Acle Bridge National Park and Education Centre

Competition Entry

The thin line of the horizon separates the water-logged ground of the Broads from the ever changing sky. This thin separation drives the massing and material concept for this building proposal. A thick brick plane is extruded from the ground to provide a space of refuge from water, but also invites water though the building in a series of pools.

Extruded up further from this floor, simple brick walls move past each other to divide space in a fluid way, echoing Mies van der Rohe’s unrealised Brick House, and encouraging engagement between uses and individuals. Between these walls, the four primary areas of accommodation have been pulled apart to create a series of varied external and interstitial spaces, blurring boundaries between inside and out.

Above each of these primary spaces rises a lightweight timber pavilion creating generous double height volumes. Each is clad in a monochrome material - metal, polycarbonate and timber shingles - echoing and reflecting the sky-scapes above. Seen from a distance, these larger volumes read as a cluster of buildings rather than a single mass. Accordingly, the building evokes traditional agricultural + industrial farmsteads in the locale. Furthermore, it allows the new building to assimilate existing elements on site - the toilet block (which is refurbished and extended) and the former shop unit - without looking incongruous.

The building sits back from the River Bure to create a public space on the waterfront that benefits from the south facing aspect and views and encourages access via boat or the Weaver’ Way. The cafe and educational space are situated to the west of the site to offer view across the Broads for leisure and learning, while the toilets and multipurpose spaces sit in agains the bank and open up to the central courtyards. The cafe and education spaces are linked and can open up to each other to offer flexibility.

A simple single storey space connects the main programme and offers an entrance space to the building. The separation of volumes creates a central axis from bike and car-parking to the north to the riverfront. Moving along this axis, at moments you gain glimpses in, while at others the internal accommodation spills out. Two outlying pavilions, that function as picnic spots, bird hides and painting shelters, extend this axis to strengthen the building’s engagement with the landscape.

The use of water is central to the building - practically and conceptually. A series of pools catch rainwater runoff from the roofs which is then stored in a large raised tank to be used in the building. A water source heat pump sits in the river, its presence marked by a pavilion that hovers above the river. Water heating is also aided by solar thermal panels on the tower. The Water Tower celebrates this functionality by providing the building’s key landmark, echoing the infrastructural presence of windmills across the Norfolk landscape.