The Challenge:

With the previous visitor centre being damaged by a tidal surge, the client was taking no chances with its replacement and requested the new building be raised to mitigate any potential future flood risk. The site also posed the challenges of being in an exposed coastal environment and ecologically sensitive area. In addition, the project included the refurbishment of the adjacent historic coastguard building, constructed in the mid-1800s to be used as an accessible exhibition space.

Proposals were developed in close collaboration with the client, end user and visitor centre staff as well as the Environment Agency. It was agreed the building needed to be low maintenance, retain its visual appeal and continue to provide a high-quality offering to the community. A range of sustainable features were also required.

The Solution:

To mitigate any possibility of flood, the new visitor centre has been raised on 1.5m stilts supported by helical piles to minimise disruption to local wildlife. The building was clad in Thermowood, selected for its impressive durability and low maintenance requirements and the decking on the upper and lower viewing decks is made of GRP, a non-slip product resistant to rotting.

The centre is naturally lit and windows can be opened to provide ventilation. A high glazed screen around the balcony acts as a wind break throughout the year and sustainable features include solar gain heating and air source heat pump system.

The refurbishment of the coastguard cottage created two new exhibition/teaching spaces, together with four new externally accessible 24-hour WCs, one of which is DDA compliant. The existing windows were repainted and the eaves reinstated in their original positions.

The Impact:

The spectacular new visitors centre has made an immediate impact on the local community and visitors to the reserve.

The design provides a flexible open-plan reception, exhibition space, retail area and café. Externally, two decks allow visitors to enjoy unprecedented 360-degree views over the surrounding landscape. The centre makes the most of the nature reserve’s stunning views. The expansive windows face the dunes and sea and the rooftop viewing deck provides an elevated observation platform to view wildlife in the almost completely flat nature reserve.

" The building was shortlisted in the East Midlands 2017 RICS Awards for “Community Benefit”, “Design through Innovation” and “Tourism & Leisure” "

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