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AJ exclusive: shortlist for Great Fen visitor centre revealed

Foster Lomas is among five practices shortlisted in the high-profile RIBA competition for a £2 million visitor centre in Cambridgeshire

The other practices to make the final in the popular contest are Shiro Studio, Birds Portchmouth Russum, Boyarsky Murphy and Feilden + Mawson.

Described by RIBA as its biggest competition in the last year, the contest received more than 200 entries from across Europe and the UK.

The judging panel extended the shortlist to include five teams instead of four, as originally planned, ‘because of the range of site approaches and building typologies proposed’. Each shortlisted team will receive a £3,000 honorarium.

The building will be the centrepiece of Cambridgeshire’s Great Fen nature reserve. The programme aims to transform 3,000 hectares of arable land into lakes, fen, bog, woodland and scrub over the next 50 to 100 years.

Shortlisted teams will now refine their stage one proposals ahead of presentations to the judging panel in April.

Panellist and Great Fen project manager Kate Carver said the project partners were now looking for a scheme that would ‘embody and progress’ their vision for the natural landscape.

RIBA adviser to the competition, Cindy Walters of Walters and Cohen Architects, praised the organisers for choosing an ‘open and anonymous first stage’ for the contest.

She said: In an industry where procurement is often biased towards track record, it is refreshing to find clients who are still prepared to run competitions that give practices of all sizes and experience the chance of being selected for an ambitious and exciting project such as this.

The RIBA is managing the contest on behalf of the Great Fen partnership. The partnerhsip comprises the Environment Agency, Huntingdonshire District Council, Middle Level Commissioners, Natural England and The Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire. 

She added: ‘Short-listing was a challenge due to the unusually high number and calibre of submissions received - we were all fascinated to subsequently learn the names of the practices behind the preliminary proposals.’

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