Situated within the dunes, mudflats, and salt marshes of a protected bird and nature reserve, this visitor centre in Eastern Belgium is the result of a winning 2015 design competition entry by COUSSÉE & GORIS Architects. The centre consists of four linear entities, constructed as wooden porticos with different heights that house a reception area with cafeteria, exhibition space, staff- and seminar rooms, and an observation post. The central building is made of reinforced concrete and is enclosed by two parallel volumes. With extensive green roof areas, the buildings are closely integrated into the landscape that surrounds.
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The bird and nature reserve ‘Het Zwin’ is a protected nature area between Flanders and the Netherlands. The assignment included the redesign of the existing natural park and the creation of a new visitor center.
The authentic maritime landscape with its sand dunes, mud flats and salt marshes, modelled by the sea breeze, consists mainly of wavy lines. Within this wavy landscape COUSSÉE & GORIS architects constructed abstract linear volumes as anchors in the landscape. These architectural interventions consist of a series of parallel lines, that on one hand structure the landscape and on the other hand shelter as wind screens in the Zwin area. They also create a fluent transition between the silted forest and the redeveloped plain ‘Kleynevlakte’. They protect man from nature and vice versa. Cultural characters were evaded to maximize the natural character of the reserve.
The visitor center consists out of four linear entities, constructed as wooden porticoswith different heights. They include a reception area with cafeteria, exhibition space, staff- and seminar rooms and an observation post. The central building is fully made of reinforced concrete and is enclosed by two parallel volumes. The exhibition space is formed by the structural concept of its volume. By providing diagonal stanchions on both sides of the space, horizontal stability is guaranteed. The diagonal columns guide the visitors between the different parts of the exhibition.
On the dyke betweenthe park and the lowland of the reserve, the watch center emerges, from where you can enjoy watching the tides, plants and the coming and going of the numerous birds, etc. The structure consists of five parallel walls, making an incision in the landscape. They are made out of rough concrete, as a reference to existing bunker constructions. The concrete walls are inverted on the outside as they function as a shelter for man from nature elements.