Castle Espie

Wildfowl and Wetland Visitor Centre

The UK Wildfowl and Wetland Trust required a significant reorganisation and modernisation of their visitor and interpretative facilties at Castle Espie, Northern Ireland. The brief included a new visitor centre  on the site of the pre-existing structures, and new pavilion buildings located at strategic and historic points in the large estate, which itself was to undergo ecological restoration.


The design challenge was to marry the domestic scale and intimacy of the retained buildings with a new form that gave a stronger identity, improved the facilities and provided for greater entrance visibility to the Centre. The brief called for sustainability and low energy design to be at the forefront of the project.

A new east-west linear building in the form of a Long Hall replaces an awkwardly positioned shed and connects each of the remaining buildings. This Hall provides the new entrance facilities, shop, event space and café. Its cranked roof form is both functional and architectonic; it responds to the domestic scale of the south facing courtyards and existing buildings whilst rising to give a strong presence to the north and the view across the ponds to Strangford Lough. The lower roof section on the north side defines more intimate spaces within the café and service spaces adjacent to the shop and entrance. Three external spaces are defined by the building: the arrivals courtyard with threshold pool, the paved courtyard for the café and, to the west, the lawn of the event space.


The existing derelict limekiln was renovated with limited works to clear the pots, and the stonework repaired using the surrounding fallen stones. In order to retain the integrity of the existing structure and at the same time to provide facilities for the observatory, a largely glazed pavilion is positioned adjacent to the top of the kiln, providing a sense of arrival at the top of the existing earth ramp. The observatory is a light steel structure with glazed envelope and timber clad service pod; it is in contrast to the existing masonry building but is sympathetic in form and proportion – positioned to the rear of the kiln itself but engages with it. Timber decks are cantilevered out towards the pots for viewing of both these and the lake beyond.

Advanced natural wastewater treatment is a key element of the success of this element


The new structure is used as a sheltered viewing area of the surrounding wetlands and informal teaching space, and is constructed in traditional manner; a stone base with vertical oak posts carries the exposed timber roof structure. The walls are constructed of a double skin of wattle and daub with internal hemp insulation, while the roof is thatched and the external finish of the walls is lime wash.



Contract Value:
€ 3.5 million
Summer 2009 (adnl 2014)
Strangford Lough, Co. Down, Northern Ireland
RSUA sustainable building of the year 2010
RSUA best medium budget building 2010
NIEA best sustainable building 2010