The building, commissioned by HAB Housing on behalf of the Avon Wildlife Trust, provides a semi-seasonal shelter for volunteers, school classes and visitors to a new nature reserve in the Avon Gorge just outside Bristol. The 12-acre site, sandwiched between a major road and a railway track, was used as a dumping ground for rubble from the wartime Blitz and subsequently as a sports ground. The Trust spent two years transforming the site into a wildlife haven with ponds, footpaths, planted wildflower meadows and over 4,000 new trees – the Gorge is an essential wildlife corridor for a wide range of wildlife including barn owls, several bat species, badgers, hedgehogs and slow worms.
The brief was to deliver a modest building with a budget of just £30,000 that celebrated the view of the Reserve and enjoyed good natural light, but had no visible glazing, as there had been issues with vandalism on the site. In response, the design provides a simple, ‘off the shelf’ agricultural building and extends and adapts it. This sits on an existing concrete ground slab, minimizing disruption to the site and reducing costs. Native flowers have been planted in cracks and trenches in the concrete. Full height galvanized steel barn doors allow the building to be open to the view when in use but fully enclosed at other times. The interior is simply fit out with plywood shelving and storage. A purpose-made Douglas Fir canopy frames dramatic views along the Reserve and the Avon Gorge beyond, and offers shelter from the rain when the building is not in use. The canopy extends beyond the length of the building to provide a gateway to the Reserve whether the building is open or closed.