New Romney, Kent
Studying the landscape and asking the question, how do you build from it, is akin to Louis Khan famously asking a brick what it wants to be. The Marsh landscape is bounded by chalk cliffs to the east and west, Wealden forests to the north, bountiful fields of grain and fantastic volumes of small stones within the 100 square miles of the Marsh itself. The architectural aim of the Romney Marsh Visitors Centre was to fuse these materials into a discernable tectonic language – a new vernacular.
The award winning project is an exemplar of how to minimise a buildings impact on the environment and has been the subject of numerous magazine articles and local news items. The project brief was for a straw bale constructed visitors centre for the recently created SSSi at Romney Marsh. The structure houses an exhibition about the landscapes ecology with a pre-fabricated cabin providing toilet facilities. The client is Shepway District Council with Kent Wildlife Trust. A stand-alone sewage treatment system with overland flow reed beds forms part of a sustainable drainage system.
Built on a commercially let contract, students with learning disabilities and local residents interested in straw bale construction participated in the build.
The specifications focused on reducing manufacturing pollution, minimising resource extraction and reducing delivery distances. The heavy aggregates used on the site came from within a 5 km radius. Copiced chestnut comes from the Kent Weald and straw bales from local farms.
We coined the phrase heterogenous construction to define a design ethos which keeps materials minimally processed and simply assembled to aid future salvage. Almost every constituent part of the project can be reused and in a sense the building has been designed for demolition. The prefabricated toilet block can be relocated to a new site, the English larch frame unbolted and utilised elsewhere, the locally sourced aggregates used in the gabions and the sand/gravel floor slab can be reclaimed like a raw resource and the pre-cast paving slabs lifted and used anew.
The roof is planted with a sedum roof, a thin blanket of drought resistant plants which replicates the land footprint occupied by the building. This keeps the carbon sink and oxygen producing capacity of the site largely unchanged.
The project was completed in the Summer of 2003 and has been described as the “Greenest building in the South East of England” by Tony Wimble, Environment Officer of Kent County Council.