architects_ Invisible Studio
location_ The National Arboretum, Westonbirt, Tetbury, Gloucestershire GL8 8QS, United Kingdom
construction year_ 2015
engineer_ Buro Happold
photography_ Andy Matthews

A new welfare building for the Tree Team at Westonbirt, the National Arboretum – and the second of the buildings we designed for Westonbirt as part of the Tree Management Centre. This building was constructed entirely using Westonbirt’s own timber, grown and milled on site with minimal processing – building on techniques we pioneered in the Caretaker’s House at Hooke Park. The building was constructed by skilled timber framers Nick Perchard and James Symon working with unskilled volunteers throughout the project. The project has received a National RIBA Award in addition to 3 Regional RIBA Awards.

We issued this statement after the RIBA Awards Ceremony describing the process:

We are thrilled that our Tree Management Centre for Westonbirt Artortetum has won three RIBA Awards: An RIBA Award, the RIBA Sustainability Award and the RIBA Client of the Year Award. This is a testament, we feel, to a remarkable project.

The project at Westonbirt – for the Forestry Commission – was won by us through a formal government tendering process and we included Charley Brentnall as part of Invisible Studio – the design team – pre contract, before he went on and won the formal tender to act as main contractor for the larger of the two projects, the Machinery Store. Charley ran a  course early on with volunteers to hew the enormous Corsican Pine into the main structural members, before leading the construction phase for the Machinery Store with his extraordinary team of carpenters from Carpenter Oak & Woodland and NVQ Student Carpenters, and the smaller of the two buildings was let to Nick Perchard and Jim Symon (who were originally trained by Charley) who then then led a wonderful band of Westonbirt Volunteers in the construction of the ‘Mess Room’ welfare building, many of whom have gone on to use these skills gained from Nick and Jim in their own projects.

The engineering by Buro Happold was deceptively complex: the main timber structural members are possibly the biggest ever in UK Construction (Certainly for 150 years), and very few engineers have the nous like Andrew Wylie and Graham Clarke to understand how to use the unpredictable, ungraded, un processed, untreated timber directly from site. The Sustainability Award that we gained is testament to their thinking.

And finally – the Client of the Year Award for the Forestry Commission means so much when – as the jury citation said – this is a client that totally owns these buildings now, and fully supported the experimental, risky and unpredictable way of working that we espoused from the outset, where an option would have been to have put up a few steel portal sheds. Westonbirt had never used their own timber in any of their buildings before, and certainly nothing on this scale.