view gallery

Great Fen Visitor Centre

The design centres on the reinterpretation of traditional structures and building methods of the English Fens and uplifting them to become high performance modern structures that both echo past and lead toward future iterations of a building culture that is of the fens.

From this an architecture starts to emerge that is predominantly of grown material or fired earth; materials that are locally available – so reducing their transport energies – a bioregional architecture with its own palette of materials and details. Those areas that need to perform at a particularly high level such as cappings or glazing units are the ones that should be reserved for higher embodied energy components. Materials such as reed thatching are highly appropriate for local trades to be involved with and furthermore the manufacture and installation of ‘clemp’ is a relatively low-tech process, ideally suited for community involvement and job training. Thus, sustainability is broadened to include not just the ecological, but the social and financial too.

In this manner we have used glu-laminated timber frame for the barns, which is both a low embodied energy construction material but, more importantly, acts as carbon store for the lifetime of the building. The timber deck above this structure, which braces the frame, and the timber flooring in the café and meeting room, exhibit the same qualities.

We propose to use photovoltaics to provide for electrical demand, budget permitting, and for powering the all-terrain vehicles these would be positioned on the south facing roof of the workshop barn. This roof alone would receive 2.54MW, which translates to c. 0.5 MW when utilised as electricity through photovoltaic cells. If we were to take this further and provide PV on south and west facing roofs we could achieve up to 5.5MW of power and thus starting to meet the visitor centre’s demand.

Wastewater from centre is to be treated via a series of constructed wetlands to the north of the building. Rainwater is to be collected and stored for reuse for flushing toilets and external surface washing. Both strategies help link the building back into energy flows and material cycles of the site.

Local fletton brick – ideally reused – forms the flooring of the exhibition, shop and reception spaces. The same clay used to manufacture the brick is to be mixed with hemp and lime to form ‘clemp’ and so to construct the walls of the service spaces. We are proposing untreated larch to form the external cladding to the lower walls of the barns available in stands from Thetford forest. The concrete used for the base of the building should utilise 65% GGBS binder and recycled aggregate in order to minimise its environmental effect.

The wind tower is constructed using a timber frame and external larch cladding to match the visitor centre. There are three viewing platforms, the levels of which relate to emerging vistas as you climb: the first is the local view back to the visitor centre, the second out westwards to the wet pastures and finally the wider view of the fen across to the surrounding villages and higher land to the south.

We propose that a lift can be provided within the tower that is raised by a counter weight of water pumped up to the holding tank by the wind turbine. The lift is then lowered when water is released back to the Fen.

In time through a series of predicted evolutions, the building would have grown to become a certfied Living Building


Project Details

2012 (Competition)