NEW RELICS: SEVENOAKS NATURE AND WELLBEING CENTRE
In late 2017 the Kent Wildlife Trust, working in partnership with the RIBA, launched an international design competition for a new Nature & Wellbeing Centre at the Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve.
Our design narrative for the project is informed by the work of William Kent (1685-1748) who, in the first half of the 18th Century, led a group of British landscape designers who found inspiration in the ancient ruins of the Tivoli Gardens near Rome. Rejecting the strict geometry employed at gardens such as Versaille, Kent designed man-made landscapes which were more ‘natural’ in character. They contained mythical fragments in the shape of tombs, temples, and statues, which were waiting to be discovered by his visitors to the gardens. The Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve follows this rich tradition of man-made ‘natural’ landscapes, having been converted by the Harrison family from a gravel-pit to nature reserve.
Our concept views the new Centre as a contemporary found object, reflecting both the Romantic tradition, and the history of the Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve, which is itself a man-made landscape.
The Centre consists of a series of interlinking monolithic cubes, formed in the harmonious proportion of the Golden Ratio. We have used a recurring motif of arched openings to give the building an ambiguous sense of timelessness; it could be a contemporary building but, equally, it could be a remnant from the past.
The history of the site as a gravel pit gives inspiration for the materiality of the building, which is imagined as insitu concrete with an exposed gravel aggregate. The robust solidity of the material creates a calm atmosphere within the building, allowing visitors to consider nature in a way that is different from being outside.
The square footprint of the main Visitor Centre building maximises potential for views across the western lake for the café, flexible studio and treatment rooms, while enclosing a circular courtyard which follows the Kentish tradition of walled gardens.
Location: Sevenoaks, Kent
Client: Kent Wildlife Trust