Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Gardens are full of curves from the Gothic arches of the Abbey to the swirling shapes of the water gardens, the temples and pagodas. So, it seems highly appropriate that the Visitor Centre, designed by Edward Cullinan Architects in the late 1980′s should itself include curving steel beams in its structure which soar upwards like Gothic arches.
Visiting today, the Visitor Centre still feels fresh and new, and it is astonishing to realise that it is nearly 30 years old, which proves the benefit of using traditional materials such as dry-stone walling and lead, designed both to blend in with the landscape and to last, in a well-designed piece of contemporary architecture which won the RIBA Awards 1993 National Award.
Fountains, built in the 12th and 13th century, with the tower added in the early 16th century, was one of the most impressive Cistercian abbeys in Europe before its dissolution by Henry VIII, after which it fell into ruin as successive owners stripped it for building materials, including stone for Fountains Hall.
In the 18th century, the estate was bought by William Aislaby who combined it with the Studley Royal Estate with its beautiful water features and landscaped gardens and, today, as a World Heritage Site, it attracts many visitors, so the Visitor Centre was, and still, is an essential addition to the landscape, providing shop, restaurant and other essential facilities, linked to two car parks on either side.
Cullinan’s good and sensitive design has successfully lasted into future decades….. the true test of good architecture working with a forward-thinking client.