The Broads Authority has launched an international contest to design a £750,000 visitor centre at Acle Bridge, Norfolk
The anonymous competition seeks ‘outstanding’ conceptual visions for a landmark structure for visitors to the 303km² Broads National Park, which was created nearly 30 years ago as Britain’s largest protected wetland.
The project will transform a prominent site next to the River Bure into a major new tourist destination featuring educational displays and views over the surrounding natural landscape.
In its brief, the Broads Authority says: ‘A landmark building is essential for this sensitive site to create a new visitor attraction for the national park and raise the profile of the area’s special qualities.
‘It will engage the public in the big issues: the importance of managing water, climate change and sea-level rise, the need for sustainability to be at the heart of building in the Broads and the provision of fantastic facilities for visitors, local residents and schoolchildren.’
The Broads is an ancient network of navigable rivers and lakes created by the flooding of medieval peat workings across Norfolk and Suffolk. The area is a recognised centre of biodiversity and was made a national park in 1988.
The competition focuses on a 1.1ha riverfront plot a short distance from the village of Acle. The site, next to the A1064 road, currently features a shop, car parking, private and public moorings and an out-of-use public toilet.
The new building should harness innovative construction techniques and feature multipurpose education spaces along with a café and toilets, a cycle hire centre and facilities for boaters.
Proposals must be sustainable and capable of mitigating flood risks while also being low-maintenance and high-quality.
Submissions should include two A2-sized display boards and a 500-word project explanation. Shortlisted teams will each receive £1,000 to further develop their designs and present to the evaluation panel.
Judges include Broads Authority chief executive John Packman, Norwich University of the Arts vice-chancellor John Last and representatives from Anglian Water and New Anglia. A winner will be announced on 27 July.
The deadline for applications is 1pm, 29 May.
How to apply
Visit the competition website for more information
62-64 Thorpe Rd
Tel: 01603 756063
John Packman, Broads Authority chief executive
Source: Image by Eastern Daily Press
What is your vision for the new visitor centre?
The Broads Authority’s ambition is to commission and build an outstanding Broads National Park visitor and education centre on a newly acquired site at Acle Bridge. A landmark building is essential for this sensitive site to create a new visitor attraction for the National Park and raise the profile of the area’s special qualities. It will inspire and engage the public in the big issues: the importance of managing water, climate change and sea level rise, the need for sustainability to be at the heart of building in the Broads and the provision of fantastic facilities for visitors, local residents and schoolchildren. Sustainability is one of the Broads Authority’s core values and this site offers the opportunity to demonstrate some of the key components and particular concerns in the Broads such as the management of water and flood risk.
Why are your holding a competition for a new visitor centre at Acle Bridge?
We have decided to hold a competition for two main reasons. Firstly, the Broads Authority is the Local Planning Authority for the Park. We have consistently supported and encouraged modern design and therefore the competition was a natural extension to our approach and our ambition to promote innovation and high-quality design. A bold and sympathetic design will help us raise the profile and public understanding of the area’s uniqueness, history and challenges.
Secondly, the site, at around 2.75 acres poses a number of challenges which the Authority wants help in resolving. These include:
(i) How to design a landmark building so that it can make a positive contribution and enhance this nationally important and protected landscape.
(ii) How to organise the layout of the building to minimise the space required while making provision for a visitor and education centre, facilities for boaters and a café.
(iii) How to respond to the challenges of the site – it is in flood zone 3b, with access off a main road and with the presence of a currently redundant building with a thatched roof that is on the Local List.
What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?
National Parks have an international reach and this competition offers an opportunity to build a reputation with a worldwide audience. We are hoping that the submitted designs will push the boundaries and give the judging panel a wide spectrum of approaches to consider. The Authority is keen to encourage a broad range of entrants. We hope that this will be seen as a potential springboard for newly qualified smaller and emerging practices which is why we are offering an award of £1,000 + VAT to each of the shortlisted entrants to assist them in working up their proposals for Stage 2 of the competition.
Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/designers be procured?
Opportunities like this are rare and this is our only ‘new build’ project currently in the pipeline. We have many historic and iconic buildings in the Broads National Park and are currently working on a project, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, to restore and explore potential new uses for some of the many windmills.
Are there any other similar visitor centre projects you have been impressed by?
The Sill in the Northumberland National Park near Hadrian’s Wall, completed 2017 by JDDK Architects. The Sill is inspiring because it is a landmark building, a bold contemporary architectural solution showcasing sustainable construction techniques whilst still successfully referencing its landscape context and celebrating the unique sense of place of its site.