An organically shaped community shelter has opened at Westonbirt, The National Arboretum in Gloucestershire. It is the product of a unique partnership between architects Invisible Studio, timber structure specialists Xylotek and hundreds of people from harder-to-reach community groups, as well as Forestry England volunteers and staff...

Timber Shelter by Invisible Studio with Xylotek
© Piers Taylor

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From the architect: While technically complex, the project was conceived, designed and constructed working alongside community participants with a range of abilities – demonstrating the mindful benefits of nature and co-creation.

Timber Shelter by Invisible Studio with Xylotek
© Piers Taylor

The result is an inclusive and protective space that sits comfortably in its woodland setting. The shelter is made from trees that were due to be extracted from Westonbirt’s own collection as part of its routine woodland management cycle, as well as recycled old, aluminum signage from across the site. The project’s carbon footprint is therefore small, and shows what can be achieved using locally grown and sourced timber.

Timber Shelter by Invisible Studio with Xylotek
© Jim Stephenson

The design process involved high levels of engagement from the outset, using sketches, small models, digital scanning, large scale mock-ups and onsite fabrication to involve the community groups at every stage of the project. Considering the varying skillsets of the participants, the shelter provided opportunities for individuals to join in on a range of traditional green timber carpentry techniques, including steam bending, laminating and shingle making to build the unusual structure.

Timber Shelter by Invisible Studio with Xylotek
© Jim Stephenson

The distinctive and innovative hyperbolic paraboloid shape of the shelter will offer protection from the elements, while offering important views through to the surrounding woodland. The aesthetic appears to a certain extent ad hoc but it has been deliberately created this way to allow inclusive design and offer the groups who will use the shelter a space that is non-prescriptive. The community that uses the shelter will feel a sense of ownership, while those participiants involved in the build process have experienced the pride in making this project, with a postive outlook on what they can achieve next.

Timber Shelter by Invisible Studio with Xylotek
© Jim Stephenson

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 have worked together on multiple innovative and awardwinning projects both at Westonbirt (with the Tree Management Centre) and also 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 ultimately far greater than a project from a single hand.”

Timber Shelter by Invisible Studio with Xylotek
© Jim Stephenson

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

Timber Shelter by Invisible Studio with Xylotek
© Jim Stephenson

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 being a bit anxious about the tools, they have all had tremendous fun and learnt so much. They are moving on eager to learn more and try new things in all areas of their life.”

The community shelter has been funded through generous donations from a range of sources including individuals and grants, Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum charity and investment from Forestry England.

Timber Shelter by Invisible Studio with Xylotek
© Jim Stephenson

Architect: Invisble Studio
Location: Westonbirt Arboretum, UK
Year: 2022
Contractor: Xylotek Role
Structural Engineer: Format

Timber Shelter by Invisible Studio with Xylotek
© Jim Stephenson

Timber Shelter by Invisible Studio with Xylotek
© Jim Stephenson

Timber Shelter by Invisible Studio with Xylotek
© Jim Stephenson

Timber Shelter by Invisible Studio with Xylotek
© Jim Stephenson

Timber Shelter by Invisible Studio with Xylotek
© Jim Stephenson

Timber Shelter by Invisible Studio with Xylotek
© Jim Stephenson

Timber Shelter by Invisible Studio with Xylotek
© Johnny Hathaway

Timber Shelter by Invisible Studio with Xylotek
© Johnny Hathaway

Timber Shelter by Invisible Studio with Xylotek

An organically shaped community shelter has opened at Westonbirt, The National Arboretum in Gloucestershire. It is the product of a unique partnership between architects Invisible Studio, timber structure specialists Xylotek...

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