The floating visitor centre at the Lancashire Wildlife Trust’s Brockholes Nature Reserve is significant in its simplicity, writes Alban Cassidy of Cassidy + Ashton.
This interesting ‘floating’ visitor centre is in fact five timber-framed buildings perched on top of a pontoon base. It floats like an island on the wetlands of the Brockholes nature reserve and the structure is designed to adjust with the wetland’s changing water levels.
The centre was built as part of a restoration project that has brought life back to a disused gravel pit, despite it being located next to the M6 just outside Preston.
Adam Khan Architects won RIBA’s competition in 2008 to create the design for the visitor centre. It was apparently based on the architect “recalling the Marsh Arabs of southern Iraq, and neolithic settlements of Northern Europe”.
What is significant about this building to me, is, its sense of simplicity, looking so natural in its environment. The design sensitively considers how to deal with the centre’s close relationship with its surroundings and the delicate wetland environment in which it ‘sits’ or should I say, floats.
The structure was very much designed from the onset with sustainability in mind. It is zero-carbon in both use and construction. Building materials used include thatch, willow and oak. The centre generates its own power onsite, uses water from the wetland for waste-water and has a reed waste treatment process.
Since it was completed on 2012, the timber buildings have aged naturally to integrate with the surrounding reeds and grasses. The external oak cladding on the barn-like roofs has weathered to a rich silver. When seen from a distance the Brockholes centre appears like the mirage of an ancient cluster of dwellings floating over a marshland setting.
When I sit in the centre’s café, I can look around and share the tranquillity of the site through the large windows whilst enjoying a coffee. It’s such an enjoyable and relaxing place to visit.
It is an important building because it reminds us, as professionals, that we are accountable for creating sustainable relationships between buildings and the environment. So let’s not forget to look at architecture from the past for inspiration, to help us responsibly design buildings for the future.
I am proud that such a significant building is located right in the heart of Lancashire and helps to attract visitors from near and far to come and enjoy countryside.
As a new decade nears, throughout December Place North West will be publishing views from the property industry on the best buildings completed between 2000 and 2019, highlighting the design and development successes of the past 20 years.