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Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve visitor centre winner revealed

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Emerging London practice Studio McLeod and wellbeing specialist Ekkist have won the competition to design a £2 million visitor centre for Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve in Kent

The duo’s ‘sympathetic and poetic’ proposal saw off three other up-and-coming design teams: ArkleBoyce Architects, Ben Adams Architects and Bilska de Beaupuy, a collaboration between architect Monika Bilska and nutritionist Arabella de Beaupuy (see all the finalist schemes here).

The Kent Wildlife Trust-backed competition, run by the RIBA, was open to architects and architect-led teams from around the world. It sought ‘unique’ proposals for a standalone complex in Bradbourne Vale Road on a site reclaimed from a former gravel pit in the 1960s.

The Nature and Wellbeing Centre project will include a reception area, café, shop, 100-capacity flexible space, exhibition area, offices and treatment rooms. Proposals had to be environmentally sustainable with a minimal carbon footprint and to demonstrate a sensitive response to the surroundings.

Kent Wildlife Trust’s head of people engagement Stevie Rice said the winning team had ‘designed a space that addresses the sensitivities of the site but has the ability to provide the local community with a space that they can use effectively whilst experiencing the wellbeing benefits of connecting with nature.

’Working closely with Studio McLeod will provide the opportunity to create an experience for people that will demonstrate how nature supports human wellbeing and how people support nature in a mutually beneficial way. This will be an exciting partnership and we look forward to starting the journey with them.’

The Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve was created by volunteers more than 60 years ago. The latest project aims to engage visitors in activities such as birdwatching and wildlife education. It also seeks to encourage greater public awareness of nature, wildlife and environmental issues.

The building is expected to be sympathetic to its surroundings, provide a sense of arrival to the reserve, harness natural light and outdoor space, and act as a hub for other similar facilities within the Darent Valley.

A timetable for the new facility, which has now expanded beyond the original competition brief, has not yet been finalised.

Judges included Rice, Lynne Sullivan of LSA Studio, acting as RIBA adviser, and Kent Wildlife Trust head of reserves David Hutton.

Sullivan said: ‘[We] felt the design combines a sympathetic and poetic approach to the proposed Sevenoaks centre, with a convincingly pragmatic and practical philosophy on spatial organisation and construction.

‘The “nestling” forms sit comfortably in the reserve setting, and the proposal is underpinned by a thorough grasp of Kent Wildlife Trust’s desire for positive environmental and health impacts.

‘The panel felt the team had successfully interpreted the therapeutic ethos of the project by seamlessly integrating these aspects into an architecture which has resonance, relevance and rigour, giving form to Kent Wildlife Trust’s ambition to develop an innovative Nature and Wellbeing Centre appropriate for the 21st century”.

The four finalists each received £3,000 to further develop their designs. 

The shortlist

  • WINNER: Studio McLeod with Ekkist
  • ArkleBoyce Architects
  • Ben Adams Architects
  • Bilska de Beaupuy
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