Westonbirt Visitor Centre

An example of an early – and possibly the first – ‘visitor centre’ built in the UK. It was unique for its use of home grown structural timber, the first ‘commercial’ felling of conifers from the Forest of Dean, sawn and erected green. Westonbirt inherited a landscape from Victorian enterprise and vision. Robert Holford, the original owner, commenced planting in 1829 on what was then open downland. His son George carried forward the work, creating wide rides and vistas. With maturity, the splendour of their concepts can now be fully appreciated. The Forestry Commission acquired the Arboretum in 1956 and today over five thousand species of trees, shrubs and plants are in their care. The centre is a reception and information point for visitors. However, the real exhibition is outside, in the Arboretum, and the the siting of the Visitor Centre pavilions provides the gateway. Embraced by tall trees and shrubs the buildings have been placed discreetly to maintain the characteristic views of the landscape. The original Visitor Centre consisted of three pavilions. The Main Pavilion provides an open flexible arrival, and retail space with seasonally variable and topically changeable interpretive displays. The adjacent Refreshment Pavilion forms a courtyard and outdoor seating area part covered by a later fabric structure. The conceptual ideas behind the Visitor Centre design were concerned with developing an architecture that naturally relates to its context. The theoretical approach is fundamentally an organic one. However, the roots of the ideas can be interpreted as essentially Classic and Palladian in their references to the rural pavilion with the ordered progression and use of the column, screen and thick wall. The pavilions straddle outcrops of reclaimed local stone, on lines that merge with existing field walls and disappear into the landscape. Umbrella roofs constructed from sections of large-sawn Douglas fir, have a structural form intentionally analagous to the nature and shape of the fir trees in the Arboretum. From wood block flooring, through structural components and finishes, to the cedar shingles of the roofs, the emphasis is on the craft and characteristics inherent in the usage of timber.

Location

  • Near Tetbury

Gross Area

  • 250 to 499 sqm

Sectors

  • Conservation - General, Culture & Entertainment - Visitors' Centres, Food and Beverage - General, Retail - One-off Shops

Key Services

  • Full Architectural Service, Landscape Design, Planning Applications

Awards

  • Stone Federation Design Award
  • Civic Trust Award
  • RIBA Commendation