RSPB Environment and Education Centre

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RSPB Environment and Education Centre
New Environment and Education Centre for the RSPB The Client’s Brief The RSPB required the new Environment and Education Centre to be an example of environmental excellence, a focus for community work and the catalyst for social and economic regeneration in the area. The building provides high quality visitor and education facilities, as well as a generous viewing area and access onto the Reserve, the largest remaining area of grazing marsh left on the Inner Thames, where as many as 250 species of birds have been recorded. Working space for permanent staff and volunteers is provided as well as a retail unit and catering facilities/cafe. The brief also demanded the highest standards of sustainable development, designed to achieve BREEAM ‘Excellent’ under a bespoke assessment. This includes the sensitive selection of construction materials, the conservation of energy and resources, the consideration of generation and use of renewable energy, the treatment of waste products and the impact of the construction process. Planning Constraints The RSPB worked hand in hand with a number of different agencies since July 2000 in order to bring this project to fruition. These organisations included very supportive local planners (Thurrock Council) and the Environment Agency (EA). The main areas of concern expressed by the EA, and conditioned to the planning approval, were in relation to the location of the building so close to the river wall. As well as the provision of a Flood Risk Assessment in accordance with the requirements of PPG25, which identified fully the engineering measures that would have to be taken in the design (including the agreement that provision would be incorporated within the design for the future raising of the flood defence wall by 500mm) further substantiation of the “uniqueness` of the development was required to justify the location. This was all successfully provided and achieved in a collaborative submission by design team and client. Design Approach The building is two storeys high and its concept is based on separating by floor, the two different types of accommodation, ‘people’ and ‘services’. With the majority of the ‘people’ accommodation on the first floor, taking advantage of the views afforded over the river and the Reserve and significantly larger than the ‘services’ ground floor, the building has a section where the ground floor is oversailed by the first. This provides a desirable form to protect the building from burglary and vandalism, to which its location makes it particularly prone. The projecting first floor, with its more vulnerable accommodation, is approached and exited via bridges and drawbridges, which, when raised, effectively cut off access, creating a dry moat around the building. The ‘services’ accommodation, with less need for daylighting, is made defensible by minimising the number openings and utilising strong doors/shutters to close the building off at night. Materials and Method of Construction The superstructure is a deliberately heavy mass, rough cast insitu concrete frame. It sits on deep-bore rammed piles sunk 19 m into the ground and is clad in a double skin of (sheep wool insulated) cavity wall blockwork at ground level and horizontal sawn, painted larch timber boards to the first floor. There is very limited use of aluminium and no plywood on the project because its source is untraceable. Glazing type is specified to provide the optimum opportunities for a clear view of birds from a distance. External steelwork is all galvanised, contributing to the hardy yet crafted aesthetic of the building. As required by a BREEAM ‘Excellent’ project, materials chosen are durable and will not damage the environment through their exploitation, or through their production. Natural stack ventilation is employed, with air being drawn in through vents at ground floor level and around the perimeter of the first floor, and expelled through outlets in the top of the polycarbonate cones on the roof. A rain-harvesting tank is sunk below the car park, and grey water is used for all flushing toilets, while the urinals are waterless. The RSPB also aspires to erect a 15KW wind turbine soon to further contribute to the building’s energy requirements. Sustainability The general energy, and water strategy was always to minimise the demand as a priority and then meet the demand by the most efficient methods available, preferably from passive or renewable sources. The following specific features are included: - Natural, recycled, recyclable and durable materials such as sheep’s wool insulation. - Low or zero flush WCs coupled with rainwater harvesting. Automatic mains leak detection. - Insulation and air tightness better than L2 regs. Complimented with passive solar heating and ground source heat pump results in 75% reduction in CO2 emissions for space heating. - No fans in main spaces, ventilation and cooling by natural ventilation, night cooling of thermal mass and passive cooling. - Priority daylight design coupled with high efficiency automatically dimmed electric lights. - 10kWp Photovoltaic array and 15kW wind turbine renewable energy generation. The building’s environmental performance including the energy and water systems are being monitored and refined as an ongoing process. There are digital notice boards that show in simple layman’s terms the energy being saved by the building’s systems, all part of the education process for the users. The building development is also deemed to have a positive influence on the overall site ecology. The following BREEAM credits have been secured: Change in Ecological Value, Ecological Enhancement Advice, Protection of Ecological Features, Long Term Impact on Biodiversity and Topsoil re-use. Budget Constraints Contract value: £2.28m. Procurement route: Traditional JCT single stage tender with quantities. The project has been made possible through the funding support of many individuals and organisations, in particular the Department for Communities and Local Government, Thurrock Thames Gateway Development Corporation, the Heritage Lottery Fund, Veolia ES Havering Riverside Trust and City Bridge Trust. The HLF in particular continued their valuable support and interest during the construction phases, through regular attendance at site meetings.

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