A striking characteristic of The Norfolk Broads is its flatness; the perceived scale of the landscape is heightened by the expansiveness of the horizon, created by the absence of high ground. By virtue of the ‘nakedness’ of the landscape, human intervention and activity is highly conspicuous. Certain structures have consequently become synonymous with the area - and of these the Norfolk Wherry is perhaps the most distinctive. These long, low-lying wooden boats have navigated the waterways of The Broads for centuries, their huge, black, gaff-rigged sails forming a curious and arresting visual counterpoint to the landscape through which they sail.

The proposal - a public building containing facilities for education and recreation - is conceived as a vessel; a structure negotiating the ambiguous territory between water and land. A container of information and a facilitator of social activity.

An arrangement of wooden piles and beams creates an elevated platform onto which the body of the building rests, like a boat in dry dock. The purpose in raising the building off the ground is twofold: both as a means of mitigating the effect of flooding; and as a way of providing an elevated vantage point for users of the building to observe the landscape.

The building is composed of prefabricated cross-laminated timber panels (CLT). Externally, rigid insulation shrouds the CLT structure covered by EPDM rubber, forming a long-lasting and highly resilient waterproof layer. The colour and texture of the material is redolent of the Wherry’s sail, historically treated with a mixture of tar and fish oil to increase the fabric’s durability, lending it a deep black hue.

Internally, the cross-laminated timber structure is left exposed. Floors, walls and ceiling surfaces read as a consistent surface, engendering an atmosphere of warmth and security not unlike that of a boat’s cabin: a sanctuary from the elements.

Large horizontal openings around the building’s perimeter allow unobstructed views out to the landscape. An orb of light is projected onto the tall wall of the largest interior space through an oculus inscribed in the roof, reminding occupants of the earth’s constant rotation and the gravitational effect of the sun and moon on the tidal waterways beside which the building stands.