great fen visitor center – RIBA competitions
architects: Fabrizio F. V. Arrigoni, Marco Arrigoni, Damiano Dinelli
landscape Design: Marinella Spagnoli
design Team: Valentina Satti, Pietro Torricini
structural Engineering: Massimo Bottega, Studio Techné
consultants: Arianna Chines, Pierluigi Da Prato
location: Cambridgeshire, England
All functional elements of the centre are directly accessible from the courtyard and connected to a variety of additional components such as the path leading to the viewing tower, the water taxi pier and the secluded garden of the meeting room. The goal is to find a balance between architecture and landscape, loosening the boundaries between inside and outside, allowing different views and encouraging the curiosity for an individual, non preset experience. The parking area is arranged on the southern boundary of the site, with a double parallel connection to the Centre: the visitors’ access path, with the wild-play area located half way, and the staff access road leading to the carport and the offices-barn. The barns differ in length but share the same structural design: the idea is to magnify the intensity of the expression through brevity and simplicity.
Morphology and construction technique are supposed to establish a recognition link with the salient local architectural character, thus possibly providing involvement of local enterprises, too. Porches and few strategically placed generous openings connect the buildings to the surroundings; long wooden walls define terraces and paths and guide the view towards the horizon. The new buildings favour the use of natural materials – such as wood, clay, water-reed-thatch – for their susceptibility to physical change over time as well as for their humble and rustic appearance. The Visitor Centre uses on-site renewable sources. Logo revisited, the bottom natural line is kept, the text is moved to touch it and the font has been changed into Helvetica. It’s a sort of logo growing out of the vegetation. Signage all the elements are in the same material used for the buildings (cedar wood), the graphic is a direct digital print, so there’s no plastic or other material usually used for signage. Font Helvetica, for its simplicity and high readability.
A specific array of several devices will promote the coexistence of humans and wildlife as a reciprocal benefit, as well as enhancing environmental quality for animals in and around the visitor centre. This would include permanent fixtures such as bird feeders, nest boxes, artificial resting rafts, bat boxes, insect hotels, stone-pile shelters for small animals and wildflower patches to attract bees and butterflies. These devices may vary in character and visibility, from openly designed to low-key, from detectable to hidden, from playful to aesthetic and refined. Furthermore a specific pattern of habitat corridors in different scales and forms, like stepping-stone patches, linear corridors and underpasses, will prevent potential fragmentation of different resource areas and splitting up of once continuous habitat usually associated with human intervention.
The subtle work of converting restraints, even in terms of budget, into conspicuous conciseness, and thus reaching a skilful incisiveness matched with a commonly shared, genuine beauty, is one of the main characteristics of the design approach. As a consequence thereof the plan minimizes needs and sets aside expensive glamorous architectural excesses; even in this early phase it is predictable that the project will succeed in adapting itself to future changes and take advantage of any external input. Appropriate available strategies may include modular development for the single barns, congruous and fruitful definition of details with local workers and cost saving involvement of regional enterprises in terms of mutual economic return through high publicity potential.