RIBA competition-winning design

The Studio McLeod and Ekkist design proposal for the new Sevenoaks Nature and Well-being Centre is centred on finding a symbiosis between people and nature. The proposal was selected by Kent Wildlife Trust as the winning entry into an RIBA competition to design the scheme.

Nature is fundamental to human health and happiness: studies show that we are healthier, happier, calmer, more immune to disease and less likely to suffer from mental health issues when we are in touch with nature. The aim is to create an outstanding, memorable and functional building, supporting wildlife, encouraging curiosity and engaging people in looking after nature, their own well-being 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 well-being. 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.


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.

The building connects with nature on many levels, from materials to views out. Image courtesy of Studio McLeod

Simple and natural, materials, stunning natural light and considered landscape views are incorporated to benefit the well-being 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, and echo textures in nature, the surrounding 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.

Belfast 'lattice' trusses form a locally sourced and efficient structure. Image courtesy of Studio McLeod

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.

Nature surrounds and permeates the building with internal trees, plants and nesting places for birds, bats and bugs. Image courtesy of Studio McLeod

If you would like to discuss a similar project with Ekkist, we would love to hear from you.