The Lookout, Holkham
Lucas+Western Architects Ltd

FCB Studios and Lucas+Western Architects were appointed by Holkham Estate to design and deliver their vision for a sustainable visitor centre for the Holkham National Nature Reserve which is popular with locals and holiday makers attracted by its natural beauty and varied habitat.  The centre is located in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Site of Special Scientific Interest and National Nature Reserve presenting an integrated challenge for the team of architects, engineers and ecological designers. 
The inland saltmarsh and backdrop of mature pine woodland proved the initial inspiration for the building’s natural form and its wooden cladding.  Nearby remains of ancient circular forts and WWII pill boxes also provided models for development in this unique location.  The continuous wooden finned elevation was designed to be pleasing from every prospect and as a lookout it provides panoramic views of the wildlife and the horizon beyond.  The wooden fins break down the human form allowing visitors to view nesting birds without causing disturbance.  Swales were dug around the centre to encourage the saltmarsh habitat.  The resulting earth was used to bury the building’s flood defences further embedding the building in its landscape.  The open courtyard with a fountain at its centre was inspired by clearings in the woods which create a natural place to gather. 
A remarkable site and an aspirational client has inspired the creation of a steel and timber wonder which is sustainable both in its construction and in its operation. 
All construction materials were selected to give the best compromise of sustainability, longevity and cost. The galvanized steel structural frame sits on concrete piles with timber-framed walls and roof.  The external timber cladding and continuous screen of 288 vertical Larch fins unifies the form and screens the users from the native inhabitants of the Reserve. The pebble-covered flat roof extends over the external seating and information display areas.  The minimal nature of the building extends to its M&E services.  The ethos of low consumption with recyclability has governed the design and will continue to be central to the operation.
The building’s steel frame is fully galvanised, all “double-dipped” due to the proximity of the sea.  It is composed of an inner arcade of 12 168 mm-dia CHS columns and an outer arcade of 24 columns. The arcades support continuous curved RHS ring beams and are connected by radial RHS beams. Due to the inherent strength of the form no structural bracing is required. Four of the inner columns contain concealed rainwater pipes. The frame does not require fire protection and the steel members and connections are generally exposed. The simplicity and legibility of building’s steel skeleton is very pleasing and contrasts well with the timber superstructure.  The properties of galvanized steel enabled the optimum structural solution at The Lookout.
Photographs © Holkham Estate, Plandescil Ltd, Kings Lynn Magazine.

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