Located in the heart of Cambridgeshire's Great Fen, this competition scheme for a new visitors centre provides facilities for education in heritage and ecology relating to the reintroduction and conservation of natural fenland landscapes in East Anglia.
The essence of the scheme is based on a series of thatched boxes or ‘bales’, constructed with material harvested from the site, distributed atop a simple platform containing many of the more private programmatic elements of the brief. A simple horizontal roof plane floats above, covering the bails, supported on a grid of timber portal frames extending out into the landscape. The linear, horizontal outline of this ‘barn like’ pavilion, reminiscent of the low-lying Fenland landscape which it inhabits, is broken only by one thrusting vertical element providing a counterpoint to the otherwise largely two dimensional surroundings. In addition to anchoring the building to the site, this viewing tower provides orientation both to and from the centre as well as providing bat hibernaculum, roosting areas and bird boxes creating a ‘living tower’.
Interstitial spaces created between the bales provide more public areas including reception, café and exhibition areas. The glazing line constituting the main building envelope is set back from the edge of the platform and the over-sailing roof plane provides external terraces creating an ambiguous distinction between inside and out, drawing nature into the building.
The repetitive nature of the structure has been employed with modular and prefabricated construction in mind. The grid which runs the length of the building provides the opportunity for incremental development. The linear plan also allows spatially for the possibility of operational continuity during future construction, meaning that the centre may easily be kept running whilst being extended. This high degree of repetition and prefabrication also provides obvious economic benefits. There is an inherent spatial flexibility with this approach allowing the arrangement of the bales beneath the roof to be developed over time with the end user.