Designed by Alexandros Avlonitis + Aggeliki Anagnostopoulou, their proposal for the Great Fen Visiting Center is derived by the observation of the natural environment of the site and its manipulation by he human factor. The concept is based on an attempt to mimic a very common phenomenon of agricultural terrains: the stacking of blocks of hay, and their impulsive installation in the middle of endless fields. Therefore, the new Great Fen Visitor Center becomes not a building, but a stack of volumes placed in the landscape. More images and architects' description after the break.
A complex that its volumes are manipulated in a way that do not create boundaries in the continuity of the landscape. On the contrary, they create intense spatial qualities where the landscape penetrates the ‘Visitor Center’ and vice versa. The proposal is followed through a network of elevated pathways that connect the development with the two agricultural roads on the sides. At the same time it ties up all the Center’s different programmatic functions.
The pathway network is expandable on demand. It can be prolonged and multiplied in any way that serves the Visitor Center and the Great Fen’s evolving landscape. The project is located in the middle of the given site, between two elevated agricultural roads. Access to it is realized through a principle elevated pathway that bridges the two roads.
The elevation of the whole proposal aims to avoid any interference to the landscape and the animal flows. The site may follow its natural topography caused by the restored fenland landscape and provide a habitat for wildlife without any restrictions or borders. Along the walk there are strategically distributed accesses to the ground through stairs and ramps. The Visitor Center is oriented to the South. Through the rotation of its different volumes though and the distribution of its program, it ensures plenty 360 views of the Great Fen.
Opposite the main entrance of the Center, there is an observation tower that offers a very intense panoramic view of the whole area. The tower is also working as a landmark for the ‘Great Fen Visitor Center’. A parking lot is located at the very beginning of the site, close to the main road. All the materials are chosen to blend in with the Great Fen’s context, both in terms of materiality and construction.
One of the proposal’s basic concepts is to allow to the wildlife of the wider area to flow and grow through the Visitor Center. The built environment is not interrupting any movement of animals or growth of the vegetation. The complex is part of its context, respecting it and promoting its evolution.
The observation tower offers a 360 wide view of the fenland. It is also designed to propel bird watching and bird nesting as well. The way up through the staircase with the perforated walls creates a mysterious experience that picks at the top with the breathtaking view. All the rooftops are covered with greenery. The proposal tries to have as little impact on the natural environment as possible and to evolve with it.
On the 1st floor there is an exhibition space with a framed east view of the site. On the other side there is the cafeteria with large openings and breathtaking 360 view of the landscape. There is also a balcony on the one side and a terrace on the other for the best panoramic views. The cafeteria is connected to the kitchen on the ground floor through a staff staircase through the bar.
The ground floor consists of four independent volumes:
1. The main volume with the shop, the reception area the staircase to the 1st floor and the storage at the back. The main entrance to the visitor center is also located there.
2. The volume on the other side of the patio with the ‘meeting room’ on the one side and the kitchen, staff spaces and storage on the other. The kitchen connects with the cafeteria on the 1st floor, Between them, the corridor becomes a passage extension of the pathway network.
3. Northern of the main volume, there is the office space needed for the development.
4. Opposite of the main entrance through a linear walk is the entrance to the tower.
Materials + Cost
The materials used are selected to achieve the best blend with the overall site context. All the facades are covered with vertical light color wooden planks referring to stack of hay. Timber screen shading is used where privacy is needed or sun protection. The tower facades are covered with perforated corten steel panels. Its perforation has a pattern deriving from the fading out landscape. Due to the natural corrosion of the material,the appearance of the tower is evolving through time at the same time as the landscape. The elevated pathway is covered with an outdoor deck that will blend with its context through time.
All the development’s roofs are covered with greenery for best insulation and less impact on the landscape possible. The ‘Great Fen Visitor Center’ proposed is a development of 850m2. Its method of construction is relatively easy (metal structure with wooden cladding). According to the average building costs (1600euros/m2) we estimate that its cost is within the budget declared. The design though allows the proposal to fluctuate depending on budget alterations, as the chosen materials have a great range of prices to chose from, and its scale may change without compromising the design concept.
Although the visitor center’s circulation takes place on an elevated pathway network, the visitor maintains a constant relation with the evolving fenland landscape. Through several access points strategically distributed along the walk, the pathway merges with the landscape, creating a subtle transition between the built and natural environment.