Thorpe Lakes: Museum & Visitor Centre
Aaron Edge-Stenson,
Nottingham Trent University

Thorpe Lakes Museum and Visitor Centre is a proposal for a state-of-the-art sustainable facility, situated within the heart of Lincolnshire sub-regional country park. The 6500m2 development seeks to educate users about the natural environment through extensive exhibition and museum space, and moreover provide a natural home for the activities of the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust. The rolling roofscape of the building echoes the natural undulation of the surrounding landscape and serves to conceal the building, allowing a seamless fusion between the architecture and the natural environment. The carefully sculpted walkways which lead to the building, symbolically and physically connect the building to the wider site, which also features; bird hides, picnic areas and a playpark. The interior journey continues under the curvaceous timber gridshell roof.

The building embodies a sense of drama and intrigue through the combination of the undulating architectural form and the strategically placed glazing which provides glimpses of the outstanding natural world outside. Views through the fully glazed section of the main elevation provide a constant sense of visual communication between the internal environment and the enchanting scenery of the wider park. The scheme adopts passivhaus design principles, promoting natural daylighting and limiting the dangers of overheating. The building was orientated to allow less intense sunlight to penetrate the main glazed façade after 15:00 [study based on summer solstice], when sunlight is typically less intense. The orientation has also been optimised to maximise natural ventilation opportunities.

A primary steel frame will form the skeletal framework for the building. This framing system provides high strength yet a relatively low weight structure, whilst also allowing for offsite fabrication and rapid onsite assembly. Precast concrete hollowcore planks will be used to form the suspended ground floor system as the ground conditions dictated that a ground bearing slab would be unachievable. The roof design features a curved shell formed from 50mm wide x 35mm thick larch laths in four layers. The upper and lower lathes are formed from a continuous lath with two layers of ‘shear blocks’ fixed at 500mm centres between the upper and lower laths, this forms ‘ribs’ or ‘voids’ through the members. These voids allow a member to sit within a corresponding transverse member, forming an interlocking node at grid intersections.

The nodal connector consists of four plates, the centre plates having pins to locate the grid geometry of the middle lath-layers and the outer plates loosely hold the outer laths in place, allowing sliding during the formation of the shell. Two of the four bolts locating the plates are used to connect the diagonal bracing bolted in place to provide shear stiffness after forming the shell.

The building represents a seamless fusion between traditional and modern construction methods. The extensive use of timber grishell technology is a reinterpretation of traditional materials and methods.  Using this technology allows the building to adopt an organic form, which allows the building to blend in with this ecologically sensitive site.


Judges’ comments

The complexity of the building geometry has been addressed by the technically comprehensive and well-developed building envelope and its structure and fabric. The materials pallet is successful in connecting, linking and integrating the building within its context of the surrounding natural environment. The communication and overall presentation compliment the high standards of technical design and detail and mode of construction and sustainability. Every detail is considered down to the level of the reed bed tertiary waste treatment proposal, reflecting and extensive knowledge and command of the natural design agenda. The judges concluded that this complex design met the key criteria with a strong  and sympathetic  inclusive and environmental design solution that highlighted the place of Architectural Technology  in such challenging projects .