Located near Gravesend within the expanding north Kent region the park attracts around 220,000 visitors annually and is in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The Shorne Wood Visitor Centre was built to showcase modern renewable energy technology to increase visitors’ environmental awareness. The £1.6m contract project was completed within 12 months.
The site is located by an historic sweet chestnut coppice and the driving force behind the concept was to incorporate this sustainable timber into the building wherever possible, to demonstrate its value as a building material. The project funded BRE testing of sweet chestnut and technical data is now available for other architects at www.bre.co.uk.
Interpreting the local vernacular, the internal structural beams are a modern twist on a traditional ‘Kentish’ barn’s cruck frame and allow the building volume to undulate reflecting the surrounding Kentish downs. To achieve this thirty-two identical glulaminated sweet chestnut beams were connected together in pairs, like a hinge on a pair of scissors. It was then possible to open and close the cruck beams, increasing and decreasing the ridge height and the width of the building. Reminiscent of an upturned boat, the beams also reflect the area’s strong ship building tradition.
Wherever possible construction materials are from sustainable sources. The glulaminated beams are manufactured from locally sourced coppiced sweet chestnut; the oak joinery is made from timber felled on the client’s sites; the western red cedar roof shingles are from FSC sources (all the timber is FSC approved); larch roof boarding (another indigenous timber species) is used in lieu of European redwood. Hand picked field flint from the south east (of England) is used for the walls and the centre’s paving slabs are laid on recycled crushed glass instead of sand.
A substantial percentage of the centre’s energy requirements is met by green technology which will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by nearly ten tonnes each year. A 15kW wind turbine provides around 50% of the electrical consumption and state-of-the-art photovoltaic panels are integrated into the roofing structure to supplement the electricity supply. Other features include rainwater harvesting, a sewage klargester and a biomass heating system. The curved building form maximises natural lighting and ventilation, and ridge vents are incorporated into the double height vaulted ‘Interpretation Centre’/exhibition space.