RIBE – The oldest town in Denmark is also home to the country’s largest, flattest and wettest national park. Known to be a migration stopover for nearly 15 million birds, the Wadden Sea intertidal zone on the western coast is formed from an assembly of natural biomes and owes its landscape to the diverse wildlife that inhabits it. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is a constantly evolving environment that is rich in shallow sea areas, deep tidal channels, dry sands and mudflats. Copenhagen-based firm Dorte Mandrup Arkitektur has recently refurbished the Wadden Sea Centre – a facility for learning and public engagement – as well as extending the building with an extra wing to create approximately 1000-sqm of additional exhibition space.
The centre’s design is neither excessive in size nor in aesthetic, taking its primary inspiration from the rural farmhouse typology of the local buildings. The low-lying form ‘emerges from the ground, drawing a soft, long and clear profile against the infinite horizon’. Studio founder Dorte Mandrup comments: ‘The basic idea is of a new sculptural interpretation of the existing building culture of the region. It was our ambition to build a project that points towards the future but has its roots in local building tradition and history.’
These traditions are fundamentally referenced in the materiality of the structure. The architect describes the use of reeds – for both the roof and the façade – as a test of the material’s ability to relate the project to the place, giving the previously anonymous building something more to say. ‘The straw we have used was harvested just around the corner and is known for absorbing the salt in the sea air. With the thatching, we are building on an ancient handicraft,’ Mandrup explains. ‘When straw is unprocessed and recently harvested, dried and tied in place, it’s a very beautiful material.’