In 2014 Simpson and Brown were commissioned by English Heritage to provide proposals for improvements to the Visitor Centre facility at Rievaulx Abbey, Rievaulx Village near York. The aim of the proposals was to provide improved visitor facilities, an upgraded museum building to meet modern curatorial standards and improve staff facilities. The new visitor centre was opened in July 2016.
Constraints on both budget and site, provided an opportunity to retain and adapt parts of the timber structure of the old visitor centre. The most significant element of the project would be the insertion of a new central hall within the existing L-shaped plan of the structure that existed. This new hall would make the building clearly legible as a welcome building and in its design, present the abbey ruins and museum as an essential and exciting part of the visitor experience - this was, after all, one of the main requirements set by the client brief; to encourage visitors to go beyond the café and shop and venture into the ticketed areas.
The new building is intended to act as a showcase for the abbey. A single piece of carved stone from the abbey ruins is presented within the glass window as a visual taster for what lies beyond. There is now a greater clarity for the visitor as the main arrival and orientation point within the site. The new hall is formed in engineered glulam spruce timber, coloured with a translucent white coating. This colour unifies both the timber and adjacent internal finishes while still allowing the natural appearance of the frame timbers to be appreciated. The new structure is essentially a series of arches which respond to the view of the abbey ruins by gradually splaying to reveal what had previously been obscured and under-appreciated views of the abbey ruins. There is also a visual relationship between the new visitor centre and the existing columns and arches that make up the ruins of the abbey when viewed in changing perspective from either end of Rievaulx village. Both east and west gables of the visitor centre are entirely glazed, allowing the focus of the visitor centre to be oriented towards the ruins and museum. To further emphasis this perspective view, the frames appear unconnected and free-standing. The frames are, however, structurally connected by structural crosslam timber sheeting at roof level and a perimeter edge beam which contains concealed lighting and services. Off-site fabrication of structural timber frames solved the problems provided by a tight contract period and unpredictable winter weather. Glass is used not only to allow natural light in but to clearly emphasise the structural frame internally and externally. Although the main internal views are orientated towards the ruins, there are discreet views to the terrace through slot windows which also cast and control direct sunlight. These slot windows visually take their cue from agricultural buildings Although the interior can be interpreted as knave-like, the external form of the building is intended to echo the architecture of local timber agricultural buildings. To access the outside café terrace, a large glass screen can be fully slid back into a recess formed in the wall. Visitors can sit on a long oak bench under the timber entrance canopy as they rest or wait for friends. Large roof overhangs to all sides of the new part provide protection to both the building and visitor.
External timber surfaces which had previously painted orange were painted a more appropriate colour designed to blend in with the surrounding trees and natural setting. A palette of traditional and quality materials is used throughout including engineered timber, zinc and polished concrete.
|Project name:||Rievaulx Abbey Visitor Centre|
|Client name:||English Heritage|
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