The Wadden Sea Centre is contextual architecture under demanding conditions. Through a synergy of nature, art, and architecture the project creates awareness of these important UNESCO-protected wetlands and contributes to a sustainable development of the peripheral rural area.

The Wadden Sea Centre emerges out of the flat, yellow-brown marshland on the coast near Vester Vedsted, Denmark. The building arises from a landscape characterized by endless horizontal lines, secluded farmhouses, and a relentless Western wind. Around 12.000 years ago, the end of the iceage created a 500 km long coastal area that we now call the Wadden Sea. Here, tides has been coming and going for millions of years, creating unique marshlands. 

In form and materiality, the Wadden Sea Centre is both a continuation and an interpretation of the place and the traditional thatched houses connected to the area. A sculptural adaptation of the volatile reeds anchors yet simultaneously distinguishes the building in the distinctive landscape. The body is stretched and pulled down towards the horizon, drawing the visitor towards the facade and the entrance to the exhibition – telling the story of the millions of migrating birds stopping at the Wadden Sea every year to feed and prepare for the straining travel South. 

Paying homage to local traditions

The Wadden Sea Centre is a partial transformation and extension. The new building embraces the existing and integrates the whole building complex into the landscape. The transition between new and old is conveyed through sculptural grips and shifts in materiality. Locally harvested reeds are sculpturally processed into long horizontal cuts to create overhangs, canopies, and encounters between diagonal and vertical surfaces. The reeds have been used for roofing since the Viking Age with an almost unchanged technique. In the Wadden Sea Centre, the reeds are reinterpreted and re-actualized as building material in a modern, organic design with tactile, alluring qualities. The tactility and materiality of the outside I deliberately changed to pure abstract space on the inside to let the narrative of the birds come to live. 

Sustainability is central to the design and materiality. The reeds covering the surfaces of the building are one of the only building materials that can be used directly, without any processing other than drying. They are naturally impregnated by the salt, and the wind keeps them dry and free of fungus. To create a harmonious expression, the existing building is clad with Robinia wood, which over time becomes grey and merges with the shades of the landscape and the reeds. Robinia wood is a very durable, sustainably grown material that helps to keep the building's environmental impact to a minimum. In combination with geothermal heat and solar cells, materials and constructions ensure a low-energy house in harmony with nature.

Completed through three phases, the Wadden Sea Centre was initiated through an international competition to establish a new visitor centre – not as a focal point but a beginning to the journey out into the UNESCO-protected landscape. This ambition has not been reached until the completion of the second phase in March 2021 with the boathouse finally establishing the starting point for this journey and a new installation completing the exhibition.

source: Dorte Mandrup