Sevenoaks Nature & Wellbeing Centre  •  Sevenoaks, UK  •  Competition 2017

We envisage the new building as both a striking arrival point and the hub of a network of landscaped paths and facilities connecting the Reserve with the wider Darent Valley sites. The “S”-shaped structure curves around a garden as the principal gateway into the Reserve for visitors arriving by car or coach on one side, or by foot and bicycles on the other. A green ramp near the entrance path provides pedestrian access a sloping green roof with a panoramic view of the whole Reserve and a route down to the path around the West Lake. An internal garden segments the building in two, bringing nature inside the building.

The internal arrangement is an open plan reception area to the west of the internal garden blends exhibitions, eating areas and retail space. There is a suite of sanitary facilities, an open style kitchen, and a cafe which expands outwards to a terrace with views south over the West Lake. A large open plan studio with ample storage space can be subdivided using movable partitions. Wellbeing treatments are provided in two dedicated rooms, with an adjacent larger room catering for group wellbeing activities. The latter room has south-facing views over the West Lake to where the sun projects its rays over the foliage. To the east of the building, the children’s welcome area has secure lockers and benches, and space that can be used for workshops. The administrative areas are tucked away further east, and under the ramp to the green roof.

At its narrowest point the building protrudes gently through the dense foliage to follow the contour of the water’s edge and cantilever over the lake, providing views of wildlife on the Reserve. Throughout the year the building’s orientation optimises the sun’s angles on its southern side and minimises excessive solar gain to the east and west. The windows are designed to maximise the benefits of natural daylight. The building’s surface comprises natural-looking shutters that act as discreet observation points for birdwatchers. These façade elements can also incorporate bat hibernaculum and roosting areas, bird boxes and nest box cameras, thus further enhancing the biodiversity of the site.

The building’s structure combines a contemporary take on its construction method with local heritage through the use of sustainably resourced traditional timber. Internal partitions exposed to the sun store natural heat in winter and act as a heat sink for cooling in the summer. All of this reduces the environmental impact and running costs of the building over its lifetime as well as minimising the carbon footprint of the overall proposal. Given the sustainable goals we are trying to achieve, emphasis has been made on a public transport rote from Sevenoaks train station where there is plenty of public parking. This will encourage walking and cycling. Parking on site will be restricted to disabled, staff and the elderly.

We propose a staged project, with the first stage based on a £2m budget. The building’s surface area of 1500m2 when multiplied by an average construction cost of £900 p/m2 equates to £1.35m, plus one third (£400k) in fees. The provision for alternative energy has been estimated at £150K for 60kW of drilled ground source heat pump. This leaves a £100k contingency. We envisage the landscape being done in stages by volunteers led by the initial designer.