Oak Community Built Shelter: Westonbirt, The National Arboretum

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National Arboretum Community Shelter

Westonbirt, the National Arboretum Community Shelter in Gloucestershire, a new community shelter with an organic shape has opened. It is the result of a collaboration between the architects of Invisible Studio, the experts in Xylotek, and Format Engineers, also hundreds of members of marginalized community groups, volunteers, and workers from Forestry England. Despite being technically challenging, the project’s conception, design, and construction involved community members of all abilities, highlighting the benefits of co-creation and mindfulness in nature. In the project, a welcoming and secure space that blends in with natural surroundings has been created.

National Arboretum Community Shelter

The shelter is made from trees due to be extracted from Westonbirt’s collection as part of its routine woodland management cycle and recycled old aluminum signage from across the site. The project’s carbon footprint is very minimal and demonstrates what can be done with locally produced and obtained wood.

High levels of engagement in the design process involved from the outset, using sketches, small-scale models, large-scale mock-ups, digital scanning, and onsite fabrication to include the community groups at every phase of the project. The shelter offered possibilities for people to participate in various traditional green timber carpentry techniques while considering the participants’ diverse skill levels. It also includes steam bending, laminating, and shingle making to build the uncommon structure.

National Arboretum Community Shelter

The shelter’s unusual hyperbolic paraboloid form will provide cover from the weather while providing crucial vistas through to the nearby forest. The aesthetic looks to be quite haphazard. Still, it has been deliberately created to allow inclusive design and offer the groups who will use the shelter a non-prescriptive space. The neighborhood will feel ownership over the shelter. Those participating in the construction process have also expressed delight in completing the project and have an optimistic view on what reach.

National Arboretum Community Shelter

Dr. Piers Taylor, Director, Invisible Studio:

“The Community Shelter was conceived as a truly collaborative project, playing to the strengths of a wider team that has worked together on multiple innovative and award-winning projects both at Westonbirt (with the Tree Management Centre) and with projects at Hooke Park and elsewhere. The shelter was won as a joint bid between Invisible Studio and Xylotek and set up so that many others from a variety of community groups would work alongside the consultants on every aspect of the project, creating something far greater than a project from a single hand.”

National Arboretum Community Shelter

Martin Self, Diretor, Xylotek:

“It’s been a privilege for Xylotek to work on this project with the Westonbirt team and the community groups. It’s been amazing to see how a complex wood structure can be realized with mixed-skill community teams – reinventing techniques normally done in high-tech factories rather than deep in the woods.”

National Arboretum Community Shelter

Jude Shackell, Apperley Centre, said:

“The real life, interesting, fun, and perceived ‘riskiness’ of the shelter build has been hugely motivating for the members of our group. While sometimes anxious about the tools, they all had tremendous fun and learned much. They are moving on, eager to learn more and try new things in all areas of their life.”

The Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum charity, private donors, grants, and investment from Forestry England have all made important contributions to the community shelter.

National Arboretum Community Shelter

Project Info

Architect: Invisible Studio & Xylotek with the Westonbirt Community
Structural Engineer: Format Engineers Ltd
Location: Westonbirt Arboretum, UK
Project Year: 2022
Built / Unbuilt: Completed
Photographer: Jim Stephenson, Piers Taylor, Johnny Hathaway

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