Anglesey Abbey Visitor’s Centre
Commercial & Public Access Highly Commended 2008
Location: Lode, Cambridgeshire
Building Owner: The National Trust
Architect: Cowper Griffith Architects
Builder/Main Contractor: Haymills (Contractors) LTD
Structural Engineers: Cameron Taylor
Joinery Company: Coulson Joinery LTD
Wood Species: Western Red Cedar – North America
The project involved detailed discussions with the National Trust team, to establish the options, aims and objectives. A ‘Project Brief’ set down the historical context, the site, its relationship to the historic gardens, the accommodation requirements and a desire to be energy efficient and innovative. The requirement to maximise the use of sustainable materials in the construction led the design team to select timber cladding early on in the process and after exhaustive research, Western Red Cedar was chosen from a sustainably managed forest source.
The building contains a 170-seat Restaurant, Education Room, WCs and Cloakrooms, a Shop, Offices and service areas, with a central Reception and ticket hall. It is carefully placed to contain the day-to-day activities of the centre, but at the same time preserve the quiet calm of the gardens. By siting across an existing tree belt, one wing of the building projects through to the gardens beyond, providing views directly from the main Restaurant, while the views from the gardens back to the buildings are minimised by stepping the gables back to reduce the mass. Cantilevered aluminium verges and cedar brise-soliels in the top sections of these gable ends dilute the vertical planes further. This device also prevents unwanted external solar reflection from the glass and unnecessary solar gain whilst maintaining glimpses out and filtering dappled light in.
The building is conceived as a series of interconnecting pitched steel frames raising the building slightly off the ground to give a light touch to the landscape, and elevated views of the gardens. The grid of the framing is expressed on the external Cedar cladding to give a set of simple tightly controlled elevations, resonant with the extreme formality of the Anglesey gardens. The Cedar is cut to a uniform board width with an expressed recessed joint. Vertical members are introduced to express the grid, and lengths of board are maximised within the bays, helping to achieve minimum wastage of this precious material during construction, with off cuts retained by the joiners for use in the slatted joinery fabrication. All ventilation entering the building, via the walls, is through slatted boarding and routed sections in the boarding which adds a further layer of detail into the timber. The brise-soleil louvers are hinged within a polyester powder coated steel sub-frame concealed behind the timber to allow for maintenance and cleaning whilst the horizontal shutters simply roll open and closed.
All external Cedar is left untreated and will gradually weather to a silver grey. To compliment this, an external timber deck constructed from Southern Yellow pine, is used for the external dining areas.
Internally European oak has been employed to finish the servery fittings and screens.