The Westonbirt Arboretum videogives an insight into this Green Apple award winning project. The National Arboretum is one of the most spectacular collections of trees in the world so it was only fitting that timber should play a key role in the design of the Visitor Centre.
In 2010 the Forestry Commission, who own and manage the Arboretum, commissioned Glenn Howells Architects to develop a masterplan which, over the course of several phases, would improve the experience of visitors to the site. Improvement was needed; parking was haphazard; a single ticket hut caused long queues; toilets and café were scattered around the site and there was nowhere to provide information.
The new building is the start of every visitor’s journey to the Arboretum. Discreetly set in a natural landscape hollow, it is deliberately modest in scale to minimise its impact on the historic landscape and to maintain the main focus on the collection of trees. Materials have been carefully considered; in response to its sylvan location, the building has been designed as an exemplar of the use of UK sourced timber and to demonstrate the aesthetics and capability of green materials in construction.
A key aspect of the design was the need to achieve a smooth external curved appearance to the building; the choice of timber for the external cladding and its detailing was critical. Green UK-sourced western red cedar battens were chosen and proved an excellent material to create the curve; laid horizontally, they have sufficient elasticity to curve smoothly but are robust enough, untreated, to deal with the relatively exposed location. The cladding battens were deliberately fixed with deep shadow gaps between to allow them to move slightly while the appearance of the curve of the building remains consistent. The roof is clad with untreated western red cedar bias cut shingles; the bias cut offered better durability and quality on a sawn shingle without the irregularity of hand riven shakes.
The cladding battens were supplied by English Woodlands Timber in West Sussex. The roof shingles, from the same supplier, were also cedar but they came from France as UK varieties were considered to be too porous for this application. Other softwood timber elements of the scheme were sourced from local suppliers.
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