7 May 2011


Brockholes is a new 106 hectar nature reserve and visitor centre that opened to the public on Easter Sunday 2011 (24th April). The opening is the culmination of 20 years work by the Lancashire Wildlife Trust (and numerous other organisations and groups) to transform the former quarry at Brockholes, just off Junction 31 of the M6 motorway near Preston. Purchased in January 2007, thanks to donations from Wildlife Trust members and an investment from the soon-to-be defunct Northwest Regional Development Agency (NWDA), the visitors centre (and wider site) was subject to a RIBA competiion in July 2007. Adam Kahn Architects was selected as the winner in February 2008 after the initial 61 entries had been whittled down to a five-strong shortlist that also included Arca, Architecture 2B, AY Architects and McDowell + Benedetti.

Brockholes Nature Reserve near Preston.

Adam Kahn's winning concept was for "A Floating World" and the realised centre has remained true to this. The separate functions required to serve visitors exploring the nature reserve are realised as a series of separate buildings on a pontoon, designed to rise and fall with changes in the water level. The cluster of buildings, in some respects resembling an ancient marhsland village, are unified through the use of  external materials and barn-like forms.

The village or cluster of buildings sits comfortably in its surroundings.

Sustainability issues were key in driving the design process of Brockholes, with an aspiration for a zero-carbon development and Breaam rating of Outstanding. The buildings on the pontoon are lightweight timber constructions and were largely constructed off site to minimize waste and disturbance to local wildlife. Passive systems are employed in the 'barns' with vaulted forms designed to maximise natural ventilation and daylight, reducing reliance on air conditioning and artificial light and associated energy demands. Energy is generated by a biomass boiler fuelled by locally sourced woodchip whilst heatloss is minimised through 'hi-tech insulation panels'. Water management also plays an important role, with all water used by the centre sourced from a borehole and toilets are flushed using lake water. A reedbed is used to treat waste water before it is released back into the local river. Visitors to the centre can learn all about these sustainable processes in the centre itself, as well as issues surrounding nature conservation and local wildlife.

Cafe / Dining Space.

Adam Khan Architects were also involved in the master planing of the nature reserve and the landscape areas serving the visitor centre buildings. They describe their approach as a "subtle but substantial re-profiling" that will "provide a new landscape rich in bio-diversity but able to withstand the rigours of large visitor numbers". Furthermore "multifunctional elements such as water-channels act simultaneously as drainage, orientation, play-feature, didactic tool and picturesque device".

Visitors can experience three different nature walks.

The project, which cost £8million including landscaping and habitat creation, sits comfortably in the natural setting. It is undobteldy modern in its approach, the simple forms and careful detailing testament to this, but yet it does not offend. By breaking down the scheme into a series of smaller buldings the massing is reduced whilst the clustered 'village' gives it enough scale to make a positive contribution to the landscape. The decision to place it on a floating pontoon is also a highly successful one, allowing visitors to get closer to the water and a unique experience.

The Nature Reserve is adjacent to the M6 motorway.

The nature reserve itself offers visitors three different walks, depending on the time they have. On the longest walk visitors are able to take in the whole reserve and one of the most curious asepects of it, the border with the M6. This experience, whilst breaking some of the tranquility afforded by other spots (particualry the bluebell woods and down by the river), forces you to consider the often intrusive nature of 'modern' life. However without this river of concrete fewer people would be able to visit the reserve itself and it is perhaps unlikely that the reserve and centre would be able to flourish. The M6 then is an integral part of the reserve, providing visitors who will bring in funds as they pay a visit for a walk and possibly a cup of tea and 'traditional lancashire treat'.

Floating buildings are more common in other parts of the world.

Brockholes then is a place that is well worth a visit, not just for the natural setting but equally for the architecture of the visitor centre which is surely an example of British design at its best. Respectful of its surroundings, bold in vision, succesful in execution and a joy to visit.