Langley Vale

Visitor Center, Surrey


Our concept is a simple one driven by a desire to produce a building that has a distinct and tangible link to both the ideals of the project, as well as its setting. A building that “tells a story”, intrigues on approach and entices one to discover more. That not only contains functional space for display or teaching, but which educates the visitor by its own form. An architectural interpretation of the inner structure of a tree. The buildings form, is therefore a deliberate attempt to avoid a notional “architectural style”, but to create something “at one” with its rustic surroundings, that is sustainable, an educational tool, and even within its envelope a habitat for wildlife.

Within the limitations of the competition we have developed no more than an idea. However, one we believe with the flexibility and scope to develop.

In its simplistic form, its “bark layer” is a building envelope of either shingles or bark sidings, supported by an “inner bark” layer or the buildings structural zone, and conceived as an insulated timber frame or SIPS panels. The working space of the building is the “Sapwood” and is cloaked in striking vertical timber planks, with similarly clad secure entrance doors.

The roof lights are interpretations of “rays” and the proposed sedum roof would be planted in concentric trays, creating a clear reference to “annual rings”, with the courtyard as the “heartwood” and central tree representing the “pith”.

The plan is designed to allow, if required, separate secure access to both the tool store and the toilets without the need for access via the reception space.

The design idea of a free standing tree stump is reinforced by lowering its elevation, or the embanking of the adjacent landscape, with gentle ramps on approach and exit and low retaining walls to the perimeter path, thus giving an interpretation of connecting with the earth below. The benefactor naming elements could be radial or contained on these retaining walls, conceived as the roots of the tree which nourish the project.

The visitor enters via a reception space capable of displaying information on current projects. From there they are drawn toward the open central courtyard, where again external exhibits could stand, or where on return one can sit and simply be captivated by the canopy of the central “pith” tree. Entry to the woodland is framed by the free-floating bark façade portal that continues over the courtyard’s open side. Beyond this we envisage the landscape could at first be formal, before breaking down into the more natural woodland landscape and that the proposed memorial would be visible from the courtyard, enticing you toward the woodland path.
Internally we envisage a reinforcement of the exterior concept with no plasterboard, paint and vinyl, but raw untreated timber walls, floors and ceilings.

On reflection we realised that our bold design embodies the virtues of those giant redwood arches of American National Parks, cut through living trees and delivering powerful, dramatic and enticing portals to their natural setting beyond.