Rosslyn Chapel Review

/ Ana Teresa Cristobal / Conservation

It is important to review projects once built and in use and take lessons from them. One way we do this is to ask colleagues who were not involved in the project delivery to go and independently experience the building and report back on how it is working. There is a point where the ownership of a building reverts from the imaginings of architect and client to the realities of users and managers of the building so we can use these insights to the benefit of projects we are currently working on.

Our volunteer review team took on the analysis of our project for Rosslyn Chapel , a project that has evolved over almost a decade of careful restoration - a twin process of revealing this important heritage and at the same time considering the management of the flows of the numerous visitors.

What stuck out in their review visit was how the density of the detail seemed to capture and absorb their and others appreciation. The virtuosic plasticity of the Chapel carving and worked stone fabric bristles with embedded imagery and rich elaboration. It is as if the spiritual world has breathed life into every stone and joint. It is hardly bigger than a large living room, yet the sheer intensity of the experience has visitors spending considerable time in viewing and admiring this gem.

The problem however of the visitor, is they come with a lot of needs which cannot be met by the original object of our attention. Given the diminutive scale of the Rosslyn setting and their visitor number success a real risk emerges that the original focus could become overwhelmed by this additional attention. In response, the new reception centre can be said to hide. By being conceived as an extruded lychgate sitting in the shadow of the former Chapel outbuildings, it is located to not intrude into the Chapel precinct's visual cone, it provides that plethora of support needed to secure a rounded visit from reception, introduction, channeling, education, retail, café, education, entertainment, and visitor advice in a prosaic echo of what lies within the wall.

So what message did our critical team draw to benefit our current projects. The highlight seemed to be the experience of stepping into a magnifying glass, finding the tiny enlarged before their eyes - not only in the imagination but in every step of the guided journey. In a world where everything seems to get physically bigger it is a reminder that the lessons from an extended focus on the particular can bear immense rewards.

Rosslyn Chapel visitor centre