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14 Aug 2020

On the trail of innovative contemporary architecture

A view of Culloden visitor centre, looking towards the entrance from a path leading across a grassy area. The centre is lit inside with a welcoming orange glow.
Culloden Visitor Centre
Find out more about the beautiful and eco-friendly contemporary buildings in our care. We’re passionate about protecting the future as well as the past!

As a conservation charity, we promote sustainable design in our new buildings and ensure that all our buildings are managed according to our strong environmental principles.

In recent years we’ve worked with innovative and inspirational contemporary architects to create new buildings that sit comfortably beside the places in our care designed by Scotland’s greatest architects of the past.

We not only protect the past, but we also celebrate and promote Scotland’s heritage in ground-breaking projects that continue to share stories of the Scotland we love and cherish.

“The National Trust for Scotland is renowned throughout the world as a guardian of some of Scotland’s most precious heritage sites. What is perhaps less well understood is the Trust’s role in creating a collection of outstanding contemporary buildings. Showcasing the work of some of Scotland’s best architects, the buildings below demonstrate how good design has the power to transform and enhance our lives and our places.”
Jim MacDonald
CEO, Architecture & Design Scotland
Glencoe Visitor Centre and related buildings form a cluster, surrounded by woodland and nestling in the glen. Tall mountains loom in the background.
Glencoe Visitor Centre

Glencoe Visitor Centre

In 1993 the National Trust for Scotland commissioned the Gaia Group to design a visitor centre at Glencoe. The brief required the building to address the central conundrum of the Trust’s mission to provide access, whilst taking account of the conservation needs and sensitivity of the Glencoe landscape.

Over a decade-long process, Gaia responded with a building that had the lightest ecological footprint possible in Glencoe. The visitor centre was relocated from its former site opposite the Clachaig Inn to Inverigan, and provides a striking visitor experience whilst minimising visual intrusion. This decision to move to the lower glen, amongst screening trees and situated back from the A82, was widely welcomed; the 1976 building was demolished in 2002.

The design went through numerous iterations over the procurement period to ensure full integration with the landscape. Gaia’s central concept, the vernacular form of a Highland clachan – a cluster of small single-storey, low-roofed cottages – remained robust throughout. The new visitor centre was constructed along the very best ecological guidelines.

The visitor centre became a showcase for untreated Scottish timber, used throughout with an avoidance of glues and PVC to minimise environmental pollution. External doors, window frames and the internal floors were made locally from untreated Scottish oak, and internal doors from Scottish hardwoods. The roof is made from untreated timber, slate and ungalvanised corrugated tin – also a local vernacular building material.

The buildings sit amidst a birch wood and are raised on stilts to ensure that the trees’ roots are undisturbed. Water for the centre is collected and filtered on site, and waste water is treated and recycled into the River Coe as pure water.

The energy efficiency of the visitor centre has been maximised by using recycled paper insulation in the walls and sheep’s wool, instead of foam, to insulate around the windows. An environmentally-friendly woodchip boiler provides heating for the centre.

In 2019 interiors were modernised throughout, taking a fresh approach to telling the stories that make Glencoe a place cherished by visitors from across the globe. History, wildlife and things to do in the glen are brought to life through innovative design, visual display, sound and sculpture. There’s also a new film screening area, exhibition space, café and information hub with a 3D map.

Read more about the refreshed Glencoe visitor centre


  • Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors – International Sustainability Award 2003
  • Dynamic Places Award 2002
  • VisitScotland Green Tourism Award 2002
  • Edinburgh Architectural Association Sustainability Award 2002

Gaia Group have also been involved in architecture projects at the Glentress Visitor Centre near Peebles, the Community Sports Centre in Kinlochleven and the David Douglas pavilion in Pitlochry.

The stark outline of Culloden visitor centre seen at dusk, as the light fades outside. The centre is lit inside.
Culloden Visitor Centre

Culloden Visitor Centre

The building commemorates the last major battle to take place on British soil in 1746, and replaces an earlier building that was latterly proved to have been sited on part of the battlefield. The new centre opened in 2007, as part of Scotland’s Year of Highland Culture.

Culloden Visitor Centre was designed by Gareth Hoskins Architects and was the result of an international design competition held by the National Trust for Scotland in 2004. This £9m project houses a major exhibition, educational and conference facilities, a café/restaurant, gift shop and staff accommodation. A roof-top viewing platform provides uninterrupted views across the moor, the burial place for the many Jacobites who died in the battle.

Set back from the actual battlefield lines, the landscape-hugging building is defined by a wave-form roof and a 150m-long berm wall that passes through the building and out into the landscape, to define the position of the Government troop line on the battlefield. The wall running along from the entrance doors incorporates 1,500 protruding stones, one for each Jacobite that fell in the brutal hour of fighting, followed by a short gap and then 50 raised stones to indicate Government losses.

The building was designed as a model of environmental sustainability, positioned to reduce wind-chill and maximise natural daylight. Its heavily insulated envelope is clad in locally sourced larch, Caithness stone and site-salvaged field stone, and is heated by a biomass boiler system, supplied from local forestry sources.

It also has a minimal visual impact on the site. The larch exterior turns a beautiful grey colour as it ages, helping the building to blend in with the scenery behind it. When you’re out on the battlefield itself, the building blocks the view of the car park and creates a more seamless transition with the countryside. Hopefully this allows visitors to get a better sense of the openness and desolate nature of the moor.


Culloden Visitor Centre was shortlisted for the World Architecture Festival Awards 2008: Culture Category. It was also shortlisted, and received a Special Mention, for the RIAS Andrew Doolan Best Building in Scotland Award 2008.

