Norfolk Broads Visitor Centre

Our competition entry for a visitor centre at the Norfolk Broads’ Acle Bridge.

Norfolk Broads

Cantilevering over the water, our proposal for Acle Bridge draws on the beautiful natural surroundings to create a unique visitor attraction.

Meeting the Broads Authority brief

The brief required a sympathetic design that connects the building with nature. Our proposal offers spaces for learning, leisure, washing and laundry, bike hire and a ranger’s office, while managing the ever-present risk of flooding.

Designing in simple forms

Our design comprises two barn like structures, with a café to the east and a learning centre to the west. Prised apart and floating above the landscape, they sail lightly over the water, letting nature reclaim the space in-between and exposing the reed beds and river bank below.

We took cues from the local vernacular; barns and boat sheds are common in the area. Norfolk Reed thatched roofs conceal the buildings in the landscape, neatly highlighting environmental cycles and acting as a reminder of the Broads’ role in providing local building materials. Charred timber shingle cladding resists weathering and algae, and is in keeping with the materiality of the neighbouring buildings.

We played with light, vistas and journeys to ensure that the building doesn’t have dead ends, or a cabin feel; instead it draws you through to the river and the stunning views across the broads.

Energy efficiency


Passive solar design principles minimise energy use, with supplementary heating provided by electric underfloor heating. A ‘solar chimney’ at the northern end of the café references windmills and kilns in its shape and acts as sign post for the building from the road and from the Weaver’s Way, which is diverted through the heart of the building, to act as a stepping off point or a place to rest for a while.


Rainwater is captured and recycled via the reed bed and is used for flushing toilets and irrigating the building’s green roof, with solar hot water panels heating the water for the showers. Rainwater chains both inside and outside the building teaching visitors of the process.

Iridescent photovoltaic panels provide valuable electricity and a canopy for the entrance, reminiscent of dragonfly wings.

Offsite construction

Time on the site will be minimised by using off-site construction methods such as precast concrete insulated floor panels and Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs), achieving high levels of insulation and long clear spans.

The structure itself consists of SIPs and glulam raised on columns, allowing a clear zone underneath for free flooding. As we positioned the building on slightly higher ground (near the bridge banking) this zone would allow the nearby flood plain to take over.