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Moxon transforms Highland hotel with ‘primitive’ tree trunk column-courtyard


Moxon Architects has renovated the Fife Arms hotel in Braemar for a contemporary art dealing client 

As well as a major rehabilitation of the fabric of the five-storey Category B-listed building – originally a 19th-century coaching inn – the works have included an extensive restructuring of rooms, the excavation of a new basement and the construction of a courtyard, as well as a complex integration of new services.

Ben Addy of Moxon Architects describes the key elements of the project as like ’strapping a battery pack to the back of the hotel’ which radically reconfigures the organisational plan of the building, including reducing the number of rooms from 85 to 46. 

Moxon, together with its sister company Tor Contracting and quantity surveyor Cromar Brooks, took on the role of construction manager for the four-year project, acting as principal contractor for the day-to-day operation of the site and the letting and administration of individual trade contracts. Tor Contracting also constructed the basement and new-build components of the project. All these elements and the extensions at the back of the hotel are clad with untreated timber cladding that will develop a silver-grey patina to complement the granite stonework. 

Fifearms ed reeve 33

Fifearms ed reeve 33

The interior design by Russell Sage Studios is a ramped-up contemporary take on the idea of a Highland hotel, building on the key base elements of the refit designed by Moxon, while Tor were responsible for designing and fabricating several pieces of the timber furniture. The client is Highlands Hospitality, which is run by Iwan and Manuela Wirth of the contemporary art gallery Hauser & Wirth, so artwork is also displayed throughout the interiors, including works by Pablo Picasso, Gerhard Richter and Louise Bourgeois – as well as the integration of major commissions, such as a wall mural by Guillermo Kuitca.

One key design feature has been to open up a new public route that bisects the building. As part of this the courtyard, which brings natural light to the heart of the building, has been designed in the form of a distinctive peristyle, with colonnades formed of ‘stripped bark’ tree trunk columns. These riff off the ‘primitivist’ tree-trunk columns at the entrance to the hotel – a favourite Victorian Highland motif – and reference the architectural idea of the primitive hut of Abbé Laugier. The courtyard is also designed to be used as a sculpture court, and at present has a major work by Bourgeois installed at its centre. 

Moxon sourced many materials for the project sustainably, including using locally felled trees for the courtyard and salvaged granite. All the new servicing was designed to a high environmental standard with a manifold installed to accept a planned district heating system. Around the courtyard, the roofs are planted with local varieties of heather to visually merge with the wider landscape and help enhance biodiversity.

Fife arms moxon architects (c)8743

Fife arms moxon architects (c)8743

Architect’s view 

Having grown up in Braemar in the early 1980s, it was a privilege to be involved in the rejuvenation of such a prominent and important building and its reinstatement as the architectural centrepiece of the village.

Our design carefully balances the retention and restoration of key existing spaces and historic features, with an intervention that creates playful new spaces interwoven with the old; captures new views of the majestic surrounding landscape; and, crucially, allows the hotel to operate in a modern, highly efficient and effective manner.

The material palette and detailing also reflects this balanced approach, where we have aimed to rhyme with the simple traditional detailing of the existing listed building, while using sustainable materials and modern construction techniques. These new additions allow for the historic parts of the building to become an uninterrupted stage set for a very special guest experience, and an extraordinary collection of art.

Scott Macdonald Gibb, associate director, Moxon Architects

Fife arms page 3

Fife arms page 3

Project data

Start on site January 2016
Completion December 2018
Gross internal floor area 4,800m²
Gross (internal + external) floor area 8,300m²
Form of contract or procurement route JCT Construction Management Contract (Kilted)
Construction cost Confidential
Architect Moxon Architects 
Client Highlands Hospitality 
Structural engineer Graeme Craig Consulting Engineer / Cameron & Ross
M&E consultant RSP 
QS Cromar Brooks
Interior designer Russell Sage Studios
Landscape consultant Jinny Blom
CDM coordinator George Watt & Stewart
Main contractor Tor Contracting, Cromar Brooks, Moxon Architects
CAD software used Autocad, Solidworks, 3DSMax


Readers' comments (2)

  • Enter Queen Victoria and John Brown, stage left.

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  • You're joking of course, that's really quite an extraordinary project. Congratulations Moxon, I'll look forward to visiting

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