Competition design for tranquil lakeside visitor centre
In 2017 we entered a RIBA competition to design a new visitor centre for Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve.
The reserve is almost entirely man-made, converted from gravel pits in the 1950s, with trees planted by hand and ponds and lakes excavated and flooded by water from the River Darent. It is the first of its kind, and is now a Site of Specific Scientific Interest (SSSI). The site has great potential to connect people with nature, wildlife and environmental issues, and in doing so, improve their sense of wellbeing.
Our design concept comprised a row of pavilions nestled on and over the bank of the lake, connected by a covered walkway. We wanted the lake to be the star of the show: on approaching the visitor centre, the visitor immediately has clear lines of sight towards the water, and large picture windows in the café frame and celebrate the view. A terrace allows diners to enjoy the serenity of the lake.
The four pavilions house an exhibition space, a café and shop, a flexible studio space for education and wellbeing events, and staff facilities. Clad in charred timber, materials are chosen for their sustainability credentials in a palette that blends into the surroundings and has a raw simplicity. The pavilions are lightweight, durable, and can be pre-fabricated off-site. The spinal roof is structurally efficient, collects rainwater and can be clad in PV tiles to maximise energy harvested on site; pavilions have a sedum green roof. The design solves several logistical issues: toilets are separate so pavilions can operate independently; the studio pavilion is self-contained and private; there is level access throughout; and the kitchen is easily serviceable. Parking is hidden in a natural dip in the land.
The centre is part of a wider masterplan to enhance the visitor experience. The spinal roof connecting pavilions continues north of the centre, where walking routes around the reserve start and finish. The existing lakeside path is retained, winding through a sea of newly planted reeds at the water’s edge, and under the four pavilions that protrude over the bank and lake. This covered habitat will entice more wildlife to the reserve, providing an opportunity to see nature flourish at close quarters. Beyond the centre, the proposal adds a new circular trail around North Lake, a boardwalk to discover unchartered southern corners, and a series of simple interventions around the reserve designed to enrich the experience.
ClientKent Wildlife Trust
Wakehurst Place Visitor Centre
Culture & Community
Wakefield Art Gallery
Walters & Cohen Architects
2 Wilkin Street
London NW5 3NL
020 7428 9751