Sevenoaks visitors’ centre

The new visitors’ centre is conceived as a collection of independent single-storey buildings, modest in scale and simple in form so as not to compete with their natural sur­roundings. The buildings are arranged to create a sequence of external spaces that guide the visitor naturally from their point of arrival, through an entrance at an open corner between two buildings, and up to an elevated courtyard – an external room and focal point at the heart of the visitors’ centre – from which paths lead out to all corners of the nature reserve.

The visitors’ centre comprises four buildings, each enjoying different views of the lakes and surrounding landscape. The studio building is sited on the footprint of the existing visitors’ centre overlooking the West Lake, while the main building, the café and facilities buildings are organised around an elevated courtyard on a shared plinth overlooking the East Lake.

All buildings are closely related in form, materials and detailing including mono pitch roofs with deep over-sailing eaves that create external covered areas, open to the landscape but protected from the ele­ments. The image of the buildings and their detailing is ambiguous: at once referencing the site’s industrial past while also consistent with the modern vernacular of rural agricultural buildings. The material of the shared plinth is washed concrete and gravel also in reference to the site’s origins.

Nothing is more effective at saving energy than turning things off: it is people that use energy, not buildings. This is the advantage of dividing the programme into separate elements such that when a space is not required it can be entirely shut off without the need for energy to be consumed. The buildings pro­posed are tightly insulated with lightweight construction so they can be heated quickly in order to ‘wake’ a space for use. This lightweight construction lends itself to the use of timber which provides lower em­bodied carbon than many conventional alternatives. Wall build-ups will be large to accommodate insula­tion which does not depend on plastics such as recycled paper or sheep wool.

In collaboration with Nick Hill Architects
Services engineer: Max Fordham
Quantity surveyor: Brendan Hennessy
Location: Sevenoaks, United Kingdom
Program: Temporary and permanent exhibition, café, studios and facilities
Gross floor area: 650 m2
Client: Kent Wildlife Trust
Construction costs: £3M
Photography: MWA Hart Nibbrig