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Bute in the eye of the beholder

Munkenbeck + Marshall (M&M) has unveiled plans for this new £500,000 visitor centre, which it has designed for Mount Stuart, Scottish architect Robert Rowland Anderson's High Victorian Gothic house on the Isle of Bute in the Firth of Clyde.

The Marquess of Bute, Johnny Bute, chose the practice from a limited shortlist of six architects.

The practice responded with what it calls 'an unashamedly modern rural building' which it feels will stand in contrast to the grand red sandstone house, which sits in 120ha of woodlands.

M&M has attempted to make a 'dramatic barrier' between the surrounding farms and the point of entry to the house. The centre is in the forest and its ground floor is part of a timber wall, above which 'hovers' an upper floor of frameless glass with an aluminium 'wing' roof. Tree-like columns run along the central axis. The surrounding glass stabilises the roof, while the interior of the wing is a pre-fabricated 'egg-crate' of light plywood with continuous skins top and bottom. The architect likens this construction to the light ribs and stressed skin of an offshore racing powerboat.

Visitors approach the centre on foot, crossing a moat and entering a monolithic wall through a square hole. Inside, they are presented with exhibition space and a shop. Upstairs is a restaurant where visitors can look out across a 300degrees panorama over the surrounding pasture, gardens and forest. After passing through the building, visitors can take a carriage to the house to start the tour.

It is expected that the new visitor centre will open in the summer of 2001.

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