Sevenoaks Nature and Wellbeing Centre

A new nature and wellbeing centre located at the Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve in Kent, UK.

Kent, UK
2017
Sector: Leisure & Sport
Client: Kent Wildlife Trust
Project Status: Competition
Budget: £3.6m

The Visitor’s Centre we propose is conceived as an exciting and visually stimulating large timber domed roof, under which are both indoor and outdoor protected spaces. Inspired by the organisation of the leaves of floating lilies, flower petals and the islands of the East lake, the roof is made up of a series of circular ‘petals’ that reduce in size as they reach the centre of the building, with light entering from above through skylights between each petal. The internal spaces trace the overhead petals and form enclosed and open spaces made of timber and glass. The soft, curved walls create a sense of calm and connection to nature and an atmosphere of being under the branches of a tree or being in a small forest. The dappled light from above and views through the building in all directions to nature beyond reinforce the activities of nature conservation, research and wellness within.

The centre is organised in a series of loose concentric rings with the café and studio opening on a large terrace directly looking on the East Lake, with offices and kitchens to the East, the entrance, reception and shop to the South and in between all of these the exhibition areas and treatment spaces. Designed as somewhere to freely wander with no pre-ordained route or order, discovering the centre’s organic organisation, flexibility of spaces, and fluidity serve to enhance the experience of the visitor and mimics the experience of visiting the reserve and the circular and connected walks.

We have sited the building at the location where all the footpaths meet before disappearing off to the many destinations available, and where there is a spectacular view along the East Lake. Whilst keeping access for deliveries and maintenance we propose the secondary car park adjacent is omitted and turned into a simple picnic area. We suggest the existing visitor’s centre is converted into the facilities for reserve management staff, volunteers and equipment. The car park will need to be enlarged but by keeping it all to the south of the existing earth berm can be fully visually screened from the new centre.

From a structural perspective, the domed roof structure is composed of 37 flat cross laminated timber discs. The curving timber framed vertical wall elements support the roof discs and also provide lateral stability buttressing between the roof and ground slab, with the dome acting as a rigid diaphragm tying all components into a stable whole. 7 of the outer ring of discs form perimeter terraces and are supported on tree like steel frames. A minimum depth pile supported RC raft slab will limit excavation and enable a cut / fill neutral scheme.

The scheme is an exemplar in terms of sustainability. Carbon neutrality is achieved through an innovative roof design, a thermally efficient envelope with thermal buffer spaces, a cost-effective water-source heat pump and solar PV. The roof design, with its low-profile aerodynamic form, encourages wind from all directions to flow over the building. This lowers wind speeds at pedestrian level improving comfort whilst creating negative pressures on the top of the roof which creates effective natural "wind driven" ventilation. The roof design also allows for daylight penetration deep into the core which is supplemented by low energy LEDs optimised by daylight sensors.


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