Norfolk Broads Visitors’ Centre
Client: The Broads Authority
Location: Acle Bridge, Norfolk
Team: Percy Weston, Tom Surman, Hilton Murrell
This thatch-wrapped Visitors’ Centre includes a viewing tower, educational facilities, a water-powered lift and generous café to create a tourist destination and future icon of the broads.
The building references the rich history of the broads and the unique landscape in which it sits – a man-made patchwork of lakes, rivers and wetlands carved out in the Middle Ages. The form of the building is a nod to the numerous windmills and cottages dotted across the broads, whilst the thatch ‘cladding’ take cues from the local vernacular buildings.
The 16m high tower forms a beacon in the flat landscape. Accessed via bicycle-powered water-lift, the viewing platform at the top of the tower offers visitors spectacular views of the entirety of the broads. On a clear day the cathedral city of Norwich can be seen to the West and the sea to is visible to the East. The tower is exactly sized to see these landmarks, as if it were any lower they would be obscured by the natural curvature of the earth.
The hollow interior of the viewing tower is informed by the reverberant acoustics of the nearby St. Benet’s Abbey. Straddling the riverbank, the tower is open to the river Bude at its base and the sound of the water lapping below echoes around the chapel-like space to emphasise the tidal cycle of the river.
A staircase winds around the lofty space to form a route down from the viewing platform to ground level and along the way educational installations are inserted at strategic points to explain the history of the broads, creating an active and engaging experience. Windows are cut into the thick thatch walls to frame important local landmarks including Hardley Mill, the Isle of Flegg and Great Yarmouth.