The New Inn, Stowe Gardens

National Trust Visitor Centre, Cambridgeshire


Following the success of the project at Anglesey, the practice won a European wide architectural competition in December 2007 to design a new visitor facility at Stowe Gardens for the National Trust. 

Recognised as one of the first and most important of the great C18 English Landscape Gardens with International significance, the project brings the interpretation of the Gardens and the Stowe Mansion house together, for the first time for the enjoyment of the visitor.

The project is based upon the restoration of the early C18 ‘New Inn’ originally built by the Temple family as lodgings for visitors to their new gardens. The main part of the Inn survives in a very derelict condition, together with parts of the Inn yard and surrounding agricultural buildings. By forming the new Visitor Facility around the old Inn, visitors will once again enter the gardens by the Bell Gate as originally intended. 

The restoration of the New Inn, and the re-construction of the derelict and partly demolished Inn yard forms the most complex part of the project.

CGA bring considerable conservation skills to the project, including detailed survey work, conservation principles of repair and restoration. The old Inn yard is rebuilt reusing the surviving sections of the building, with a new oak frame designed to traditional joint detailing.

The new facilities containing the restaurant kitchens, and shop sit to the northeast side re-constructing the adjacent Inn farmyard. The restaurant is designed as a contemporary building that makes close reference to its traditional setting. The visitors pass through the reception areas in the rebuilt Inn yard, beside the restaurant and out to the park, in an orchestrated route to enhance interpretation.

The Inn yard buildings also contain the education room, and the parlour rooms and working areas of the New Inn itself are restored to their C18 appearance, with lime plasters, historic finishes and restored fittings and joinery.

The complex of buildings is an incredibly successful cultural attraction and, year on year, exceeds its visitor targets. The quality and diversity of the offering helps maximise dwell time and the quantity and quality of thought put into the recording and retelling of the site’s and the Inn’s histories ensures that visitors have a genuinely immersive visitor experience.

The Building was designed for projected visitor numbers of 120,000, which has been exceeded each year since, with the visitor spaces performing well. The project secured HLF funding and achieved BREEAM Very Good, which is the highest rating possible given the constraints presented by the reuse of inherently inefficient and historically significant existing buildings.

A diagrid roof constructed from larch timbers taken from a neighbouring NT estate, are supported on small structural bays, which contain lighting, services and acoustic treatment. Stainless steel ‘arms’ hold the timber posts, leaving the walls almost entirely glazed, opening out to the landscaped park beyond.

A sustainable energy strategy forms a critical part of the project using a Biomass boiler for energy.

The project won both National & Regional RIBA Awards, The RIBA National Conservation Award, The Client of the Year Award at the Stirling Prize for the National Trust, A National Wood Award, and a number of local awards.

Architect: Cowper Griffith

Structural Engineer: Ramboll

M&E Engineer: Max Fordham

Cost Control: Sweett Group

Interpretation: Easy Tiger

Main Contractor: ISG