Great Fen Visitors Center

Great Fen Visitors Center

Mediating Walls - Great Fen Visitor Centre

How to connect to the far far away? by Mediating Walls. Connecting visitors with the environment of The Great Fen, by various educational perforations in the walls you walk through. Mediating Walls operate as your intermediator. Reading and seeing your story!

In october 2012 RIBA organized a competition for the design of a new visitor centre for the new Great Fen landscape in Cambridgeshire. The Great Fen is an ambitious plan which will transform over 3,000ha of mostly arable land into a publicly accessible natural reserve.The visitor centre should be an integral and essential part of an evolving fenland landscape, stimulating exploration, and serving its visitors to the highest standards.Together with Plane Sight Architecture and MWVD Laplab designed a visitors center that educates the visitors of the whole fen landscape.

Landscape experience
The Great Fen experience is all about zooming out and zooming in. At the visitor centre all routes meet and all scales collide. You will get a complete overview of the Fen landscape, experience history and focus on details, all at the same time in a beautiful and comfortable place. The vistor centre is projected on a natural routing system based on a fractal. From arrival at the site this route will take you through the scales of nature, the types of habitat and the layers of time. The visitors centre is the place to be if you want to understand, experience and enjoy the Great Fen. By combining the functions of the visitor centre with facilities for the local community, we can truly say that the visitor centre will be the new Great Fen Home.

Route of experience
In order to experience and reflect, one should first feel comfortable and safe. Therefore we have organized the program according to the steps of the Maslov-pyramid and arranged these ‘steps’ in different levels to reflect the different heights of the surrounding landscape. Entering the building sloping down into the restaurant, you can enjoy the best coffee and local food. Then you reach the welcome area and reception. After this the cloakroom and first contact with the Great Fen. Here we will learn the basics of the different wetlands you can find in the Fens. After this basic information you will be guided to the broad exhibition space. While absorbing information through subsequent spaces, the route climaxes at the centre of the building. Here you will travel up to the light and experience the surrounding habitats and wildlife at treetop-level.

Mediating Walls
A visitor centre educates you, it gives you shelter, is the centre of a landscape, has distinctive architecture. However, a Great visitor centre adds a whole new experience. The Great Fen Visitor centre will be the centerpiece of the nature reserve. It is the place where you can experience macro and micro all together. But more importantly, it is a place where you can interact with nature and learn by doing. To achieve this architecturally we decided to create so called mediating walls. These walls do not separate you from nature but connect you with it. The mediating walls consist of different shaped niches which are filled with ‘living’ information, educational material and/or provide you with exciting framed views to the outside world. The mediating walls connect and interact, making this fen experience a Great fen experience.

Investing in sustainability
The Great Fen visitor centre will be a sustainable as well as a self-sufficient building. The investment in a low-carbon footprint will minimise the cost of maintenance and repay itself over time, leaving more funds for exhibitions as well as (possible) expansion. The roof is equiped with 600m2 photo voltaic panels. Enough to support the entire building with renewable energy. A ground heat exchange system provides the building with warm floors. Extra heat and an intimate atmosphere can be created by wood stoves placed inside the wall. The fuel will be provided by the Great Fen itself. The old decoy house can be left to decay and transform into an animal habitat. The immediate natural resources around the building can be put to use for the sustainability and education purposes of the visitor centre.

In collaboration with:
Aldo Trim (Architect / Plane Sight Architecture),
Marchel-Wim van Dongen (Landscape architect, MWVD),
Philip Vencken,
Wim Geelhoed (Geelhoed Engineering bv)


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