Price & Myers was appointed with Nissen Richards Studio by the National Trust on this project to revamp Sutton Hoo, the significant Anglo-Saxon burial ground discovered in 1939 and now a Scheduled Ancient Monument.
The client’s primary aim was to transform the experience of the historic landscape for visitors and staff. That began with the reimagining of the arrival sequence to the site, including minor refurbishments and improvement to some of the visitor centre’s older buildings. The reconfiguration extended to the rest of the site, with the landscaping and redesign of old and new visitor routes leading from the entrance to the Royal Burial Ground. The new promenade across the site culminates in a 17m-high viewing platform.
The brief required the tower to be sympathetic with the geography and history of the site, so landscape considerations were key in deciding where to locate the new lookout point. Situated at the border of Top Hat Woo, the tower emerges effortlessly from the terrain, like a discreet periscope, offering unprecedented views over the Burial Mounds.
The tower was designed using a galvanised steel frame, overclad with steel plate, with both structural and cladding elements in charred larch, stained to match. Four columns extend the full height of the tower, with cantilevered viewing points at the landings. Lateral stability is achieved using stair stringers that act as a truss, avoiding the need for additional bracing. The ramp at the entrance is also a timber-clad steel construction.
Consultations with the steelwork contractor informed the decision to use acid washing to create the darker tones in the steel, giving it a concrete-like appearance.
The project presented some unique challenges due to the site’s historic sensitivity. Archaeology was a major consideration when designing the foundations, with eliminated risk of damage to any artefacts below ground the team’s priority.
The critical design consideration on tall, slender structures typically relates to overturning from wind loading, requiring foundations to resist these overturning forces, in addition to gravity loads. Supporting the tower on small piles avoided the need for deep excavations to reach ground strong enough to withstand these forces. This approach meant that excavations, overseen by archaeologists from the Museum of London, could be kept within the small footprint of the tower.
The tower’s solid base is formed by dyed precast concrete covered with soil and sunk into the landscape. A slender link bridge provides level access from the adjacent woodland. The theme of stained, galvanised steel and dyed concrete is continued elsewhere through external elements of the project, including the base of the artwork 1:1 scale Anglo-Saxon ship. New paths through the landscape were carefully detailed to avoid any digging in sensitive areas.
This project marks the next stage of Price & Myers’ involvement with the site, having worked with architect van Heyningen and Haward to improve the visitor centre more than 20 years ago.