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The Rushes - Druridge Bay Visitor Centre and Youth Hostel

Part 1 Project 2014
Alfie Stephenson-Boyles
Northumbria University | UK
Druridge Bay Country Park is a large ex-opencast coal mine located adjacent to a protected seven mile stretch of coast in post-industrial Northumberland, South-East of Alnwick.

Coal mining and aluminum smelting have damaged the local environment yet created communities with a strong sense of identity. Today, these heavy industries have departed, leaving the communities they created at risk of becoming more fragmented and losing their connection to this large space.

Taking cues from the site’s natural and social history, the scheme seeks to make the best of what otherwise could result in two negative consequences: wasted land and degenerating communities. The proposed visitor centre, The Rushes, provides an opportunity for the restoration of identity and natural ecology in the area.

Acting as a marker in the landscape for local people and visitors, the hostel tower is inspired by two species found on the site. The bulrush (Typha latifolia) has a top-heavy seed-head which disperses in winter to spread new life. The reed warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus) is a bird which uses spiders’ webs to weave nests in the reeds during summer.

The hostel tower nests the visitor in its pods, suspended at great height, with views to the neighbouring communities and the dormant industry beyond. At the base of the tower, a cluster of mixed-use buildings form a courtyard where local people and visitors come together for events, food and recreation, facilitating social relations threatened by de-industrialisation.

Beyond, upon the dunes, stands a second tower of identical structure; pods dispersed, a vertical skeleton amongst the remnants of industry puncturing the flat natural landscape. It is a marker linking human activity with the natural environment, to memory, to meaning, to past and to present, to loss and to restoration.

If architecture is the stage and nature is performance, as Louis Kahn suggested, a typical visitor centre would be the stage; nature and community the performance; and visitors the audience. The Rushes scheme, by contrast, engages all elements, blurring these distinctions.The Rushes is an enabling mechanism; all people are potential participants in this restoration.

Alfie Stephenson-Boyles


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