This proposal for a Visitor Centre was developed in response to an open competition to design a new public building to promote the newly restored wetlands of the Great Fen in Cambridgeshire. Our intention was to treat the building as an integral part of the new habitat by forming a wetland area large enough for the visitor centre to become a floating structure.
During November 1849 an illustration of Paxton floating his daughter Annie on a giant Victoria Amazonian lily leaf was published. The plant structure was said to inspire his design for the great exhibition. This coupled with the outdoorsman mantra of ‘Leave No Trace’ led to our idea that if one were to create wetland, why not float the entire building on the water? The fens are a very fine and special landscape, so the concept of floating a lightweight pavilion without the need to place structure, foundations or waterproofing into the fen also fits well with this notion.
Our design uses floating concrete foundations with a glass pavilion raised above to make the most of the expansive views. Associated services, combined heat and power, vacuum drainage plant and septic tank would all be located in a utility building on the existing hard standing, thus minimising the disturbance of the ground. The utility building would be made from gabions filled with material reclaimed from the demolition of an existing bungalow. Services would link to the pavilion via a flexible umbilical cord, hidden underneath the ramp structure. The pavilion itself is a lightweight steel and glass structure, with a glass roof and coloured glass brise-soleil to control glare. Heat recovery is utilised to minimise heat loss in winter.