RSPB Rainham Marshes

Zero Carbon in the Marshes

RSPB Rainham Marshes is a bold departure from traditional RSPB reserves, developing a site in the urban fringe environment of outer East London. Our client’s ambition was that this building should act as a catalyst to attract people to the Marshes, where they would learn about the 250 species of birds to be found there, wider issues of sustainability, and the work of the RSPB.

Our response was to design a building that is not only iconic, but also demonstrative; a building which clearly and proudly displays its sustainable credentials. Achieving BREEAM Excellent and carbon-neutral in operation, the building makes a big impact with a small footprint.

‘The sustainable design and energy efficiencies of the building sit perfectly alongside the RSPB’s values and drive to reduce our impact on the global environment… All of the staff and volunteers involved with Rainham Marshes are tremendously proud to work at such a flagship site, paving the way for quality and sustainable design across the hitherto neglected Thames Gateway area.’
Neil Kellythorn, RSPB Development Project Manager

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Rainham Marshes is a former Ministry of Defence firing range which was bought by the RSPB in the summer of 2000, now run as a 362 hectare nature reserve. The Environment and Education Centre was a key element in its transformation, providing a warm welcome to visitors and controlled access to this precious wetland.

Our competition winning design was the product of our office-wide collaboration; some of the best ideas, like the dazzle-pattern boarding, were sparked by our group discussions. It is the opposite of a polite low-lying timber-clad building that you might expect on a nature reserve, rather it mediates between the bustle of the city and the wildness of the marshes.

  • Project Details

    • Location: Rainham, Essex
      Client: Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)
      Area: 546 m2
  • Project Awards

    • World Architecture Awards
    • RICS East of England Regeneration Awards
    • Civic Trust Award
    • RIBA Sustainability Awards
    • RIBA National Awards
    • Green Apple Award for Environmental Best Practice
    • BCI Award

Given its location, the brief balanced a need for fortress-like security when not in use with a need for a welcoming and engaging outlook when open. Our concept, with public areas and offices oversailing secure service spaces below, protects the building from potential flooding and vandalism.


As design team lead and Contract Administrator, we needed to manage the detailed and persuasive engagement with the Environment agency that was critical to developing the chosen location, but our persistence paid off in the spectacular siting of the building, a perfectly positioned gateway to the reserve.

‘Architecturally the new building looks like something out of Star Wars and is utterly spectacular. It is a wonderful achievement. The view from the Centre is breath-taking, the 864 acres of marshland at the foot of the Thames, with views to Canary Wharf and the London Eye is quite unique.’
Comment from the visitors’ book.

The open and closed nature of the building is legible through the architecture, expressed with large sliding shutters and drawbridges. The static elements of the coloured timber cladding are horizontal; the sliding, movable components are clad in vertical strips. When the building is open, floor-to-ceiling glazing on the upper floor provides panoramic views over the reserve and the Thames Estuary, visually connecting the two worlds.


We were keen to maximise flexibility to ensure the building has a long and useful life; internally on the upper public floor, folding walls allow for any combination of classroom spaces, cafe and visitor reception to be easily rearranged to suit at any given time.

Rainwater harvesting, photovoltaic panels for electricity generation, and a ground source heat pump linked to the underfloor heating / cooling system all contribute to minimising the building’s environmental impact, alongside thoughtfully designed passive measures such as the twin roof vents that efficiently provide both natural ventilation and daylight to the internal rooms below.

Project Timeline

  • 2003
  • Concept design
  • Planning
  • Planning
  • Materials
  • Construction

    Installing light and ventilation turrets

  • Opening and engagement event

  • Completion
  • 2006