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Visitor centre goes for the natural look

news in pictures

ghm Rock Townsend has designed this visitor centre as part of the Millennium Commission-funded Marston Vale 2000 project, a£4.7 million scheme to create a new country park in Bedford with a wetland area and a network of cycle paths.

The visitor centre has been designed to sit gently in the landscape and, with deference to the brickmaking tradition of Marston Vale, uses brick as a primary material. With its main axis bounded to the north by earth mounds and by a water 'moat' to the south, it symbolises, says the architect, a fort in the landscape.

It sits in the north-east corner of the wetlands site, with simple access from the road, and is oriented in a line drawn between the church to the south and one of the brickworks chimneys to toe north. The primary view from the centre is towards the new wetlands project, with a secondary view towards a lake.

A brick wall provides an off-centre spine to the building, with the major spaces to the east of it, facing out on to the landscape, and with ancillary spaces to the west of the wall. This orientation means that the major spaces benefit from the morning sun, while for the rest of the day the main brick wall first absorbs and then re-radiates the solar gain. The building section has been designed to allow the stack effect to assist ventilation.

The entrance is through an enticing courtyard which then leads to an entrance rotunda which brings both morning and afternoon light into the foyer. A bicycle store is sunk unobtrusively below the surface. Waste from the building is discharged through a reed bed which 'polishes' the water before returning it to the natural water system.

Emphasis is on natural materials, with a variety of reclaimed brick used in the main wall, copper roofs with timber linings, a timber deck, and use of grass mounding to conceal elements which might otherwise obtrude into the landscape. Deck routes radiate from the building into the surrounding landscape.

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