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Abbotsford Visitor Reception Building

Project Title: Abbotsford Visitor Reception Building

Location: Melrose

Wood Species and Products Used: Kerto-S, Kerto-Q and Leno Panels, South American garapa, European oak, African wenge.

Building client/owner: Abbotsford Trust

Architect: LDN Architects

Structural Engineer:  Elliott and Company

Main Contractor/Builder: Border Construction Ltd

Joinery Company: Border Joinery

Wood Supplier: Brooks Bros (UK) Ltd, Essex

Other services: Crannog Joinery
The Project:

Abbotsford, the creation of Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), is one of Scotland’s great cultural sites. In 2007 the Abbotsford Trust was established to safeguard its future through much needed conservation and development work. The first phase involved the creation of a new visitor entrance, car park and Visitor Reception Building (VRB) incorporating a reception, cafe, shop, toilets and introductory exhibition displays.

Conceived as a modern version of a gate lodge and sited at the eastern edge of Abbotsford’s outstanding designed landscape adjacent to the historic footpath of Borders Abbeys Way, the VRB welcomes visitors warmly to Abbotsford, guards the entrance to Sir Walter’s intimate world and acts as a symbolic new gateway to Abbotsford.

The two-storey building is built partly into the hillside to reduce its scale and has a calm contemporary appearance and open plan as a foil to the highly decorated and hierarchical Scottish Baronial architecture of Sir Walter’s masterpiece.

Timber construction is used in every aspect of the Abbotsford VRB; its structural elements, the cladding and linings, and its fixtures and fittings. The use of this natural material not only conforms to the Scottish Borders Council policy encouraging building with timber but also acknowledges the fact the timber is, arguably, the only truly sustainable construction material.

The building’s portal frame structure consists of laminated timber columns and beams of Kerto-S by Finnforest. This frame supports cross-laminated timber (CLT) panels of Leno by Finnforest that form the intermediate floor and roof structure. All structural timber is made of FSC-certified Finnish spruce. The system allowed off-site fabrication and was erected on site within approximately three weeks.

Open-jointed horizontal untreated European oak boards clad all external solid walls. The wall construction, which features woodfibre insulation panels fitted between softwood structural studs, is breathable; both to help controlling the building’s internal environment and to avoid pathologies often associated with water trapped in the building’s fabric during construction. All external cladding boards have been left with a natural finish, which will hopefully age and mellow gracefully to allow the building to meld with its lovely environs in just few years.

European oak wall linings are also used internally to finish ceilings and walls. Oak is also used for internal fittings including the reception desk. The floor to the first floor cafe is finished using a solid oak boards flooring system that incorporates underfloor heating. The external balcony decking is formed with removable boards of hardwearing FSC-certified tropical hardwood Garapa.

All internal and external timber was treated with a clear, breathable, water-based, and non-toxic fire retardant to conform with Building Control’s requirement to reduce the spread of flame in case of fire.

The stair, which forms the main access between levels, is a key feature of the entrance hall. Its structural stringers are formed from profiled single sections of Kerto-Q by Finnforest, spanning between ground and first floors. These support timber stair treads, balusters and handrails, all made of profiled European oak. The treads contrasting nosings are formed using FSC-certified tropical hardwood Wenge to avoid the need for separate visibility strips. The stair was first erected off-site before being dismantled and re-erected on site.