Marton Mere LNR Visitors Centre
The new Visitors Centre is housed within an existing single-storey building located close to the boundary between the nature reserve and the adjacent holiday park. The building formerly accommodated a small supermarket, storage rooms, and a Ranger Service base.
Due to its former uses, the Northern end of the building was very plain, featureless, and not identifiable with the mere. This had to be vastly improved if the building was to become a recognisable information point for visitors. There was also a lack of windows to provide natural light and the public access needed to be improved. Creating a visual connection back to the mere from the new facility was a top priority.
Project Type: Commission
Programme: Landscape / Cultural
Client(s): Blackpool Council
Size: 100 sqm
Location: Blackpool, Lancashire, UK
Year: January 2015
The design intention was to create a new and clearly recognisable identity for the existing building that forms a clear connection to the mere and its new purpose as the primary information and education centre for the nature reserve.
This is achieved by over-cladding the existing brickwork structure with a new water reed thatched skin. The form of the thatch is very organic and deliberately contrasts with the featureless existing utilitarian building. The locations where this new skin is penetrated by access points or window openings are highlighted using horizontal natural timber cladding to form shelters and canopies that provide protection to the building’s users. The new large picture window that visually connects the classroom / teaching space to the mere is framed using this technique to create an external covered seat to allow the view to be enjoyed in all weathers.
A new fully accessible decked viewing platform provides access to the visitors arrival & exhibition entrance whilst offering views towards the mere and its various footpaths. The timber canopies above both entrances provide the necessary shelter for disabled users whilst accessing the building and the covered external seat has an accessible area for wheelchair users and prams.
Using natural materials in the design of the building’s new facade was key to creating it’s new identity and a strong connection to the mere. The use of water reed which grows naturally on the mere to create the new thatched skin, is a modern re-interpretation of a traditional local building method and achieves this well.
The intention was that the water reed required for the thatch would be harvested on site during the reedbed management works due to be carried out as part of the wider project.
To minimise the potential risk of fire, the thatch was treated with a suitable fire retardant and lined with a fire membrane to separate it from the existing building structure. The thatching work was carried out by skilled craftsmen as a modern example of a traditional local craft. This creates a unique aesthetic and a highly tactile surface to the building, and made it possible to achieve the intended organic form. A well crafted water reed thatch is expected to have a lifespan of over forty years, so this is not only a conceptually and aesthetically appropriate material, but highly practical as well.