National Botanic Garden of Wales

  • section

  • Detail

  • Framing up

  • Avenue and structure

  • The master craftsmen

  • The graduate fellows

  • The botanic garden staff

  • The Prince attends the opening ceremony

  • The view from outside the double walled kitchen garden


For a number of years the Princes Foundation for Building Community undertook a live-build project with a select groups of graduate fellows and crafts apprentices. Behind this approach is the idea of creating buildings and places holistically. It is not just about the planning, the urban design or the architecture. It also includes sustainable building construction, craftsmanship and the community.

The vision for this course and live building project is to integrate future planners and policy makers with crafts apprentices and allow each to benefit from the perspective and skills of the other. This is an attempt to go against the recent drift towards professional silo working and specialisation. The purpose is to equip people in whatever role they choose, with an ability to work effectively across multiple disciplines, which inevitably make up the the built environment.


When we were asked to get involved to lead the project, we discovered that a previous site chosen for the project had fallen through. The first job we had was to quickly find a suitable alternative. After initial enquires we were happy that the National Botanic Garden of Wales agreed to accept alive build project in the grounds at Llanarthne in Carmarthenshire and support the process with the provision of office space and expert staff to facilitate aspects of the build.

A big challenge was to set up the program to achieve both the requirements of the 'summer school' with the limited time frame of involvement with the students and the more uncertain time frame of delivering a finished building that has somehow to gain acceptance with an institutional client, and local authorities for planning and building regulation.

Another significant challenge of the project was to satisfy the requirements for the use of the structure as a performance stage. The Botanic Gardens wished to have a larger stage for future performances served by a well protected power supply. As a consequence, the project took a significant jump in scale just as we were about to carry out the detailed design work. This made it the largest and most complex project ever attempted through the Princes Foundation summer school programs.


The design on a Summer School always begins with a workshop. This is based on the Enquiry by Design model which allows for the engagement of all interested parties. This helps to speed up the planning process with a design which has a high level of buy in. It was helpful in this context, so that the planning students could see full-on engagement in action. Secondly it allowed the Princes Foundation and the National Botanic Garden to agree a preferred design and location for the new structure.

The workshop was carried out at the Discovery Centre at Margham Park and the presentation of around 5 schemes were presented at the Botanic Garden. The winning scheme was a performance stage designed to be located along the avenue of silver birches.

From this point we engaged with the structural engineers and the appointed master craftsmen to build up a detailed design for the construction of the building.

Most previous summer school projects had been entirely craftsmen led. In this case the complexity of the geometry, meant that we either had to consider a re-design or to look at using the principle of 'co-operative' structures. We chose the latter, to enable the concept to be as closely delivered as possible to the original design. Cooperative structural computer models were carried out and the craftsmen had to create timber joints that they would have had little if any experience of previously. The patience of both the craftsmen and the professional on the job was tested to the limit but happily, with great co-operation on all sides, the building came to an elegant completion.


Challenging to the end, the project took long than expected to complete as we sought to use local 'Pennant' stone from a previously demolished building in the area. Winter set in early and proved to be one of the coldest on record. Remaining lime mortar work had to be suspended until warmer weather returned, when the finishing touches were finally made.

The structure was formally opened when the Prince of Wales attended the opening ceremony as part of his annual Wales Week tour.


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  • I have known Noel since 2008 when he first worked with the Prince's Foundation, first in the Projects team and then later in the Education and latterly as Foundation representative in Wales. We taught on a Summer School in Wales together, and I invited him on several occasions to run a Masterclass for our MA in Sustainable Urbanism students. I have found Noel to be an exceptionally thoughtful and careful person, very good in working with and alongside others, and an outstanding mentor for our students, bringing out really excellent results from all students with whom he worked. Noel was also a tireless and efficient at networking across England and Wales. When our Summer School faced a crisis due to the last-minute unavailability of a planned building site, Noel rolled his sleeves up and was able to find a replacement site within a matter of days. The building that resulted from the Summer School that Noel and I taught, a Band Stand at the National Botanic Garden of Wales, was the most ambitious and impressive building our students ever completed. I have no hesitation in recommending Noel, and would be happy to act as his referee, should he need one.
    Dr Matthew Hardy Dr Matthew Hardy
  • Noel is an architect with good understanding of traditional construction detailing and we have worked together successfully on two live built projects for The Princes Foundation for the building community Noel as architect with his own practise and me in charge of the day to day running of the site This included re-cycling stone, the use of locally quarried stone and a green timber frame. The most recent being a performance stage at the National Botanic Garden of Wales. Our collaboration had some challenges including bringing together young craft apprentices, some mainstream engineering practice and the coldest winter on record. The fine building is a tribute to the collective spirit engendered on the project and gained the approval of The Prince of Wales on his inspection of the completed structure. I would recommend Noel as an architect for any traditional building project
    Henry Rumbold M.B.E Henry Rumbold M.B.E