‘great fen visitor center’ by shiro studio





great fen is an internationally acclaimed vision, one of sweeping scale and ambition. over the next 50-100 years, more than 3,000 hectares of largely arable land will be transformed into a mosaic of habitats: pools, ponds and ditches; reedbed; fen, bog and marsh; wet grassland; dry grassland; woodland and scrub. the restored landscape will be created around and between holme fen national nature reserve and woodwalton fen national nature reserve – precious fragments of wild fen that are home to rare and endangered species of local plants and animals.


shiro studio ltd., mesh partnership and equals consulting have been announced the winners of a competition to design the new great fen visitor center which will act as an essential part of the evolving fenland landscape, stimulating exploration and serving its visitors to the highest standards.with their proposal, UK-based studio have examined how architecture can conspire with nature to create a serene and confident juxtaposition between modernity and the rich and complex history of the existing environment. their aim was translate a series of appropriate and intimately relevant words–natural, warm, community, education, inspire,  functional, sustainable, traditional, contemporary, light, permeable, protective, adaptive, responsive, tactile, remote, connected, respectful, humble, memorable, rich–into architecture.


their design embodies and reflects the heritage and stratified history of this area through the unique blackness of the fenlands’ peat and its black timber-cladded vernacular barns. the building is an architectural manifestation of the different functions offered by the centre and utilizes a visual and sculptural language that will be instinctively familiar to visitors. the multitude of different programs is reminiscent of how a small village is organized; where each separate architectural volume covers a specific role, closely knitted to its neighbour.


self-sufficiency is achieved by using proven technologies that blend harmoniously with the structure. black mono-crystalline PV panels installed on selected roof surfaces will provide the main source of energy required, and geothermal energy will power air heating and cooling, and hot water – eliminating the use of fuel-based boilers. in addition to these technologies the building benefits from passive solar gain and reed bed water filtration.



the wider landscape within the 27 hectare site area is a mosaic of fenland habitats (as part of the fenland restoration works). immediately surrounding the centre are a series of ‘microcosms’ of the wider fenland landscape of colourful plants, water and reeds.shiro studio has incorporated elements of the traditional fenland building typology within an exciting contemporary visitor centre design, whose silvery and bog-oak black exterior, shimmering with the play of fenland light, will contrast markedly with, and complement, its spacious, light-filled interiors and panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.




shiro studio: great fen visitor center, UKview of the visitor centre





members of the judging panel commented:

‘I am thrilled and excited that this outstanding design by the shiro studio team has won the competition. it embodies the spirit of the great fen with sensitivity, elegance, and imagination. we will create a truly special building here, one that is warm and welcoming, one that local people and visitors alike will enjoy using, and one that will reasonate with the fantastic fenland landscapebeing formed around it. the project partners were hugely impressed with the shiro studio team’s response to the competition brief, and to their understanding of and empathy with the vision of the great fen. we are all looking forward to working with andrea morgante and his colleagues to create this beautiful building, which will be a new beating heart at the centre of the great fen’.– kate carver (great fen project manager)


‘it was a great honour chairing the judging panel for this ambitious design competition. the anonymous first stage attracted a phenomenal number of submissions and it was a challenging task arriving at the final shortlist. the standard of the stage 2 submissions was very high, but a winner was selected by consensus following a very comprehensive judging process. in the end it was felt that the design proposals by shiro studio and their team best reflected the spirit of the great fen project and that their design proposals demonstrated great intelligence, flair, flexibility and sensitivity.’ – cindy walters (walters & cohen architects)


the RIBA-organized competition was managed on behalf of great fen – a partnership which comprises the environment agency, huntingdonshire district council, middle level commissioners, natural england and the wildlife trust for bedfordshire, cambridgeshire and northamptonshire.




shiro studio: great fen visitor center, UKeast elevation showing the charred black timber cladding



shiro studio: great fen visitor center, UKinternal view over the bookshop and restaurant area



shiro studio: great fen visitor center, UKinternal view across the reception hall



shiro studio: great fen visitor center, UK

bird house typology which acted as a starting point for the design




shiro studio: great fen visitor center, UK

detail of the external wall



shiro studio: great fen visitor center, UKmodel



 shiro studio: great fen visitor center, UKlandscape aerial view



shiro studio: great fen visitor center, UKground floor plan



project info:


client: the great fen partnershipsite area: 9,000 m²built area: 830 m²cost consultants: equals consultinglandscape consultants: mesh partnership


designboom has received this project from our ‘DIY submissions‘ feature, where we welcome our readers to submit their own work for publication. see more project submissions from our readers here.