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Sustainability in Practice - Haysom Ward Miller's RSPB bird hide

Twitchers’ paradise Haysom Ward Miller’s wing-shaped RSPB bird hide on the Norfolk coast is a dramatic step up, writes Hattie Hartman

Haysom Ward Miller’s new bird hide at RSPB Titchwell Marsh on the Norfolk coast is a delight. Although hardcore twitchers often prefer to be at the mercy of the elements, the comfortable and accessible hide represents a dramatic step up in the RSPB’s provision of bird-watching facilities, including a new window prototype now being adopted at other reserves.

The ecologically sensitive site straddles two lagoons, one fresh and one saltwater, making the location a twitchers’ paradise because it attracts a wide variety of birdlife. The new hide forms part of a managed realignment of the north Norfolk coastline to prevent the sea encroaching from the north. The site presented numerous challenges: high winds, a three-month window for construction sandwiched between breeding seasons, and poor ground conditions to support heavy vehicles.

The architects’ inspired move was to introduce a kink into the sea bank on which the hide is perched. This immediately creates a sense of place and an invitation to pause on an otherwise linear landform. Because the bank was being reinforced by additional soil and geotextiles anyway, this was considered an acceptable environmental intervention. Wing-shaped north and south hides enhance the sense of enclosure. The result is a variety of viewing angles across the water and fewer south-facing windows, where glare can make birds difficult to spot.

The new windows are more than double the height of the slit windows of the hides that previously occupied the site. The architects turned to boat builders to develop a bespoke window in two parts. The bottom section slides down into the wall like a car window, and the upper half flips up on a gas strut.

An elegant circular winder adapted from boat technology sits in an extended sill below the windows doubling as an elbow shelf - perfectly positioned for binoculars. A mix of fixed and loose adjustable height stools completes the interior.

Inclusive design has been thoughtfully integrated throughout. More than 30 metres of ramps facilitate access to the hides, and window heights have been carefully studied to accommodate wheelchair viewing as well as people using telescopes and binoculars.

The narrow time frame for construction necessitated off-site fabrication, and the need to combine structural resistance to wind loads with lightness, due to poor bearing conditions, determined the choice of timber panels on a steel frame. Steel was chosen instead of timber because
it has a higher cross-sectional area-to-strength ratio. As an avid birder, the engineer wanted to ensure the hides would be sufficiently robust if a rare bird arrived and 60 people suddenly crowded to one end of the building. FSC-certified Siberian larch clads the exterior.

Designed to withstand both ground movement and flooding, the hides rest on adjustable jacks that sit on 14 concrete pads. Should movement occur, the jacks can be adjusted, and in the event of flooding, water will self-drain. Interestingly, green roofs were not considered appropriate because they would introduce new plant species not indigenous to the site.

The RSPB brief called for an exciting building that would engage the next generation of bird watchers. These wing-like forms, with their nautical interiors and roller windows, promise to do just that.

Credits

Start on site October 2010
Completion December 2010
Gross internal floor area 170²
Total cost £275,000
Architect Haysom Ward Miller
Client RSPB
Structural engineer Cambridge Architectural Research
CDM co-ordinator Hyder Consulting
Approved building inspector MLM Building Control
Main contractor RG Carter Building
Earthworks contractor Lancaster Earthmoving

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