The new visitor centre buildings designed for the Museum represent a transitional Gateway; connecting the 21st century to our collection with simple and beautiful buildings marrying contemporary detailing and traditional materials.
ABIR architects are immensely proud and privileged to have been part of the Museum’s journey, one which will enhance the visitor experience and ultimately add to the Museum’s canon of buildings with a new, 21st century centrepiece.
Here, Landscape Architect Nick Dexter discusses the natural environment created around the buildings:
The Gateway Project presented a unique opportunity to make improvements to the landscape associated with the new visitor centre. There were three areas of work; to restore the mill pond, to create a new courtyard garden around the buildings, and to improve access and parking.
The location of the new visitor entrance required safe passage to and from the car parking areas, which are mostly located at the southern top of the site. New parking spaces and areas for coaches and minibuses have been created near the visitor centre, carefully sited so that existing trees could be retained where possible.
The road through the car park has been relocated to the eastern boundary, creating a clear separation between vehicles and pedestrian; visitors will not need to cross roads to access the new footpath. A new ‘woodland path’ threads its way through the existing trees, connecting the upper and lower car parking area.
New planting alongside the pathway provides some softening and seasonal interest – woodland ferns and perennials including Dryopteris filix-mas, Vinca minor f. alba and Luzula sylvatica blend to create a groundcover of native species, punctuated by taller shrubs including Amelanchier lamarkii and Cornus sanguinea.
The Gateway buildings are adjacent to the Museum’s mill pond, so the opportunity was taken to make improvements to this popular feature.
Repairs have been made to the existing sluice gate and the pond edges restored (replacing concrete-filled sandbags from the original). The island, which had become extremely overgrown, was been removed to create an open vista between the new buildings to the watermill beyond.
New habitats for wildlife are being created around the pond margins by planting a variety of reeds and aquatic species, which also soften the edges of the buildings.
The medicinal courtyard garden has been formed from raised beds made of oak, which follow the key architectural lines of the visitor centre.
The planting responds to the natural surroundings by combining medicinal plant species with ornamental grasses. The meadow-like appearance is further reinforced by intermingling the plants. Each of the plants will be labelled to allow visitors to gain insight into the properties of the plants on display.
The plants are not solely native species, so Echinacea from North America and Feverfew (which originates from Southern Europe) have been combined with native medieval herbal plants such as Elderflower, Yarrow and Comfrey.
The visitor centre building project is now in its final phase and will open to the public in a few weeks. It is the Museum’s plan to open the shop and introductory galleries in May 2017, with the waterside café opening a little later in the spring.