Project Profile

Location: Abroath, Scotland

Timber: Doulgas fir, larch, and oak

Architect: Simpson and Brown

Arbroath Abbey visitor centre

A curved natural timber frame roof at the Arbroath Abbey visitor centre is internally striking, but from the outside the gentle curves of the roof allow the vertical mass of the Abbey to take centre stage.


The Abbey was the scene of the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath of 1320, which asserted Scotland’s independence from England. Today’s visitor is greeted by the new visitor centre, commissioned by Historic Scotland. The centre contains a range of interpretative displays within its wave-shaped form, and also carries a viewing gallery from which much of the Abbey can be seen. But what is most striking is its design. The aim was to create a building with minimal impact on the environment, so the architects conceived the new building form as a layered ‘soft’ horizontal building, contrasting with the high vertical mass of the Abbey.

To achieve this, the building steps back in three volumes slowly rising up, each space within gaining height and light until it finally cantilevers over the rear graveyard wall, giving views of the Abbey behind.The basic framework, exposed to best effect in the viewing gallery is constructed of natural timbers and stainless steel. Unusually glulam beams were not used to create the curved roof structure, instead sections of trees were selected which matched the requirements. Historic Scotland said ‘it truly is a worthy addition to a site that has inspired wonder for over 800 years’. Completed in July 2001, the centre has received awards from the Dundee Architecture Institute and the Angus Design Awards Scheme.