London based practice Juice Architects has unveiled designs for an offshore visitor centre as part of the proposed tidal lagoon for Swansea Bay, Wales. A series of overlapping shells are sculpted to form a bowl like structure, providing shelter from the wind and waves of the Welsh coast. Sat on a manmade island platform at the end of a collection of land piers, the building will act as a cultural and educational base housing public galleries, a café, a lecture theatre and exhibition space with working turbine propellors visible through the the ground floor gallery. As an entirely self sufficient building all energy will be captured from renewable sources.
"The centre is located on the existing Turbine Hall ‘plinth’ reached by the lagoon wall, either from the east or west landfall buildings. In its exposed location it needs to respond to both external influences as well as making the most of its unique location for visitors." The building "has to protect itself against the prevailing weather and climate as well as responding positively to the key distant views from Mumbles to the west, from the hills to the north, as well as the approach from the elevated roadways and Fabian Way. The centre will be a key local landmark within the open sea with views from Swansea Bay, the Docks and passing ships, as well as enjoying great aspects of the seascape, the lagoon with the sporting and cultural activities and the unusual night time view of Port Talbot."
The design is "based in strong sustainable principles reflecting the clean energy it represents whilst addressing the desire to make it a memorable building." Having "adopted a subtle theme reflecting the ‘oyster’, a key part of Swansea Bay’s history and the establishment of new Swansea Bay Oyster beds proposed within the Lagoon", the architects' non literal interpretation is nonetheless "reflective of the natural forms and features of the oyster - and rather than being a singular object, is composed of a series of shells creating a place composed from a range of overlapping forms enveloping interconnecting spaces."
"Combining the reference to oysters and the influences about the site, the concept is to arrange the shells to create a defensive robust outer layer made with several interacting walls. The alignment of the walls is organised to provide shelter from the prevailing south westerly wind and wave action but arranged to permit key views from the centre. These tall slots windows between the shells are reminiscent of vertical fissures in cliff faces and will capture natural light which will fall onto the curved internal walls of the centre. Unlike the outer surfaces, the internal walls are smooth, almost pearlescent, reflecting the natural light within the centre and act as a counter point to the rough textured outer walls, again reminiscent of the form and surfaces of the oyster."
"The concept also arranges the shells on the ‘island’ so the resultant form is eye catching whilst having a sense of place through an attachment with the manmade but expressive landscape. The hard landscape follows the natural form of rock pools and weathered outcrops forming a textured and contoured base from which the building springs whilst providing easy access to and around the building."
"Solar influences will be managed to control high solar gain at midday and late afternoon in summer whilst providing potential solar gain in the early morning at other cooler times of the year. The form allows natural light to penetrate into the deeper spaces as well as creating differing patterns, reflections and subtle light qualities onto the curved walls."
"The tall core void area, or atrium, will create a natural vertical air shaft and heat stack to aid air movement through the building whilst low pressure displacement ventilation will trickle temperate air through the gallery spaces. Air could be drawn through ground plenums utilizing the constant ground/sea temperature range to reduce seasonal fluctuations in temperature and energy load."
"The structure will be exposed to provide a thermal mass sink to manage temperature fluctuations and balance temperature exchange through the air and fabric. This will be achieved by exposing the soffits of the concrete floor slabs throughout the building as well as wall surfaces where appropriate whilst taking into account the need to achieve the appropriate level of thermal insulation."
"Due to the exposed marine environment and the consequent need to provide a robust outer skin to the building, concrete is proposed as the structural frame and main building element for the shells. The inherent quality of concrete and the construction process lends itself to manufacturing the complex shell forms and the concept design explores the possibilities that concrete offers. Through design development the shells could be manufactured locally using repetitive moulds and the tough outer skin can be produced with textured form work to create the rough texture reflecting the oyster theme."
"In contrast to the robust and textured outer weather protective skin, the internal walls will be a smooth plaster finish, with an almost pearlescent finish, reminiscent of the natural make-up of oyster shells. The internal make-up of the shells will be adaptable to suit the changing needs of the Visitor Centre and will be easily maintained. The space between the outer and inner sandwich skins will contain service voids to service the galleries and provide a high level of building insulation."
LocationSwansea, United Kingdom
Turbines & EngineeringVoith
Marine DredgingVan Oord
PhotographsCourtesy of Juice Architects