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Competition: Acle Bridge visitor centre, Norfolk

The Broads Authority has launched an international contest to design a £750,000 visitor centre at Acle Bridge, Norfolk (Deadline: 29 May)

The anonymous competition seeks ‘outstanding’ conceptual visions for a landmark structure for visitors to the 303km² Broads National Park, which was created nearly 30 years ago as Britain’s largest protected wetland.

The project will transform a prominent site next to the River Bure into a major new tourist destination featuring educational displays and views over the surrounding natural landscape.

Acle Bridge, Norfolk

Acle Bridge, Norfolk

Acle Bridge, Norfolk

In its brief, the Broads Authority says: ‘A landmark building is essential for this sensitive site to create a new visitor attraction for the national park and raise the profile of the area’s special qualities.

‘It will engage the public in the big issues: the importance of managing water, climate change and sea-level rise, the need for sustainability to be at the heart of building in the Broads and the provision of fantastic facilities for visitors, local residents and schoolchildren.’

The Broads is an ancient network of navigable rivers and lakes created by the flooding of medieval peat workings across Norfolk and Suffolk. The area is a recognised centre of biodiversity and was made a national park in 1988.

The competition focuses on a 1.1ha riverfront plot a short distance from the village of Acle. The site, next to the A1064 road, currently features a shop, car parking, private and public moorings and an out-of-use public toilet.

The new building should harness innovative construction techniques and feature multipurpose education spaces along with a café and toilets, a cycle hire centre and facilities for boaters.

Acle Bridge, Norfolk

Acle Bridge, Norfolk

Acle Bridge, Norfolk

Proposals must be sustainable and capable of mitigating flood risks while also being low-maintenance and high-quality.

Submissions should include two A2-sized display boards and a 500-word project explanation. Shortlisted teams will each receive £1,000 to further develop their designs and present to the evaluation panel.

Judges include Broads Authority chief executive John Packman, Norwich University of the Arts vice-chancellor John Last and representatives from Anglian Water and New Anglia. A winner will be announced on 27 July.

How to apply

Deadline

The deadline for applications is 1pm, 29 May

Contact details

Sarah Mullarney
Administrative Officer
Broads Authority
Yare House
62-64 Thorpe Rd
Norwich
NR1 1RY

Email: Sarah.Mullarney@broads-authority.gov.uk
Tel: 01603 756063 

Visit the competition website for more information

Q&A with John Packman

The Broads Authority chief executive discusses his ambitions for the contest

John Packman

John Packman

Source: Image by Eastern Daily Press

John Packman

What is your vision for the new visitor centre?

The Broads Authority’s ambition is to commission and build an outstanding Broads National Park visitor and education centre on a newly acquired site at Acle Bridge. A landmark building is essential for this sensitive site to create a new visitor attraction for the National Park and raise the profile of the area’s special qualities. It will inspire and engage the public in the big issues: the importance of managing water, climate change and sea level rise, the need for sustainability to be at the heart of building in the Broads and the provision of fantastic facilities for visitors, local residents and schoolchildren. Sustainability is one of the Broads Authority’s core values and this site offers the opportunity to demonstrate some of the key components and particular concerns in the Broads such as the management of water and flood risk.

Why are your holding a competition for a new visitor centre at Acle Bridge?

We have decided to hold a competition for two main reasons. Firstly, the Broads Authority is the Local Planning Authority for the Park. We have consistently supported and encouraged modern design and therefore the competition was a natural extension to our approach and our ambition to promote innovation and high-quality design. A bold and sympathetic design will help us raise the profile and public understanding of the area’s uniqueness, history and challenges.

Acle Bridge, Norfolk

Acle Bridge, Norfolk

Acle Bridge, Norfolk

Secondly, the site, at around 2.75 acres poses a number of challenges which the Authority wants help in resolving. These include:

(i) How to design a landmark building so that it can make a positive contribution and enhance this nationally important and protected landscape.
(ii) How to organise the layout of the building to minimise the space required while making provision for a visitor and education centre, facilities for boaters and a café.
(iii) How to respond to the challenges of the site – it is in flood zone 3b, with access off a main road and with the presence of a currently redundant building with a thatched roof that is on the Local List.

What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?

National Parks have an international reach and this competition offers an opportunity to build a reputation with a worldwide audience. We are hoping that the submitted designs will push the boundaries and give the judging panel a wide spectrum of approaches to consider. The Authority is keen to encourage a broad range of entrants. We hope that this will be seen as a potential springboard for newly qualified smaller and emerging practices which is why we are offering an award of £1,000 + VAT to each of the shortlisted entrants to assist them in working up their proposals for Stage 2 of the competition.

Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/designers be procured?

Opportunities like this are rare and this is our only ‘new build’ project currently in the pipeline. We have many historic and iconic buildings in the Broads National Park and are currently working on a project, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, to restore and explore potential new uses for some of the many windmills.

Are there any other similar visitor centre projects you have been impressed by?

The Sill in the Northumberland National Park near Hadrian’s Wall, completed 2017 by JDDK Architects. The Sill is inspiring because it is a landmark building, a bold contemporary architectural solution showcasing sustainable construction techniques whilst still successfully referencing its landscape context and celebrating the unique sense of place of its site.

Westport Lake Visitor & Field Study Centre case study: Q&A with John Walker

The co-founder of Walker Simpson Architects discusses lessons learned designing a new waterfront visitor centre in Stoke-on-Trent, England

John Walker

John Walker

John Walker

How will your project deliver a landmark visitor centre overlooking Westport Lake and the surrounding spectacular landscape?

The building sits on the site of a Local Nature Reserve at Westport Lake, alongside the Trent and Mersey Canal in Stoke in Trent. The Visitor Centre is part of the North Staffordshire Canals Project, with the objective of encouraging canal tourism to Westport Lake as a leisure destination. The brief was set by Stoke on Trent City Council and delivered by British Waterways whose vision was to:

Create an exemplar building which would signify the changes underway in the city as part of the wider regeneration.

To design an environmentally conscious building utilising renewable energies and low embodied energy.

To create employment opportunities within the area and to source wherever possible local materials and building techniques.

In response to the brief, Walker Simpson Architects designed a building that utilizes both passive and active sustainable features and was awarded an Excellent BREEAM rating.

Westport Lake Visitor & Field Study Centre by Walker Simpson Architects

Westport Lake Visitor & Field Study Centre by Walker Simpson Architects

Westport Lake Visitor & Field Study Centre by Walker Simpson Architects

Which architectural, material, visual and other methods did you harness in your design?

Visitors approach the building along an earth ramp and cross a steel bridge, connecting the Centre to the surrounding landscape. The building frames the view of the lake and offers spectacular vistas upon entering the building. A cantilevered viewing deck, used regularly by visitors and bird watchers projects towards the lake, with shelter from the weather provided by the overhanging roof. A key part of the Brief was for the building to address the two watercourses of the canal and lake, the latter sitting at a 4m lower level; this was achieved by elevating the building on slender oak columns suspended above a water inlet.

The building, constructed using reclaimed Staffordshire Blue bricks for the base and a timber glulam frame above, is clad in sustainable timber, lime rendered straw bales and energy efficient glazing. The roof is covered in a sedum mat for stormwater attenuation, insulation and to encourage biodiversity. The straw bales provide high levels of insulation combined with low embodied energy. Energy demands are minimised by this super insulation; most of the residual energy requirements are met by renewable energy technologies including a lake source heat pump, solar thermal panels and photovoltaic panels.

Westport Lake Visitor & Field Study Centre by Walker Simpson Architects

Westport Lake Visitor & Field Study Centre by Walker Simpson Architects

Westport Lake Visitor & Field Study Centre by Walker Simpson Architects

What advice would you have to contest participants on designing a visitor centre for Acle Bridge in Norfolk?

Plan the sustainability strategy to suit provenance and place: at Westport Lake, consultation with environmental specialists was undertaken as part of the planning process. Engage with local community groups: extensive public consultation events were held on the site. The local community group, Friends of Westport Lake, provided us with valuable historic site information. The location of the Centre is in the position of a former water inlet to the lake and historically had an artificial beach which older members of the community remember fondly. The close proximity of the Staffordshire Potteries was the subject of an Interpretation Display and murals were constructed with local participation, using tiles found on the site.

The building sits alone – the site at Westport Lake was subject to anti-social behaviour at night and residents close to the canal were concerned that any development should alleviate this problem. The design was carefully developed with this requirement in mind. The raised building is accessed over a pedestrian bridge, which can be easily secured when not in use. Bringing the water under the building restricted access to people but created a safe habitat for wildlife.

Westport Lake Visitor & Field Study Centre by Walker Simpson Architects

Westport Lake Visitor & Field Study Centre by Walker Simpson Architects

Westport Lake Visitor & Field Study Centre by Walker Simpson Architects

 

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