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vHH completes another nature reserve scheme

London-based van Heyningen and Haward’s ‘drum-shaped’ visitor centre at the Thurrock Thameside Nature Park has opened to the public

The competition-winning 380m², £2,7 million scheme  houses a reception area, visitor hall, observation room, teaching areas, toilets and a kitchen.

The practice, which has a history of working in nature reserves having picked up numerous awards for its RSPB Environment and Education Centre at Rainham Marshes (AJ 21.12.06), saw off East, Sarah Wigglesworth, Laurie Wood Architects and Groundworks to land the project at the landfill site in December 2009.

The architect’s view

Our competition-winning concept was for a drum shaped building, giving a distinctive presence in the landscape that provides an attractive visitor promenade. Seen ‘in the round’, the form has precedents in Scottish Brochs and 19th Century Martello towers along the South Coast, both coastal typologies with a deliberately strong presence. Combined with the form is a route to and through the building, with a spiral ramp that leads the visitors up and around the building, culminating in the rooftop observation terrace. From here visitors can look back over the landscape of sea, marsh and grassland in all directions.

The centre is designed to demonstrate low energy sustainable design and technology for visitors, the building and nature park both symbolising the regeneration and protection of the surrounding area, highlighting that isolated sites of complex ground conditions can be utilised for meaningful projects.

Made of a radial timber and steel superstructure sitting on a concrete raft, the building can be jacked up to compensate for the differential settlement in the landfill (potentially up to 300mm over 15-20 years). Externally it is clad with timber, with galvanised steel details, both of which will weather to a grey tone over time.

The project also included the building of a 1.4km access road from Mucking village, with utilities connections and parking. The proposals for access, outdoor facilities and service infrastructure were designed to minimise physical alteration to the restored landscape and management of potential environmental impacts

van Heyningen and Haward's new visitor centre for the Essex Wildlife Trust - plan

van Heyningen and Haward’s new visitor centre for the Essex Wildlife Trust - plan

Project data

Location: Mucking landfill site, Mucking, Essex
Client: Essex Wildlife Trust
Project description: New visitor centre for the Thurrock Thameside Nature Park.
Building area (gross internal): 380m²
Park site area: 16.7 Hectares
Architects: van Heyningen and Haward Architects
Structure/Civils: Price & Myers
M&E/Sustainability: Max Fordham
Budget: £2,722,000 (approximately.£1,700,000 building - remainder infrastructure/utilities)
Procurement route: Traditional
Contract: JCT:SBC/Q 05
Contractor: Haymills Construction

Readers' comments (2)

  • Am I alone in lamenting the days when practices - especially ones as good as this - were known by their real names (regardless of whether the founders still played an active part) rather than just by initials?

    Unsuitable or offensive?

  • Some resemblance here (though a much more modest scale) to the Visitors Centre at Alesia in France by Tschumi.

    Unsuitable or offensive?

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