Sevenoaks Nature & Wellbeing Centre • Sevenoaks, UK
Our vision for the new visitor centre building is to create a distinctive and central point of access that connects the Reserve with the wider Darent Valley sites through a network of landscaped paths and facilities. The "S"-shaped structure is designed to curve around a garden, serving as the main gateway for visitors arriving by car or coach on one side and by foot and bicycles on the other. A green ramp near the entrance path provides pedestrian access to a sloping green roof with a panoramic view of the Reserve, which leads down to the path around the West Lake. An internal garden segments the building in two, bringing nature inside the building.
The internal arrangement features an open-plan reception area to the west of the internal garden that blends exhibitions, eating areas, and retail space. There is a suite of sanitary facilities, an open-style kitchen, and a cafe that 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, 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 cantilevers over the lake, providing views of wildlife on the Reserve. Throughout the year, the building's orientation optimizes the sun's angles on its southern side and minimizes excessive solar gain to the east and west. The windows are designed to maximize the benefits of natural daylight. The building's surface comprises natural-looking shutters that act as discreet observation points for birdwatchers. These facade 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 sourced traditional timber. Internal partitions exposed to the sun store natural heat in winter and act as a heat sink for cooling in the summer, reducing the building's environmental impact and running costs over its lifetime while minimizing the carbon footprint of the overall proposal. In line with our sustainable goals, we are prioritizing public transport routes from Sevenoaks train station, where there is plenty of public parking. This approach will encourage walking and cycling, and 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.