Our proposal is for a new brick-walled building located on the site of the existing Visitor Centre, with a landscaped courtyard straddling the current route into the nature reserve at the entry point.
The new building would simultaneously mark the gateway to the site and be an ‘encampment’ to pre- pare and orient visitors before they venture out into the reserve, and to welcome them on their return. Our concept is of a building that provides shelter while also evoking a sense of discovery, excitement and exploration, and of being at the fringe of unexplored territory.
We are intending to preserve the elemental garden and wild space, and have deliberately situated the car-parking requirement of the brief and the Reserve management staff facility along the exist- ing entrance route so as to reinforce the idea of our new building as the ‘last bastion of civilisation’ beyond and from which the nature reserve unfolds in all its beauty.
The external faces of our courtyard building will be made of locally reclaimed bricks, evoking the Kentish vernacular, as well as drawing a parallel with the idea of Kent as the ‘Garden of England’ and traditional English walled gardens. The external brick skin protects an exposed timber-framed interior structure, faced with raw fibre cement cladding on the courtyard facades.
A new generous and landscaped viewing area steps slowly down towards the shoreline, and cre- ates a natural amphitheatre against the backdrop of West Lake and its proposed new islands. It gives access to an improved and wheelchair accessible ramp into the existing Glebe hut with views over the lake, and provides a forecourt for people to gather before going into the Centre.
Visitors enter into a covered but open gallery which runs through the building. This gallery houses the permanent exhibition in a series of illuminated glass cabinets. Along one side are the shop, treatment and staff rooms, lockers and toilets. The other side opens out into the new central courtyard enclosed by the temporary exhibition space, the café and the Studio. The café frames views out over the reserve, and its facilities can be shared by the Studio and exhibition space for functions if required.
The courtyard forms a gathering space for the café and studio to spill out into, and also provides a sheltered vantage point from which to observe the surrounding bird and insect life. The gravel sur- faces that run round it hark back to the gravel-pit origins of the site. The green roof of the building
is fully planted to enhance the biodiversity of the immediate surroundings and create a habitat for insects, birds and butter ies. It is punctuated by roo ights, and enlivened with structures for nesting birds and bats.
The compactness of the ‘courtyard’ plan form has bene ts both in terms of creating adjacencies and ef ciencies of layout, as well as underlining the idea of the new Visitor Centre as a warm, sheltered and welcoming ‘haven’, situated within a diverse and expansive natural setting.