Abbotsford Visitor Reception Building

Introduction

Abbotsford was the home of Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), author of Ivanhoe, Waverley and The Lady of the Lake and in his time the most popular novelist of the day with readers all over the world. He was an antiquarian and collector, and the design of Abbotsford, completed in 1825, was inspired his knowledge of Scottish history. It is an imposing stone mansion in the Scottish Baronial style, enriched with heraldry, turrets and finials and set on the banks of the river Tweed near Melrose in the Scottish Borders. To the impressive interior – hall, library, vast dining room - Scott added carved stones and timber paneling salvaged from earlier buildings. He also designed the beautiful formal gardens, which form three outdoor rooms enclosed with brick and stone walls. The house is surrounded by an extensive woodland estate of over 100 acres, with mature trees which were mostly planted by Scott. Scott’s descendants lived in the house till 2004. In 2007 the Abbotsford Trust was established to safeguard its future by means of much needed conservation and development work. The first phase of the development, now complete, is a new visitor entrance, car park and visitor reception building, designed by LDN Architects following an open competition launched by the Abbotsford Trust in 2007.

The new visitor reception building, set in mature woodland and adjacent to the historic footpath of Borders Abbeys Way, is linked to Abbotsford gardens and house by a short paved footpath. Conceived as a modern version of a Victorian gate lodge, it is designed to act as a new symbolic gateway to Abbotsford. Its calm modern appearance, open plan and flat roof are a foil to the highly decorated and hierarchical Scottish Baronial architecture of Sir Walter’s masterpiece.

Timber construction is used in every aspect of the Abbotsford visitor reception, its structural elements, external and internal cladding and linings, and its fixtures and fittings. The use of this natural material not only conforms to the Scottish Borders Council policy encouraging building with timber but also acknowledges that timber is a truly sustainable construction material.

 

Building description

The visitor centre is two storeys high but the rear is built partly into the hillside to reduce its scale. The main entrance is sheltered by an extension of the flat roof along the south east elevation, supported by a pair of 215 x 450mm LVL (laminated veneer lumber) columns. Visitors enter a double-height foyer which leading to the reception desk and shop with glazed walls; the introductory exhibition area and toilets are also on the ground floor. A timber staircase runs along the glazed northeast wall and rises to the first floor restaurant; ancillary spaces – kitchen and stores – are set at the rear of the first floor, while the restaurant itself is full of light from glazed walls, with a terrace running along three sides, allowing visitors to eat outside and admire the views, weather permitting.

 

Construction

The building has a portal frame structure of 215 x 450mm laminated veneer lumber (LVL) timber columns which support 215x495mm LVL (Kerto-S) beams. All beams and columns connected with steel flitch plates and bolted with countersunk stainless steel bolts. This frame supports a series of cross laminated timber panels which form the first floor and roof structure. The first floor is a hybrid timber/reinforced concrete construction which provides rigidity to the overall frame. All structural timber is made of FSC-certified Finnish spruce. As the glulam, LVL and cross laminated timber components were all fabricated off site, it was possible to erect the main structure on site in only three weeks.

The wall construction, consisting of wood fibre insulation panels fitted between softwood structural studs, is designed to be breathable, to help to control the internal environment and to avoid pathologies often associated with water trapped in the building’s fabric during construction. In order to achieve a breathable wall construction that eliminated the risk of interstitial condensation, all the elements of the above-ground external walls are wood-based.

The wood fibre board insulation fitted between the softwood structural studs is 140mm thick, with 80mm thick insulation fitted externally to the stud wall.

The building is clad externally with horizontal 110 x 43mm European oak boards, open-jointed to allow the boards to move, and topped with 40mm oak capping pieces. The boards were fixed to treated sw battens and counter-battens. All the external cladding boards were left with a natural finish, designed to weather and allow the building to meld with its environs in just a few years. A few of the boards suffered from an excess of tannin which caused them to blacken in contrast with adjoining boards; they were treated with oxalic acid which successfully lightened them to match those alongside. The eaves, of ‘visible quality’ untreated cross laminated timber panels, projects 1.5 metres beyond the external walls.

All internal fittings, including the reception desk, wall linings and ceiling, were made of European oak. The linings were generally 45x45mm solid sections which were fabricated off-site by a local joiner and erected in sections to allow future repair/replacement. The oak ceiling was fixed onto softwood battens and erected as separate panels. This construction allowed sheep’s wool to be fitted between the battens for acoustic absorption in both partitions and ceilings.

The floor to the first floor cafe is finished with a solid oak board flooring system that incorporates underfloor heating. The external terrace deck consists of removable boards of hardwearing FSC-certified tropical hardwood garapa.

All internal and external timber was treated with a clear, breathable, water-based, and non-toxic fire retardant to conform to the Building Control requirement to reduce the spread of flame in case of fire.

An impressive timber staircase rises in the entrance foyer and leads to the first floor restaurant. It consists of a pair of structural stringers of 160mm thick sections of LVL, cut to a saw-tooth profile and rising from floor to floor. The stringers are set 1225mm apart and the stair treads rest on the horizontal saw-toothed steps of the stringers. Treads, balusters and handrails, all made of profiled European oak. The contrasting nosings of the treads are formed of FSC-certified tropical hardwood wenge, to avoid the need for separate visibility strips. The staircase was first erected off-site before being dismantled and re-erected on site.

 

Sustainability

Timber from sustainable sources was used throughout the building, for structure, cladding, floor and ceiling finishes and for internal joinery. The compact rectangular envelope is highly insulated and airtight, reducing the building’s heat loss and exceeding the Scottish Borders Council’s policy in terms of compliance with SPP6 and building CO2 emissions. The building was tested for air infiltration and achieved a value of 2.64 m3/hr/m2@50 Pa. The flat roof is finished with a sedum blanket that minimizes the impact of the building’s footprint by partly ‘recovering’ the natural ground lost due to the construction of the building and reducing rainwater run-off by up to 40%. Rainwater is stored in a reclamation tank and reused to flush the WCs. The building’s main spaces are naturally ventilated and a heat recovery air-handling unit serves the exhibition space and also recovers heat from the toilets. Under floor heating in every space is provided by means of a ground source heat pump connected to bore holes under the car park. As much natural light as possible has been allowed into the building to reduce the need for artificial lighting. Energy-saving lights controlled by motion detectors are installed throughout.

Completion Date:

July 2012

Year Published:

May 2014

Building type:

Visitor centre

Location:

Melrose, Scotland

Architect:

LDN Architects

Structural engineer:

Elliott & Company

Main contractor:

Border Construction Ltd

Joinery:

Crannog (main frame and external cladding) Border Joinery (internal joinery)

Timber supplier:

Structural Timber: Metsa Wood (formerly Finnforest Merk). Cladding, decking and linings: Brook Bros.

Timber elements:

LVL (Kerto Q and S) portal frame and staircase, crosslaminated timber floor and roof panels, solid oak rainscreen cladding and floorboards, woodfibre insulation

Timber species:

FSC certified spruce, European oak, garapa, wenge

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