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Great Notley Country Park Discovery Centre

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Great Notley Discovery Centre in Essex will be a mixture of sports centre, environmental education facility and a social and community resource. Its mission is summed up in the slogan, 'Healthy Body, Healthy Mind, Healthy Planet'. Attached to Great Notley Country Park and forming part of the Great Notley Garden Village project (a new settlement near Braintree), it will also accommodate park rangers and their operational requirements. The design incorporates a number of innovative ideas for the reduction of energy consumption, generation of energy and recycling of waste products. A wind turbine will produce electricity and the heating load in the showers will be reduced by the use of solar energy.

Penoyre and Prasad was chosen on the basis of its track record designing attractions of a similar nature. Having consulted widely within the council and the community, the architect headed a design team, which brought in the client and the operator into decision-making. The ultimate customers - those who will use the centre - have been consulted via exhibitions and meetings.

The scheme benefited from a client who was prepared to appoint designers on the basis of performance rather than cost, demonstrating a true commitment to quality.

The scheme went ahead on the basis of a two-stage tender. The contractor was involved in the design completion and vetting prior to the contract being signed. Penoyre and Prasad wanted to ensure that the construction information was completed prior to commencement on site, and they were helped in this process by a hands-on approach from the contractor, who allocated resources to develop the details. By leading a tight team, the organisation and management of the supply chain were more efficiently procured.

Sunand Prasad says that architects have traditionally existed in isolation. Their insularity, as he sees it, has resulted in a number of problems, not least of which is a tendency to reinvent the wheel because of an inability to share information. On a positive note, he sees that architects should be pivotal in the relationship between clients and contractors.

'Architects have a duty to open up debate. In terms of the doctrine of collective responsibility, the design team should realise that they are not infallible. Bringing in as many people into the design discussion process, the ensuing healthy debate can only be a good thing.' He continues: 'Because sustainability imposes a duty on architects to protect several parties to a scheme contract - the payee, the citizen, the passer-by, the user and future generations - the design process must be as inclusive as possible.' Prasad recognises that there will be conflict between the aspirations of some parties but says that compromise need not be a dirty word.

The M4I initiative is important for Prasad, not to tell architects how to design, but to inform them how best to deliver. 'This is what architects are worst at,' he says. 'M4I is a good start to make architects systematise their output so that it can be understood by everyone.' As a good example, Prasad explains how, after establishing that the closest person in the architects 'supply chain' was the qs, they realised that they didn't know exactly what the qs did or needed. The practice organised a visit to a qs practice and is now better placed to prepare correct information; 'right first time'.



Countryside Properties


Braintree District Council


Penoyre & Prasad


Buro Happold


Fulcrum Consulting




E C Harris & Co


John Mowlem & Co (London and South East Division)


Markham Engineering

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