This was our submission in 2017 for an RIBA-run competition to design a 'Nature and Wellbeing Centre' for a stunning site in Sevenoaks, Kent. Our scheme would replace the current dated visitors building, which sits between two lakes, surrounded by nature and wildlife.
The brief was for the building and the landscape design to "promote learning, wellbeing, curiosity and nature". There needed to be areas of the reserve that could accommodate people as well as wildlife and maintaining the connection to nature was of highest importance. The building/s were to be beautiful, and sympathetic to their surroundings and complementary to the reserve setting. In addition "Resonance with local heritage, methods of construction and materials will be important considerations", and sustainability was also essential.
Our vision was to imbue the site with a strong sense of place, by forging connections to the water and the surrounding landscape. The multiple volumes would be constructed from corten steel, timber and glass, and connected by a covered circulation route which opens up to rooms of varying height, each with a uniquely framed view of the West Lake.
The five pavilions float above the shoreline, allowing visitors to observe nature and experience light, shade colour and the seasons. They can be adapted to suit the changing programme of daily and annual events.
Between the separate pavilions are various connective spaces that invite exploration and promote learning and relaxation, arranged as follows:
Entrance Court: Principal gathering space at the apex of the main drive
Covered Loggia: A covered circulation space connects each pavilion and houses the static exhibition
Wayfinding Wall: Forms a direct access to the reserve and provides information about the centre's ethos and wildlife. It's a place to linger and investigate what's on offer, to play, to climb, to read and direct visitors.
Central Court: A multi-use external space for education and groups
Outside Play Area: Naturally blends into the surroundings with stunning views
Waterside Spaces & Cafe: The Cafe is located at the gateway to the reserve, with internal and external seating enjoying commanding views of the West Lake.
In terms of sustainability, the buildings would be highly sustainable in terms of construction and re-use. They would be designed to 'tread lightly' on the ground, and to respect the hydrology and ecology of their extremely sensitive SSSI location.
The buildings would be raised to minimise impact on the wildlife and ecology. Pre-fabricated construction methods would avoid any environmental contamination, and the buildings would be easily dismantled and recycled at the end of their life. All materials were chosen for their low embodied energy, such as the cross-laminated timber structure, and/or for their durability and low maintenance, such as the corten cladding which has a 300+ year life expectancy and can be recycled.
Unfortunately, our design was not selected, but we look forward to seeing the winning design completed onsite.