The Cory Environmental Visitor Centre within the Thurrock Thameside Nature Park was a design competition won by van Heyningen and Haward Architects. The area is a new, green wildlife space created on the restored Stanford-le-Hope and Tilbury landfill site. It is part of an integrated chain of conserved greenbelt open spaces along the Thames estuary which are being made accessible to the public. The Centre’s purpose is to be a wildlife observation facility for visitors and provide information. As well as being a community hub, it is an educational centre for local children throughout the year.
The brief called for a building that would communicate the natural, historical and regenerative aspects of the site in an approachable way. It also had to be sustainable and cost-effective. The design, build and maintenance of the new centre was planned with sustainable living in mind and is an environmental exemplar, contributing to the Thames Gateway Eco-Region. The project also included the building of a 1.4km access road.
The drum-shaped building provides a distinctive yet sympathetic presence in the landscape that also offers an attractive visitor promenade. The form has precedents in the Martello towers along this coast, a typology with a deliberately strong presence. The form was appealing due to the desire to take the visitor as high as possible without needing a lift. The solution was by means of a ramp, maximising views and culminating in a dramatic panorama from the roof.
The building is clad in timber and surrounded by vertical timber fins, which help in screening visitors on the spiral ramp from low-flying wildlife. The fins are at varied spacing, changing in density as the visitor ascends to the roof, reflecting both the amount of screening required from the wildlife and amount of light required in certain internal spaces. The ramp and fins also provide passive solar shading for the centre.
The essence of the energy strategy is one of conservation and simplicity and this is embodied in the use of materials, particularly galvanized steel for the main frame of the building. Steel reduces weight, cost and aids speed of construction and in this case, a ‘lightness of touch’ on the ground was necessary due to the loadbearing restrictions. An innovative design solution to this problem was to sit the main structure of timber and galvanized steel on a concrete ‘floating’ raft foundation, with the frame able to be jacked up in the future to compensate for differential settlement of the landfill. Potentially this could be up to 300mm over 15-20 years.
Galvanized steel is expressed externally as a self-finished material that is durable and robust, especially in a ‘marine’ environment. As with the other exposed materials such as the Larch cladding, galvanized steel requires minimum maintenance, an important consideration for a charity client. The design, build and maintenance of the new centre was planned with sustainability at the core of its design and is an environmental exemplar, contributing to the Thames Gateway Eco-Region.
Architect: van Heyningen and Haward
Image: Giles Hoeg