A concept developed in collaboration with Barefoot Architects in response to an open RIBA competition to design a ‘Nature and Wellbeing Centre’ for Sevenoaks Nature Reserve in Kent
The brief required the buildings and the landscape design to “promote learning, wellbeing, curiosity and nature” and “wherever possible it should build the connection with nature and be designed with health outcomes in mind for staff working within the centre and for visitors and centre−users”. A thoughtful approach to sustainable construction and function was essential.
The scheme takes a holistic approach to landscape design and building that attempts to depart with the often passive experience of visiting a nature reserve in favour of a place that is active and playful, providing opportunity to physically connect with the landscape where ever possible.
The layout of the buildings is inspired by the branching of leaves and responds to the existing path network of the site. ‘Treading lightly’, the buildings are situated within the existing tree canopy and over the foreshore. The buildings are designed to be erected easily onto modular timber frames in a phased sequence allowing for functions to be prioritised. Green and brown roofs extend as canopies to cover external spaces, encouraging as much flexibility between the indoor and outdoor space as possible as well as providing cover for clay and lime covered straw bale walls. Elements such as the wall panels are proposed as opportunities for community participation in the build.
Boardwalks push out into the lakes and the marginal ‘hide spaces’, one of which is a compost toilet that feeds a micro coppice for craft and fuel.
The existing site and visitor experience lack legibility and by engaging visitors at threshold of the site, this layout presents views and routes that welcome and invite exploration straight away. From the point of entry visitors are given the choice to be directed along a main axis to the entrance space and the reception or to explore the path networks down to the water’s edge. The entrance space is intended to form an ‘active threshold’ with the a playable sculpture and a woodland play area deliberately placed to embody the ethos of being active and engaged in nature.
Ground level visualisations by Barefoot Architects