Atelier CMJN shared with us their proposal for the Great Fen Visiting Center which aims at reconnecting humans with nature. In terms of sustainable development, or in the broader term ecology, is the reconnection of humans with their environment by restoring links between the users and the fen. By maximizing one’s chances to connect to this raw and simply beautiful environment, the project intends to not just restore a piece of anthropogenic nature, but reconnect mankind with its deepest self, nature. More images and architects’ description after the break.
Half-way between wetlands and dry lands, between earth and water, between wild nature and welcoming nature, the fen represents an ideal place for animal and vegetal species to migrate, to disseminate, to reproduce. As such, they represent, together with marshes, swamps and bogs, areas of particular interest in terms of biodiversity. As such they deserve considerable attention and this is our main concern for this project.
The Living Landscape
We need to have some access to the future building, we need to have some vision about the landscape, we need to guide the way it develops; however, we like to see this intervention as minimal; we want to have a living landscape that has its own fate. Therefore, we want to consider our approach as semi-interventionist. We want to keep it minimal and to do only the absolutely necessary. Once that minimum is achieved, we’ll try to limit further interventions; we want to see a living, evolving landscape whose shape and level of water evolves.
An Open Door to the Great Fen
Reconnecting people with their landscapes means providing them with a gate way to enjoy this landscape; hence, we want our building to be visible, although natural. Creating a building that is hidden in this landscape is not the point here. Firstly the building should be visible and warm so people to feel welcomed by nature and secondly it should be open to this environment so people can feel connected to it.
The landscape is a patchwork of different ecosystems which creates biodiversity and variety in the landscape: close to wetlands and dry lands, ‘evolving lands’ will move on the dry land/wetland continuum following the respiration of the site. The dry lands are also different: the Western one is made of forests and clearings while the one in the East is less woody and more open. The building in the center of the site is a place where visitors are invited to let their eyes wander over the different landscapes the fen provides. The water level, rising and falling (winter-summer), creates a respiration at the site level. The project aims at living and breathing with this respiration. This pulsation is the very core of wildlife in this wetland. By locating the center in the middle of this changing landscape, we aim at making the visitor feel this very special rhythm of life.
This project aims at disconnecting from the concept of time to be as one with its surrounding environment, living and eternal. An important aspect when dealing with integrating the nature of the site is to have a building that does not stand out in terms of materials, shapes and so on. Therefore, we have decided to be inspired by nature, with its billions of years of R&D in order to have a building in harmony with the environment; our building has the shape of a reap when looking viewed from above. This way, our aim is that the building will be simultaneously beautiful and fully integrated in its surroundings.
The building is living in many ways: flexible inside, flexible outside and soon to be filled with people coming to enjoy the picturesque views and the generosity of the building. This project aims at disconnecting from the concept of time to be as one with its surrounding environment at the same time living and immortal.Thanks to its furniture on wheels and spaciousness, the building is easily adaptable and can readily change from a single space into a collection of purpose specific spaces. Along with its innate flexibility exists also the potential for evolution. A part of the building on the Northern facade is ready to accommodate any future extensions. Architecture has taught us that a building often has several lives and it is often wise to anticipate this possibility.
The building is not a homogeneous, uniform space but a mosaic of different spaces. The ones located in the South West are the most significant as they have the highest visitation and therefore deserves particular attention. They also have the most generous volumes and the most direct sunlight . The spaces on the North East are the most temporary areas and therefore act as a buffer to protect the more significant spaces.
We started this project with the ambition to respect and understand the reality of the fens and how they will naturally appear in the landscape. We also tried to anticipate any future change due to climatic change. Thus, as already mentioned, it is important to have a resilient ecosystem. That is to keep or create a bit of topography to create various ecosystems and ensure the proper drainage of the water. A sound geophysical equilibrium will ensure a sound, resilient biological equilibrium enabling species to better resist external threats. There are so many things that we cannot predict about the future that creating a fixed building or landscape in this type of environment would prove a waste of time. Such a project needs to be fully adaptable to this unpredictable environment.
Architects: Atelier CMJN
Location: Cambridgeshire, UK
Project Management: Atelier CMJN, mdetc economist.
Design Team: Gaël Brulé, François Lepeytre, Ana Bras
General Contractor: The Great Fen
Special Thanks: Fen specialist Fernand Verger