The visitors’ centre at Stowe Gardens is a unique combination of restoration, reconstruction and new build, connected in a single and unified group of buildings.
Only sustainably sourced timber was used, with the focal piece – the triangulated restaurant frame – being constructed from wood from the National Trust’s nearby Ashridge forest.
Stowe Gardens Visitor Centre is the gateway to one of the world’s greatest landscape gardens.
The project was based around the restoration of the New Inn, which was originally built in 1717 by Lord Cobham. The new development needed to incorporate a series of public spaces including an 85-seat restaurant, shop, conference facilities and estate offices, as well as a learning centre with information about the gardens and 18th-century life.
With the project aiming for zero carbon, first in production and then later in use, timber was the natural choice due to its environmental properties and ability to offer good thermal insulation and air tightness.
As the main focus of the development, the restaurant was designed to be a modern interpretation of a threshing barn. It features a notable diagrid roof structure, made from a series of linked timber triangles. Larch was selected for the restaurant’s roof due to its easy availability and durability, with the final product being cut and air-dried for two years before construction to offer superior performance when in situ.
Oak frame was used to rebuild the outbuildings immediately behind the inn. The traditional, eccentric detailing of the surviving timber frame was followed meticulously, with the one exception being an extended depth in the new sections to deliver improved thermal insulation.
Externally, the buildings are clad in untreated oak battens which will gradually weather to a silver grey, while internal screens and furnishings have been made largely from ash plywood. All public areas are adorned with slatted ceiling finishes that are in keeping with the exposed tiling of the former barns.