Woodland Centre

Competition for a new visitor centre for the Woodland Trust

January 2016

Langley Vale, Surrey

Type: Competition
Client: The Woodland Trust
Contract Value:£325k
Status:January 2016
Collaboration:Diana Edmunds

A Small Studio submitted a design for the Langley Vale Visitor Hub Design Competition hosted by the RIBA. This was our design strategy:

We are celebrating the 90,000 women who volunteered in the Red Cross during the Great War. And we are celebrating the beauty of a tree. Up Close.

The vision for Langley Vale Canopy Hub is for visitors to experience the beauty of a canopy. Unlike other visitor centres, Langley Vale will provide a unique opportunity for children, families, walkers, the curious and the dedicated to become horticulturalists for a day. By viewing the canopy of a tree at eye-level, we can identify the bark, branch, stems, buds, leaves and the seeds closely. But how do we safely visit the canopy of a Birch, a Rowan and a Hawthorn tree? This building is a modest 25m long and 10m wide. It appears larger due to its engagement with the landscape. The building has a a sedum roof that emerges out of the visitor arrival area and extends towards the woodlands as a continuous strip. The journey begins at the base of the strip where the roof emerges naturally from the site. A low angle of 5 degrees means the walk is enjoyable. Concrete steps cast in bark provide a path to the end of the strip. The steps are ideal for young children to identify bark textures and make rub drawings during workshops.

At the end of the strip one arrives at a cantilevered terrace, where the canopy of three native trees emerge at eye level. This enables visitors to see the Trusts’ planted woodlands as individual species up close and in person.

The Langley Vale Canopy Hub endeavours to commemorate the great sacrifice and collective effort of 90,00 women who volunteered in the Red Cross during the Great War. The local town, Epsom, was a particular centre of activity where women sewed trench slippers.

The hub’s cladding is built in honour of the 90,000 women. Emerging from the ground is a singular and continuous corten steel wall that wraps around the building to the other side punctured with small rectangles. Each rectangle represents one woman. The punctures intensify and become vertical steel fins that support the canopy. These steel fins are the ultimate representation of women volunteers and each carry a name etched into the steel at their base.

On a practical level, the building south facing to capture natural sunlight throughout, and all private and public spaces have spectacular views over the woodlands. Toilets are designed with external access, so when un-staffed, facilities can remain open 24/7. The storage and maintenance equipment can be accessed internally and externally for larger equipment. The kitchen opens onto the main space to provide a public front for events and cafe use.

The hub is designed to serve the public and maximise their experience of the site but also, and importantly, as a place of learning. For events, A great hall can be opened to extend beneath the tree canopies in a terrace. This proposal is designed to combine leisure, learning and history at Langley Vale Canopy Hub.