Skibo Castle Swimming Pool Pavilion

Project Description:

Skibo Castle situates in one of the most beautiful parts of the Highlands overlooking the Dornoch Firth. It has a long and intriguing history dating back to 1211 as a stone tower house and rebuilt as a fortified palace in 1545. In 1898, the famous Scottish steel magnate, industrialist, philanthropist and the richest man in the world, Andrew Carnegie bought the 7,500-acre estate and turned it into his private residence. He spent GBP2 million on improvements including the creation of Loch (lake) Ospisdale, an indoor heated swimming pool and a 9-hole golf course. Now it is operated as The Carnegie Club, home to one of the world’s most prestigious private clubs.

The state-of-the-art swimming pool pavilion is one of The Carnegie Club’s most iconic features. Built in early 1902 by Mackenzie & Moncur (The HRH Queen Victoria’s principal glasshouse designer). The 25ft long salt-water heated pool had a steel framed glass roof which could be opened with pull of a lever. A boiler house was built to heat up the pool, steam room and salt-water jets massage therapy in the luxurious Victorian spa. Aside from its primary use for swimming, the pavilion was designed to double as a ballroom. The pool could be drained, a dancefloor fitted on top and the band played in the minstrels’ gallery.

A century later, the decayed timber beams caused subsiding to the building. It was in need of a major overhaul. Archial Architects (formerly SMC Hugh Martin Architects), the expert in conservation, was appointed to restore this Grade B Listed building with great care to its former glory.

This was the last project that Florence worked on in the UK before moving back to Hong Kong. It was also one of her all-time favourites.


“Due to the deterioration of the budling structure which was deemed unsafe to be use. Historic Scotland and local authorities made an exception for a Grade B Listed building to be demolished under one condition – to reconstruct the building fabric to its originality, retaining as much as possible of the original structure such as the metal roof trusses and the sandstone pillars with carvings depicting mythical sea creatures.

The renovation for this Grade B Listed building was sensitive and sympathetic to its historic integrity. Every single stone was carefully dismantled, surveyed, repaired and replicated by the local master stonemason. New timber windows were handcrafted to follow the original profile. The rusty metal roof trusses were made good and treated.

While retaining the 1902 design and materials, latest technological innovations were integrated to commemorate the late owner and steel magnate Mr Carnegie by constructing an ozone treated stainless steel pool. Moreover, the new glass roof has triple glazing and automated air-vents. The building temperature is self-regulated via an intelligent thermal system. Air-vents open and mechanical ventilation activates when temperature exceeds the threshold.

The genius fusion of old and new results in a timeless masterpiece of revival. Despite getting up at 4am and enduring the 8-hour drive commute to site, it was a real privilege to be part of this amazing restoration project. It is a true labour of love and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Florence Ma – Founder of Rebel Arkitekt

Timeline: 1890 > 2009