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Dorte Mandrup : Centre d’accueil de la mer des Wadden

Since last February, the Wadden Sea Visitor Center (Denmark) has been welcoming ornithologists and nature lovers. Produced on a UNESCO World Heritage site by a local child, Dorte Mandrup, this geometric, butted, geometric colossus, is governed by a key word: "respect", whether it be local architecture, landscape, fauna or flora.

In south-west Denmark: the Jutland region, a landscape of swamps, dunes and heather, shaped by the winds of the North Sea. It is here, in Esberj, on a wide coastal strip of 500 kilometers long, that extends the Wadden Sea. A unique biosphere considered to be the largest uninterrupted system of mudflats and tidal sandbanks on the planet. A landscape so breathtaking, which leads in 1989 to the installation of the eponymous Center, educational vocation. A building that was a victim of its success, so much so that it was no longer enough to welcome the flow of curious people who came to observe the migratory birds passing through each year - between twelve and fifteen million in spring and autumn. An architectural competition is thus launched by the Municipality of Esberj in 2016 for its renovation and extension, financed by a private foundation including the owner Mærsk.

Among the four selected projects, it is that of Dorte Mandrup who is declared laureate for its exemplary landscape integration in a fragile environment. After a year and a half of work, the project manager transfigures and extends the original building, thus offering the 100 000 annual visitors of the site, a set of bungalow whose lines of composition resonate with the immense territory of plain where it takes place. A geometric profile inspired by the linear panorama of the Wadden Sea, the materiality of which echoes the Jutland huts covered with thatch, a renewable resource known for its thermal and phonic insulation qualities, but also for its resistance to salt air. A technique of installation and a local material here diverted, and implemented in monumental bevelled panels, from the roof to the facades. A laying surface and a quantity of straw so important, that they required the joint intervention of three local companies. A thick coat that will color with the times and adorn itself with moss, like the home of Jutland.

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This carapace carved out of chalk hides a U-shaped main building housing in one of its arms a space of restoration and in the remaining L, the surface of exhibition divided into seven sequences, in a scenography realized by Johan Carlsson of JAC studios. Immersion in the place begins with a historical, geological and geographical introduction to this vast protected territory and ends with an observation room on the surrounding area, composed of spotting scopes. The visitor enters here into a humble interior and particularly generous in information on vernacular animals and plants, to admire, study and understand. On the courtyard side, the new wing faces the initial construction - containing offices and learning rooms - which hides another appendage, parallel, hosting two other rooms dedicated to awareness. The set closes a landscaped patio with robinia decking, inspired by native tundra. The rest of the plot did not undergo any earthworks, thereby minimizing the environmental impact of 2 800 square meters.

A building aesthetic and didactic faithful and respectful of what surrounds it, which offers the opportunity to learn more about this sanctuary and its occupants, so small and seasonal they are.

Photographs: Adam Mørk and Colin John Seymour

To learn more, visit the Wadden Sea Center site

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