Acle Visitors Centre
Norfolk Broads, UK
Thatch + timber
The new visitor centre at Acle Bridge is a contemporary landmark building inspired by the unique landscapes, ecology and architectural vernacular of the Norfolk Broads.
The building is a ‘gateway to the Broads’—not only due to its accessible location at the confluence of key walking, sailing, car and bike routes, but also as a welcome pit-stop showcasing the ‘Story of the Broads’: an interactive exhibition celebrating the history and nature of the national park. The design of the visitor centre and surrounding buildings invites guests to explore the Broadland landscapes while inspiring future stewardship by highlighting key issues of sustainability and wildlife conservation.
The building captures and frames key views to connect visitors to the land, water and sky throughout their journey through the centre, which includes an unmissable opportunity to access an elevated viewing deck nestled within the thatch roof. The functional program of the building is defined into two volumes—the first a multipurpose exhibition space and teaching area and the second a cafe with adjoining facilities. This approach enables flexibility during the offseason so the centre can be operated by one person. The interactive exhibition space allows for flexibility, with movable physical and digital exhibits and access to low-level storage, in anticipation that the space may be rented for special events to generate revenue. The teaching space for school groups is separated from the exhibition by an acoustic curtain and the cafe offers both locally sourced refreshments and views over the Broads with a covered area to spill outside when the weather permits.
The new visitor centre is sensitive to the local landscape both through its choice of natural materials inspired by the vernacular construction techniques of the Broads and integrated, low-maintenance sustainability strategies. Materials were selected for their low embodied energy and high thermal insulative properties to minimise heating requirements. Recycled and upcycled materials have been used where possible, such as the recycled newspaper covering on the ceilings, a technique recently showcased at the Brockholes Visitor Centre in Preston. Future flood risk due to the effects of climate change is a key consideration and informs the building’s raised structure. The prefabricated glulam frame was chosen for its cost effective and hardwearing properties and reduces the volume of concrete required as compared to a raft foundation. Channels beneath the structure, specialised planting and absorbent materials slow down water runoff during high rainfall events to minimise flash flooding. Greywater is filtered through the landscape and used for flushing toilets and in the wet heating system supplied by the reed biomass boiler.
Resourcefulness is prioritised by maintaining a small new-build footprint and instead seeing the value in and making good the surrounding buildings to house subsidiary functions, to ‘touch the ground lightly’. The cluster of renovated existing buildings will celebrate different periods of Acle Bridge’s history, including the reopening of the well-loved Bridge Stores for visitors to explore. The new visitor centre at Acle Bridge aims to offer an inspiring destination characteristic of the Broads for everyone to enjoy.
The Acle Visitors Centre project was developed with Agnieszka Filipowicz, Hannah Wood and George Pickering