A Symbiosis of Nature, People and Architecture


“Our proposals are for a symbiotic Nature and Wellbeing Centre, where nature supports human wellbeing, and people support the wellbeing of nature”

The below article was featured in the Summer 2018 edition of Wild Kent, the magazine of Kent Wildlife Trust.


Design and architect chosen for UK’s first ‘Nature and Wellbeing Centre’


Studio McLeod and Ekkist have been selected for their design of the proposed new visitor centre for Kent Wildlife Trust’s Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve.


Last year, the Trust, in partnership with The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), launched an open design competition seeking worldwide registered architects and architect- led teams to put forward designs that promote learning, wellbeing, curiosity and nature for a new Centre at its ever popular Reserve, where a record 75,000 visitors were reported in 2017.


In April, the public were invited to an exhibition to view and comment on the four short-listed design concepts for the ambitious ‘Nature and Wellbeing Centre’.


The Centre aims to be the first of its kind in the country dedicated to connecting people and nature in ways that demonstrate positive benefits for both people and wildlife. It will also  aise awareness about the importance of our natural environment for our own wellbeing and that of the planet.


Stevie Rice, the Trust’s Head of People Engagement, said: “The exhibition provided a perfect platform to engage and share our vision with both the local community and beyond – and receive the important feedback that has helped us shape our final design choice. It proved to be a tough choice as all the concepts included some highly original design features. However, Studio McLeod and Ekkist proved to be a worthy winner and we are very excited to see the project come to fruition.


“This is set to become our flagship visitor centre, unique in the UK, and the gateway and natural companion to this remarkable, pioneering nature reserve*.


“Our priority is to maintain the wildlife value of this important and cherished site in the heart of Sevenoaks. This exciting new building is certain to complement and enhance this very special place.”


A spokesman for Studio McLeod and Ekkist said: “We are delighted and honoured that the Trust has awarded us this incredible design project.


“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.


“Our 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.


“Our commitment 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.”


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.


‘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 rooms co-exist providing for the needs of different users.


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. Like bird feathers, the chestnut shingles give each building form its own character, referencing a father, mother and infant bird. Nature surrounds and permeates the building with internal trees, plants and nesting places for birds, bats and bugs.