is also supported by V-columns. All the steelwork was developed and manufactured by SH Structures, a company that has some experience in creating unusual Scottish tourist attractions: They also built the giant horse heads of the Kelpies near Edinburgh (see INCH 01).

The mighty steel frame is almost invisible: It’s integrated into the timber construction and the steel tubes pass right through the timber frames. “This is not done very often, ” explains Lang, “but here it’s done with a purpose. If you get the centre of stiffness of the steel close to the centre of stiffness of the timber, you avoid setting up a permanent twist.”


Many domes are based on a geodesic design but the “hills of Macallan” are, when viewed from above, in fact a perfect waffle grid of 3-by-3-meter squares. Because the roof is a three-dimensional structure all of these squares have, unfortunately, to be sheared in two directions to follow the curvature. Therefore, each of the 1,400 cassettes forms a unique, three-dimensional box. The primary roof structure is made from glulam beams. To avoid any bended elements the roof is decked with triangular cassettes topped with OSB panels, which are inserted in between the beams. Although the design is somewhat repetitive due to the symmetric domes, the roof nonetheless consists of 380,000 individual components.

The skeleton roof had a somewhat jagged appearance due to the sharp transitions between the straight glulam beams. To smoothen things out the engineers resorted to an optical trick and sandwiched the straight beams between thin laminated veneer panels with precisely cut, curved edges. All in all, no job for the faint of heart. Only a few companies worldwide are capable of delivering such quality in such a quantity. Austrian-based timber specialist Wiehag rose to the challenge with state-of-the-art parametric design software, advanced CNC machines and a sophisticated barcode system to keep all the individual pieces apart.

Giant steel tube octagons carry the roof and a glass wall acts as a compartment wall separating the visitor center from the distillery.

The green roof covers a visitor center (left), three still houses with 36 stills and Scotland's largest mash tun (right).

After completion, the roof was covered with a vapour barrier, waterproofing and thermal insulation. The latter isn’t necessary to insulate the distillery from the rough Scottish climate – the stills provide enough heat by themselves – but to protect the irrigated green roof from drying out from the heat below. The 12,000-m2 roof is completely lined with wildflower blankets. Intersecting, so-called expression channels follow the grid below and provide room for lightning protection, irrigation, fall restraint lines and power cables for the vents. A bit like the whisky below, the meadow will take a few years before it fully matures and really becomes a part of the landscape.

As much as the green, undulating roof and the warm colours of the timber and the copper stills may suggest a traditional handcraft, a whisky distillery is really nothing more than a petrochemical plant dealing with highly explosive substances. Proper fire protection is therefore vital. To stay with the theme of the ‘transparent factory’, a ten-metre-tall, double-glazed façade acts as a compartment wall between the visitor centre and the rest of the distillery. Combined with a sprinkler deluge system, it’s capable of providing a two-hour compartment line. While similar combinations had been used before, the excessive height of the wall required a fire test with a full-scale prototype – the test alone added another £400,000 to the construction costs.

Now the visitor experience is safely separated from the 36 stills. The exhibition, created by Stuttgart-based museum design specialist Atelier Brückner, is hands-on and appeals to all the senses: interactive exhibits with giant ‘steering wheels’, nosing bottles, a moving oak ‘forest’, light sculptures and a levitating drop of whisky.

No question, inside and out, the new Macallan is a distillery like no other. Prizes and awards for the architectural and engineering mastery are numerous. It’s already a major tourist attraction and the impressive staging certainly underscores Macallan’s aim to become “the Bentley of Whiskies”. Some may argue that the temple-like distillery is a bit too much Disneyland and too little Scotland. But, as with cars, some prefer the luxury, some the traditional and others the quirky. Then again, when you are in Speyside, a tour of the local hills certainly won’t do any harm. Just make sure you look out for the five new ones.