Waters’ Edge is one of the country’s most environmentally friendly buildings and every aspect of its design is tailored to sustainability. The centre was designed by Gerard Bareham of Leeds following an invited design competition and cost £3.3million. There were six entries to the competition and the residents of Barton were the final judges; they chose the winning design because of the way it fitted into the landscape of the Humber bank, as well as the way it made use of local tiles and natural materials.
The competition brief given to participants was for a ‘contemporary design, free from the restraint and compromise of traditional vernacular building form’. Firstly the building had to have a low environmental impact, and secondly it would need to be financially sustainable – functioning as a combined business and visitor centre.
Waters’ Edge Visitor Centre easily achieved its first aim with an impressive BRE Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) rating of 80.6 per cent, well ahead of the 70 per cent needed for an ‘excellent’ classification. This rating was the highest ever score for a new build in the UK and remained so for nearly two years. Many innovative features were installed in the building, helping it to achieve its excellent rating.
The glazed south-southwest front of the building maximises heat from the low warming winter sun to reduce heating costs. It is also fitted with louvers which decrease the impact of the sun during hot summer months without blocking views across the park. The building itself has a low profile within the landscape and rises only one storey above the Humber Bank’s flood defences.
The building has glazed circulation splays (also called cheeses) which allow air to circulate and turn the corner between the estuary bank and the haven. The effect of these splays combines with a passive ventilation system to control the air flow throughout the building.
The ventilation system makes use of air passing over the Visitor Centre Pond, directing it into the building through low level vents. As the air rises through the atrium and grilles to the upper level, rotating wind cowls pull it through the building.
The design of the wind cowls mean that even the lightest breeze turns the opening away from the wind and causes air to be sucked out of the building. There are also heat exchangers built into the cowls which conserve warmth during the winter. The cowls also push air into the workspaces upstairs through ducts, drawing it through louvers into the corridor and out through the cowl bases.
Waters’ Edge Visitor Centre was originally heated by a biomass boiler which used local coppiced wood. The original vision was for the boiler to be fuelled by wood grown in the adjacent country park, however the water content of the wood was too high and an alternative was sourced from nearby Goole; in time even this supply became unreliable. Eventually it was decided to get rid of the solid fuel boiler altogether – the building is so well insulated that there was no demand for heat overnight and two smaller units were brought in, burning ‘green diesel’ – a plant derived equivalent to fossil fuels.
The heating systems in the building include conventional radiators fitted with thermostatic radiator valves and a radiator in the trench which runs around the glazed side of the building, demisting the glass as well as heating. The ground floor has ‘thermal mass’ under-floor heating where the floor itself acts like a storage heater and can be efficiently heated up over a long period of time, giving off heat in the same way. Because of the efficiency of this system the water used to warm the floor can be heated to a lower temperature, conserving energy that may otherwise have been wasted.
There is a high ratio of glazing in the building (40 per cent) and the glass used is heat reflecting, double-glazed and laminated, giving it insulation properties equivalent to standard triple glazing. This ratio gives the building a 25 per cent improvement over the comparative ‘notional building’ allowable within regulations – a measure of energy loss in modern buildings.
As well as conserving energy and allowing visitors to take in views of the park, the high ratio of glazing allows a lot of natural light into the building. However, the building is also fitted with low impact lighting which is operated by motion sensors. Photovoltaic cells (PV) on the roof also generate electricity, helping to offset the use in the centre and the centre is orientated to maximise solar gain.
Made with aluminium from an estimated 1.5 million recycled drink cans, the roof of Waters’ Edge Visitor Centre is super insulated with a minimal surface wrap. Rainwater from the roof (grey water) is harvested and used to flush the toilets, while the urinals are waterless and use natural enzymes to break down waste matter. There are also onsite showers to ensure that the building’s environmental impact reaches outside of its walls – those working at the centre are encouraged to walk or cycle to work instead of using their cars.
Rows of clay pantiles, made a quarter of a mile away, form a rain-screen along the north side of the building and walls in the park. These tiles provide shelter for insects during winter, ensuring a good food supply for birds, as well as serving as a distinctive reminder of Barton’s tile-making legacy.
Throughout the building the ethos ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ is evident, and when this was not possible new materials were taken from sustainable sources with an emphasis on sustainability.
- there is no plaster in the building. Girders are exposed, block-work walls are simply painted and interior partition walls are made from a recycled cardboard laminate.
- the girders are second hand. If you look carefully you can see weld marks and holes from their previous use, although they still retain the strength of new girders.
- some of the walls are made from recycled polythene.
- the roof is recycled aluminium.
- much of the steel structure is a third recycled.
- the concrete floor is substantially recycled. The building is on a bed of
recycled concrete standing on driven concrete pile foundations. The
recycled concrete is ground fine and a minimum of new concrete is
used to bind it together.
- the displays use materials such as recycled yogurt pots and CDs.
Renewable and sustainable:
- barrier matting is ‘coconut matting’ (coir), which is made from the husk of coconuts.
- office floors are made with oak from sustainable forests.
- displays are based on plywood (instead of MDF) as this uses less resin; they are faced with birch which is a locally sourced and sustainable hardwood.
- 18 office units are rented out to companies, providing an income to offset running costs.
The whole building is DDA compliant (Disability Discrimination Act). All floors are level, all doors wide enough for people with mobility problems and there is a hearing loop for those visitors hard of hearing.