TIP OF THE ICEBERG

Design Concept

The Offshore Visitor Centre is the landmark iconic building for the Tidal Lagoon at Swansea Bay, reflective of its unique setting located some 3.5 kilometres out into the Severn Estuary and representing the clean renewable energy to be generated.

The Centre is located close to the furthest point on the Tidal Lagoon Wall from land in a challenging marine environment which can change from benign to aggressive weather patterns. The design needs therefore to respond to the external influences as well as making the most of its unique location for visitors.

Approach

In preparing our proposals we have sought to design a building that responds to its environment, is robust but at the same time, is elegant and simple.

It is based in strong sustainable principles reflecting the clean energy it represents whilst addressing the desire to make it a memorable building, iconic, and one which creates a sense of place and wonder. It is also a building that will provide an educational, cultural and leisure base for all visitors.

Whilst being a modern building tied to the Turbine Hall and and the Lagoons sustainable energy generation, it will reflect on the local history of Swansea Bay and the opportunities that the Lagoon will create in regard mariculture and leisure activities.

We have adopted a subtle theme reflecting the ‘oyster’, a key part of Swansea Bay’s history and the establishment of new Swansea Bay Oyster beds proposed within the Lagoon.

Our representation is not literal but reflective of the natural forms and features of the oyster - and rather than being a singular object, is composed of a series of shells creating a place shaped from a range of overlapping forms enveloping interconnecting spaces.

The design is also strongly informed by local influences and the challenging marine environment. The robust defensive shells provide shelter for the Centre and the resultant forms create an extraordinary interior and memorable place.

The Concept

Combining the reference to oysters and the influences about the site, the concept is to arrange the shells to create a defensive robust outer layer made with several interacting walls. The alignment of the walls is organised to provide shelter from the prevailing south westerly wind and wave action but arranged to permit key views from the centre.

The tall slot windows between the shells are reminiscent of vertical fissures in cliff faces and will capture natural light which will fall onto the curved internal walls of the Centre. Unlike the outer surfaces, the internal walls are smooth, almost pearlescent, reflecting the natural light within the centre and act as a counter point to the rough textured outer walls, again reminiscent of the form and surfaces of the oyster.

The concept configuration has been developed through many iterations. During the design analysis, studio models and sketch diagrams have informed the development of these shapes to assist in the understanding of the three dimensional qualities of the building and to achieve a specific form driven by the key aspects, views and influences but one that appears natural and almost random.

The concept also arranges the shells on the ‘island’ so the resultant form is eye catching whilst having a sense of place through an attachment with the manmade but expressive landscape. The hard landscape follows the natural form of rock pools and weathered outcrops forming a textured and contoured base from which the building springs whilst providing easy access to and around the building.

Materials

Due to the exposed marine environment and the consequent need to provide a robust outer skin to the building, concrete is proposed as the structural frame and main building element for the shells.

The inherent quality of concrete and the construction process lends itself to manufacturing the complex shell forms and the concept design explores the possibilities that concrete offers. Through design development the shells could be manufactured locally using repetitive moulds and the tough outer skin can be produced with textured form work to create the rough texture reflecting the oyster theme.

In contrast to the robust and textured outer weather protective skin, the internal walls will be a smooth plaster finish, with an almost pearlescent finish, reminiscent of the natural make-up of oyster shells. The internal make-up of the shells will be adaptable to suit the changing needs of the Visitor Centre and will be easily maintained.

The space between the outer and inner sandwich skins will contain service voids to service the galleries and provide a high level of building insulation.

The structural soffit of the roof over the upper gallery will be of timber construction providing a natural feel and sense of warmth. This will add an interesting contrast to the white internal walls and textured outer skins.

External glazing will be in the main clear with solar performance and heat retaining qualities but with the opportunity of integrating commissioned art work comprising panels of coloured or decorative glazing produced by local artists.

The resultant design will result in an exciting, robust and elegant interior with an adaptable gallery space to support changing exhibits and events, whilst creating a unique and memorable place.

Landscape

The building sits on a manmade ‘island platform’ at the end of land piers in a challenging marine environment. The landscape concept is simple but one that responds to the local environment whilst creating a place to support the building.

The building sits adjacent the Turbine Hall on a slightly raised area to prevent water from wave overspill running into the building. The landscape features and characteristic follows the form of rock pools and weathered outcrops forming a textured and contoured base from which the building springs.

The texture of the base and the rock outcrops blend with the rough texture of the outer shells, thereby creating visual linkages and forming strong relationships between the landscape and the building.

It is proposed that the ‘touch pool’ within Visitor Centre will be visually linked with rock pools immediately outside the building and these will be connected to the other rock pools cascading down towards the lagoon.

The resultant levels and arrangement of rock pools and steps will visually break down the predominately flat base whilst still permitting service vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists to move about the building as well as providing easy access into the Visitor Centre.

Adjacent to the lagoon, on the leeward side of the building, a short boardwalk of timber runs out from the building down a short flight of steps to a jetty. This projecting jetty over-sails the lagoon wall providing a vantage point with seating and wind breaks offering additional weather protection to visitors watching water events on the lagoon.

 

Visitor Centre Project Team

Juice Architects    Visitor Centre Architect & Designer
Evolve    Visitor Centre Structural Engineer
LDA Tidal Lagoon Masterplaner and Public Realm
Atkins Global       Tidal Lagoon Design Engineering
Costain     Tidal Lagoon Engineering Solutions Provider

Tidal Lagoon Team and Partners

http://www.tidallagoonswanseabay.com/