A Symbiosis of Nature, People and Architecture
Nature is good for human health and happiness. Studies show we are healthier, happier, calmer, more immune to disease and less likely to suffer from mental health issues when in touch with nature.
Our proposals are for a symbiotic Nature and Wellbeing Centre, where nature supports human wellbeing, and people support the wellbeing of nature. This builds on the site's pioneering history as the first industrial gravel pit redeveloped to benefit wildlife, to become the first visitor centre in the world to achieve WELL Building Standard™ certification — the international benchmark for design for wellbeing.
The aim is to create an outstanding, memorable and functional building, supporting wildlife, encouraging curiosity and engaging people in looking after nature, their own wellbeing and communities. Bold yet sensitive, the building forms a gateway to a harmoniously developed reserve and aims to overcome the challenges of connecting people with nature without it being damaged.
Envisaged as three birds nestling together, the building embodies notions of nature, community and wellbeing. On arrival, visitors follow footpaths through a calming 'Orchard Garden' before being greeted by sculptural forms drawn from Kent farmstead vernacular, offering connections to the immediate and wider landscape.
Our 'Day in the Life' stories illustrate how a range of people of all ages and abilities may interact and benefit from the building and its relationship to nature.
The layout is organised so that noisy, quiet, and private functions of reception / cafe, exhibition and studio / treatment rooms co-exist without disruption, providing for the needs of different users.
Envisaged as a sacred space, we propose simple, natural, materials, stunning natural light and considered landscape views to benefit the wellbeing of staff and visitors alike. Timber interiors, based on birdwatching hides and Kent vernacular, offer a recognisable but elevated quality to interior spaces.
Materials are natural, sustainable, non-toxic and echo the textures of nature, landscape and history of the site. Rammed earth walls reference early Kent ragstone buildings, the gravel quarry and suggest a strong connection to the ground. Rammed hempcrete insulates the walls while providing a breathable and characterful finish. Belfast 'lattice' trusses form a locally sourced and efficient structure, dappling light from above and referencing bird wings and nests. Like bird feathers, the chestnut shingles give each building form its own character, referencing a father, mother and infant bird.
Referencing environmental and biophilic psychology, together with design for a range of physical and mental impairments influence the proposals to ensure accessibility for all. There is a sense of 'order and complexity' to calm and inspire, 'mystery and legibility' to create intrigue about what is around the corner and long views for comprehension. A sense of 'refuge and prospect' is achieved with cosy and open spaces with views. The building connects with nature on many levels, from materials to views out. Nature surrounds and permeates the building with internal trees, plants and nesting places for birds, bats and bugs.
Our aim is to work with Kent Wildlife Trust to create an outstanding, memorable and functional building, supporting wildlife and people's wellbeing, encouraging curiosity, and engaging us in looking after nature, our own wellbeing and our community.
“Kent Wildlife Trust is extremely delighted to be working with Studio McLeod and Ekkist on the redevelopment of the Visitor Centre into a Nature & Wellbeing Centre. They are committed to bringing our vision to life with a building that engages people in looking after nature and their own wellbeing. They have 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.”
Stevie Rice, Kent Wildlife Trust