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Castle Drogo Visitor Centre, Devon

Designing visitor centres for the National Trust is a tricky task. By definition, the centre will be competing, or trying not to compete, with an existing glorious piece of architecture and/or setting.

Visitors expect a building that is functional and welcoming, and is designed to a high enough standard to complement and not degrade its surroundings.

For an architect, there is the challenge of meeting all these needs, plus the usual budget constraints and the need to avoid any hint of pastiche which would be embarrassing, inappropriate or even, in the context of historically significant buildings, misleading.

Harrison Sutton was well placed to deal with these challenges at the visitor centre of the Lutyens-designed Castle Drogo in Devon. In the 1990s it extended the original centre, built in the 1970s, and when it revisited the job continued with the original theme of a simple timber post and beam construction, replacing the roof but maintaining and extending the original frame. The enhanced size of the building meant that bringing in more daylight was desirable.

The National Trust likes buildings to be naturally lit wherever possible, both to avoid the expense and CO2 emissions of artificial lighting, and to make the buildings more pleasant for visitors. Harrison Sutton therefore incorporated 16 roof lights in its design, running along both sides of the ridge and in key positions over the shop and the central entrance and reception areas. It specified 900mm2 Plateau Rooflights from The Rooflight Company. Since these come with actuators, they can open, helping to satisfy the National Trust’s requirement for natural ventilation wherever possible.

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