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View: Grid List
Client
National Trust
Location
Ripon, N Yorkshire
Contact
Carol Costello
Team
EC Harris, Jampel Davidson & Bell, MEDA, John Herbert Partnership, Airey & Coles, Weaver Construction
Awards
Civic Trust Award (1996) RIBA Award (1993) BCI Awards Special Commendation (1993) Europa Nostra Medal of Honour (1992)
Press
Roofing Magazine (1993) The Independent (1992) Financial Times (1993) Spazio & Societa (1993) Moebel Interior Design (1993) Architektur Aktuell (1993) Architectural Design (1989) The Sunday Times (1992) Architects’ Journal (1992) Building Design (1992) The Observer (1992) The Daily Telegraph (1992) Architectural Review (1988) The Guardian (1992) Architectural Review (1992) RIBA Journal (1992)

The open courtyard form of the Visitor Centre and its use of natural materials create a distinctive place on the approach to Fountains Abbey, and in doing so enrich the experience of visitors to this wonderful site.

Fountains Abbey Visitor Centre

In 1987 the National Trust commissioned us to design a Visitor Centre and a new landscaped car park at the World Architectural Heritage Site at Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire. The site is high up above the valley of the River Skell and Fountains Abbey, which John Aislabie included into the landscaped gardens of Studley Royal in the early 1700s.

The external elevations of the building are made of dry-stone walls under clerestory glazing, itself protected by steeply pitched stone tile roofs with oversailing eaves. 

This hard outer “shell” contrasts with the softer, lighter courtyard elevations: timber framed glazed screens under double-curved lead covered roofs, extending their eaves to form a generous covered way. 

The glazing to the building’s elevations is made with eight-inch cedar boards spaced six inches apart and glazed to allow filtered light to pass, reminiscent of local farm buildings.

Context

In the 12th century a group of monks built a simple abbey church in the valley of the River Skell. 

During the next four centuries the abbey grew rich and luxurious. By the mid-16th century the abbey had grown large and comfortable and included a tower high enough to stand out above the valley, to be visible from all around. When dissolved, the buildings were razed for materials. 

In the early 18th century John Aislabie was banished to his Yorkshire estate of Studley Royal, next to the land on which the ruins of the abbey lay. Here he laid out the great gardens of Studley Royal. 

Walking up from the large lake reveals a constant series of vistas and events which culminate in discovering the ruined abbey. There are also look-outs 100 feet above the valley floor, with views across and down over the gardens. The final discovery is a distant view of the abbey from a small enclosed pavilion called Anne Boleyn’s Seat. 

In the 20th century Fountains Abbey and the Studley Royal Estate was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

The new Visitor Centre learns from Aislabie and applies the lessons for 20th century purposes. A new approach road creates an anticipation of discovery through glimpsed views of the Abbey. 

The position of the previous facilities encouraged most visitors simply to walk along the valley, turn around and retrace their steps. The location of the Abbey, garden, deer park and church could be seen as a great inverted ‘C’. 

The position of the new Visitor Centre completes the inverted ‘C’ into a ‘O’, encouraging a circular and more rewarding route around the estate.

One of the surprise views of the Abbey

Creativity

At the start of construction the budget for external works had been cut back, and this meant omitting much of the paving and seating around the courtyard. 

In response to the National Trust’s ongoing appeal for donations, we offered a contribution in kind, helping with the layout of the courtyard paving and construction a bench looking out towards the abbey. 

The courtyard was surfaced with waste materials such as broken roof tiles and marble off-cuts, and included the circular discs of Cumberland slate cut out of the washbasin countertops. 

The bench was prefabricated in our office, then demounted and reassembled on site. 

Pre-fabricating a bench for Fountains Abbey Visitor Centre in the Cullinan Studio office

Paving patterns made from off-cuts