Mount Stuart Visitor Centre, Isle of Bute

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Visitors’ Centres can seem the holy grail for architects. That chance to design something without the usual constraints – there are constraints of course, as with all buildings, but there seems to be more freedom, more fun – and often the budget is a little more elastic. Where they are supporting an important piece of national heritage, like Stonehenge or Fountains Abbey, the temptation to commission and design a piece of contemporary design as a foil to the old must be irresistible. And, by and large, they work very well. There’s a parallel here with Maggie’s Centres, where a selection of eminent architects are given the chance to express their design philosophy. Lots of glass, usually, and good, hearty English […or Scottish!] food. Sometimes a bit noisy – the pure aesthetic often leaded to stone or wood floors and the sound reverberates round the building. For many, the architects get the chance to be involved in the whole of the building’s experience, commissioning, choosing or designing the furniture as well. The complete experience for once.

So Mount Stuart on Bute, wonderful though it is, can’t be said to be in the same league as Stonehenge or Fountains, though a milestone in Victoria technological design. And when it comes to the design of the Visitors’ Centre, it really is world class.

Designed by the architect Alfred Munkenbeck of Munkenbeck & Marshall, this striking building was opened by Richard Attenborough in June 2001. It is an unashamedly modern building that stands in stark contrast to the Victorian Gothic splendour of Mount Stuart.

Mount Stuart house is Victorian neo-gothic and a triumph of technology, in a era of rapid technological advancement. Mount Stuart was supposedly the first home in the world to have a heated indoor swimming pool, and the first in Scotland to be purpose built with electric light, central heating, a telephone system and a Victorian passenger lift. As they say, most of which are, quite remarkably, still in use today. Well worth a visit if you’re on Bute – and that won’t be many of you! The towns on Bute have seen better days, like much of the outer reaches of the west coast of Scotland [try Campbeltown for that real run-down look], but the scenery is stunning and the Visitors’ Centre worth a visit in its own right. And Stella McCartney was married at Mount Stuart…

Visitor Centre and café Mount Stuart Bute 

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