Hoskins Architects have also worked on projects at Aberdeen Art Gallery, the Scottish National Gallery and the new Playful Garden visitor pavilion at Brodie Castle.

A view of Robert Burns Birthplace Museum seen from the grassy area in front of the entrance porch. Colourful panels adorn the walls.
Robert Burns Birthplace Museum

Robert Burns Birthplace Museum

In 2006 the National Trust for Scotland appointed Simpson & Brown to redevelop the Robert Burns National Heritage Park in Alloway.

The new museum opened on St Andrew’s Day in 2010. It’s arranged around a large exhibition gallery displaying many of the 5,000 artefacts of Robert Burns’s life and works in our care. It also accommodates a café opening onto the beautiful mature gardens, a gift shop and a welcoming education room.

This museum plays a central part in the masterplan for what used to be known as the Burns National Heritage Park, which links together the different sites in Alloway relating to the poet’s life and legacy. These include Burns Cottage, Burns Monument, the Brig o’ Doon and Alloway Auld Kirk.

There was a strong sustainable agenda in the design with architectural systems maximising the use of natural materials. This ‘green’ design was an integral part of the conceptual process. The whole structure, apart from the predominantly glazed south-east wall, is clad with untreated Scottish Douglas fir horizontal boards, sourced and processed in Moray. The building is crested by a sweeping curve of green roof, making an exciting and pleasing silhouette. The plant sown on the roof is a succulent called sedum, which helps reduce water run-off from heavy precipitation. It also cools the building during the summer, all while requiring a minimum maintenance.

Since RBBM opened, several artists have been commissioned to create sculptures around Alloway that evoke Burns’s legacy in a modern style. A supersized bronze mousie stands on Poet’s Path, with a larger-than-life granite haggis a little further along. Weather vanes made from cast iron depict scenes from Burns’s epic poem Tam o’ Shanter.

Simpson & Brown have also worked on projects at Mackintosh at the Willow in Glasgow city centre, the Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick and the visitor centre at Arbroath Abbey.

An exterior view of the Bannockburn visitor centre. Wide paths lead towards the entrance. A tall tree grows in the grass beside the centre.
The Battle of Bannockburn Visitor Centre

The Battle of Bannockburn

The Battle of Bannockburn was one of the most significant events in Scottish history.

In 1932 we acquired part of the site where the battle took place, to prevent it from being built over. The battle took place over two days and covered a fairly large area, some of which has now been built upon. Such a major battle has left tantalisingly few traces.

To mark the 700th anniversary of the battle in 2014, we sought to create a refreshed visitor experience that would convey the iconic significance of Bannockburn, in a stimulating and inspirational way. In the absence of any archaeological evidence, the Battle of Bannockburn visitor centre uses 3D technology to bring Scottish history to life, and is located on the site where Robert the Bruce raised his standard and assembled the Scottish army in 1314.

The multi-award-winning Scottish practice Reiach and Hall were selected after a design competition to build the new £9.1m centre. The lead architect commented that ‘we attempted to create a structure that was serious, almost grim’. The building exterior suggests traditional building forms and materials, yet rendered unfamiliar and ambivalent through their finish and detail. The walls are textured and patterned in the manner of cloth or chainmail. The centre is arranged around a courtyard and sits to the side of a main avenue that leads to the battlefield’s hilltop monuments. When you arrive, your eye is drawn to these commemorative structures rather than the visitor centre itself.

Upon entering, the almost austere form gives way to light-filled airy interiors. There is an education space, exhibition spaces including the innovative Battle Room, and a café with views of the monuments.


  • Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) Tourism and Leisure Award 2015
  • Scottish Design Awards – Architecture Grand Prix 2014
  • Scottish Design Awards – Leisure/Cultural Building of the Year 2014

The visitor centre was also nominated for the Civic Trust Awards 2015 (Commendation) and the Scottish Property Awards – Architectural Excellence 2015 (Highly Commended).

Reiach and Hall have also worked on projects at the Pier Arts Centre in Orkney, the Dundee Civic Offices and the Oriam sports centre at Heriot-Watt University.

An aerial view of the pier on Iona, showing a ferry docked. A row of houses can be seen along the shoreline. The sea is turquoise and clear.
The pier at Iona

Iona Ferry Shelter

The National Trust for Scotland appointed Roots Architecture to deliver a shelter on the site of the old fire station in the coastal township of Baile Mor on Iona.

The new shelter was intended to ‘deliver a place to shelter, whether from rain or shine, while awaiting a ferry, or before embarking on an island exploration … a place to rest, to orientate and become inspired by Iona’s natural and cultural treasures.’

A dilapidated shed, which previously occupied the site, had been a boathouse, cargo store and ferry waiting room until 2006. The new Shelter remembers this heritage by respecting the footprint, scale, orientation, form and material of the old shed.

In contrast with the old shed, the new Shelter contains bespoke furniture made from sustainably sourced wood (built by Harvey McLean Custom Joinery), an interactive exhibition and a glazed screen that provides views to the pier. Daylight fills the space through the large windows and roof lights. This warm and inviting space opened to visitors in 2015.

Other projects from Roots Architecture included the Noust Community Boathouse on Tiree, renovation work on Iona Abbey and Lighthouse temporary tower on Tiree.

A view of the Glencoe Visitor Centre seen from above, surrounded by trees and nestled beneath towering mountains.
Glencoe Visitor Centre

We work hard every day to protect the architectural treasures in our care, from ground-breaking visitor centres like those above to ancient castles. Now more than ever, we urgently need your support in helping us to protect our built heritage, so future generations can enjoy these beautiful buildings and the remarkable stories they tell.

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