Mottisfont Visitor Centre
The project provides new visitor facilities at the entrance to the historic estate of Mottisfont Abbey, which is owned by the National Trust. The new buildings are located between the existing car park and a tributary of the River Test and include visitor arrival & ticketing space, a new shop with associated storage, office and staff room. Due to their location in the flood plain, the buildings are raised off the ground and arranged around a raised courtyard that connects to a new walkway and bridge, and to landscaped paths beyond.
The form and structure and materials were carefully developed so each building has its own distinct character and style yet are read together as a family. Bold, clear and reductive detailing of everyday materials allows the buildings to be understood as contemporary interpretations of simple agricultural vernacular forms, which will weather naturally over time.
The buildings are designed to be highly sustainable and have minimal impact on the site and sensitive SSSI surroundings, and the choice of timber for both frame, cladding and decking reflect this. The prefabricated Spruce and Larch frame and floor cassettes have zero embodied energy, reduced site wastage, were lightweight, quick to erect and can be dismantled easily at the end of the buildings lifespan, allowing the site to return to its original state. The distinctive dia-grid framework and carefully detailed joints are clearly visible internally throughout, helping to create a sense of continuity between the buildings and reinforce the sense of modern agricultural vernacular. The shop is clad externally in weathering steel, the WC building in wide Western Red Cedar boards, while the entrance / visitor reception is highly glazed, and uses deep Cedar fins to add texture and minimise solar gain. All the Cedar is untreated so that it weather’s naturally to a pale silver, matching the roof finish and contrasting with the warm red of the rusting steel. Together the buildings have an understated yet distinctive quality that reflects the creative history of the estate whilst also sitting comfortably in their setting adjacent to the listed landscape and Abbey. The use of timber both structurally and as a cladding plays an intrinsic part in creating the unique character of these buildings.
The building has won an RIBA award, and has been shortlisted for a Civic Trust Award, a Structural Timber Award and a Wood Award.
The new buildings are highly sustainable in terms of construction, use and reuse, and meet the National Trust’s in-house environmental ‘Gold Standard.’ They have been designed to tread lightly on the ground, and to respect the hydrology and ecology of their extremely sensitive (SSSI) flood plain setting adjacent to the river Test. This has been achieved as follows:
- Minimal site impact: The buildings are raised above ground to minimise impact on the flood plain and wildlife & ecology. Screw pile foundations kept excavation to a minimum, and the use of dry and pre-fabricated construction methods avoided potential contamination of ground or water. This approach also allows the buildings to be simply dismantled and recycled at the end of their life: even the screw pile foundations can be easily removed from the ground, leaving the site in virtually its original ‘as found’ condition.
- Materials: All materials selected were chosen for their low embodied energy, such as the primary timber frame and timber cladding, and/or for their durability and low maintenance, such as the cor-ten cladding which has a 300 years+ life expectancy, and can be recycled.
- Passive design: The energy strategy, developed in conjunction with Max Fordham, is based on passive measures such as building orientation, high levels of insulation, natural ventilation and high daylight levels throughout.
- Renewable and energy efficient technologies: These were selected as appropriate to the site and use. They comprise solar thermal hot water, a biomass boiler, a wood burning stove, seasonal mechanical ventilation with heat recovery and low energy lighting. Timber for the boiler is sourced on site from the estate plantations.
The net result, based on Max Fordham’s calculations, is that the facilities annual carbon emissions should be should be 50% less than an equivalent building constructed to current Building Regulation standards.